clock menu more-arrow no yes
Big John’s Tavern
Mike Ledford

Filed under:

Big John’s Tavern Returns to East Bay With a Secret Speakeasy

Take a tour of the brand new space

After the closing of Cane Rhum Bar & Caribbean Kitchen in 2020, three Citadel alums decided to take over the 251 East Bay Street building and turn it back into Big John’s Tavern. When Christopher Houston, Scotty Sheriff, and Darren Bradley noticed Cane moving out, they inquired about purchasing the building. The three spent the past year and a half renovating the space to resemble the former Big John’s. The classic red leather stools are back, but the team made the space more sophisticated with less dive-y touches from the former version — the dusty posters and bras hanging from the ceiling did not make a comeback.

The original Big John’s opened in 1955, and was known as a Citadel hangout. The rumor is that the original owner John Canady, aka “Big John,” would allow underage cadets to have a few beers if they didn’t cause much trouble, so it became the place to drink and remained a Citadel spot until its closure in 2015.

A new addition to the establishment is an intimate speakeasy in the former back pool room. The space is based on Sherriff’s love of hidden cocktail bars across the world, which is why the bar is named Scotty Doesn’t Know (an homage to New York speakeasy Please Don’t Tell and the ribald ballad of the same name from 2004’s EuroTrip).

There’s a movable bookcase that leads to the room, which will be reservation only when it opens later this fall. Patrons will be able to order wine, beer, and cocktails by pushing a button on the wall to signal to the bartenders in Big John’s that it is time for another round. The room is billed as a quieter place to bring a date or get away from rowdy crowds in other bars.

The red bar stools are back at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
The bar at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
A new sign for Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
The televisions will broadcast sports behind the bar.
Mike Ledford
Citadel badges saved from the fire at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
Big John’s is back.
Mike Ledford
The original Big John’s sign.
Mike Ledford
Speakeasy Scotty Doesn’t Know.
Mike Ledford
The Big John’s team scoured Facebook Market for vintage furniture for the speakeasy.
Mike Ledford
Spot the champagne button on the wall.
Mike Ledford
Mike Ledford
Scotty Doesn’t Know is planned as a date night destination.
Mike Ledford
Many Instagrams to come from this spot.
Mike Ledford

The offerings at Big John’s have grown up too. The dedicated cocktail menu features drinks like the Smoke Show, which comes to the table in a bottle full of smoke and a Four Roses Old Fashioned. Most of the beers offered are local and the wine list includes three types of sparkling wine by the glass, as well as plenty of varietals from across the globe.

The food menu comes from executive chef William Sherrod, who most recently worked at Fleet Landing. The selections offer more than just fancy bar food — plates include steak Diane with gnocchi, local catch with savory bread pudding, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, and more. Sherrod, originally from Augusta, Georgia, says that much of the menu is inspired by Southern classics, like his fried green tomato bruschetta with shrimp and pimento cheese or the Gullah hot chicken.

Executive chef William Sherrod at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
Steak Diane with potato gnocchi.
Mike Ledford
Smoke Show cocktail at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
A bacon appetizer that the team hopes will become a signature dish at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
Summer Zest cocktail at Big John’s.
Mike Ledford
Fried green tomato bruschetta.
Mike Ledford
The Gullah hot chicken sandwich.
Mike Ledford

Charleston’s Cane Rhum Bar & Caribbean Kitchen Calls It Quits
Big John’s Tavern [Official]
Venerable Dive Bar Big John’s Tavern Suffers Fire Damage

Eater Awards

Here Are 2021’s Eater Awards Winners for the Carolinas

Bill Murray Naps On Sidewalk Outside Charleston’s Fast & French

Charlotte

Adults-Only Miniature Golf Bar Tees Off in Charlotte This Month

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Carolina newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter.