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 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.