Vault & Vator




Vault & Vator speakeasy opens this week

Prohibition-style bar delivers authentic 1920s experience


The authenticity of Greenville’s first, modern speakeasy, Vault & Vator, which opens Tuesday at 5 p.m., is evident from the get-go. As in, just trying to locate the entrance is a challenge.

It’s tucked away on the Falls Park side of the Edward Jones Building, 655 S. Main St., on the basement level. (And ladies, if you’re wearing heels, the walk down the steep hill from Main Street is a bit precarious. You’ve been warned.)

Owned by Joe and Darlene Clarke of American Grocery Restaurant, Vault & Vator was designed specifically to showcase the considerable skills of their bartender, Kirk Ingram, and respect for cocktails of the prohibition period, The Golden Age of Cocktails.

The Clarkes and Ingram have been talking for months about their desire to create an authentic, respectful bar environment that is still accessible. Those attending this weekend’s preview events agree: They achieved it.

On the entrance gate is a list of house rules: no cellphones; no baseball hats, sweats, or flip-flops; no standing; no cosmos, shots, light beer, or Red Bull; no disrespectful behavior. In summary, have some respect.

Cellphone usage was allowed for the preview weekend, though we did try to be respectful of the unplugged environment when snapping a few photos. That rule will be strictly enforced moving forward, as will the no-standing rule. When all the seats are filled, incoming guests will be placed on a wait list and notified via text when a seat is available, and parties will not be seated unless all members are present. No reservations. No exceptions.

Upon entering the vestibule, a thick, light-blocking curtain must be pulled back to enter the bar, revealing almost nothing visible until your eyes adjust. Those arriving after dark will likely not have the 5-minute adjusting time we experienced at 6:30 p.m. on a very sunny day.

The Edison-bulb lights are few but provide adequate lighting. The thump of the stand-up bass, with the beat of brushes on a snare and the melody of the clarinet, even though playing only through speakers, creates an atmosphere you could imagine to be exactly as it would have been almost a century ago. If only there were space for a live three-piece combo.

We slid into our half-moon booth and felt the faux alligator-skin table covering, and marveled at Joe’s handmade zinc-top bar. The mismatched cut glassware and china dishes used are vintage finds reminiscent of Grandmother’s china cabinet.

Once we could make out letters, we perused the small-plate menu with such offerings as classic shrimp cocktail, a nosh plate with olives, spiced nuts, and house pickles. I irreverently referred to the nuts as “crack” when offering them to our fellow imbibers. They’re addictive.

Of the pickles, the green tomatoes were the table favorite — unexpectedly sweet and briny. The cocktail sauce was the right balance of horseradish without causing sinus trouble. Darlene says it received rave reviews during the preview.

For something a little more filling, sliced Iberico de bellota at market price is also available. (It’s Spanish prosciutto from pigs fed only hazelnuts during the final period.)

But we didn’t come for the small plates, though they provided a tasteful backdrop for each of our cocktails.

Guests will notice an absence of vodka cocktails, and instead discover a world of gin, mezcal, bourbon, cognac, and dark rum, all mixed so intentionally you might catch yourself enjoying a drink you wouldn’t have thought to order anywhere else.

Our table started with That’s Amari (Bulleit bourbon, Lucano amaro, orange curacao, kirsch, lemon, egg white, simple syrup) and Aviation (Death’s Door gin, Luxardo maraschino, crème de violette, lemon), so named for its light blue tinge. Both were well received, with the favorite, because of its uniqueness, being Aviation.

We then ordered Vow of Silence (mezcal, chartreuse, cacao nib-infused Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lime, molé bitters), Pimm’s Garden (Pimm’s #1, cucumber juice, sherbet [house made], ginger tea, mint), and Chef Goes ‘Nanners (banana-infused dark rum, pineapple rum, dry orange curacao, allspice dram, lime, cinnamon, bark syrup).

All were delicious and unique, but the clear favorite of the night was Vow of Silence, named for the rumor about green chartreuse and the French monks who created it.

The hour-and-a-half flew by and before we knew it, we paid our tab, and were ushered back out into the 21st century.


The 11 Most Exciting Bars Opening This Spring

Get ready to meet your new favorite drinking spot

With a bevy of thrilling bars opening up shop all over the country, 2017 is already shaping up to be quite a year for drinking enthusiasts. Whether you're into classing it up with a bottle of bubbly, getting your mind blown by molecular gastronomy-fueled cocktails, finding flawless versions of old standards or simply sampling some of the universe's top brews, these 11 mouthwatering outposts are sure to woo you into a boozy stupor.

⑦ Vault and Vator (Greenville)

Expected Spring 2017
American Grocery head bartender Kirk Ingram and chef Joe Clark are shifting from their renown Greenville restaurant over to this compact basement bar. Approachable sippers will be the name of the game, and the lineup is set to feature complex, pre-Prohibition-era classics (many, according to reports, revolving around different types of gin, a key turn-of-the-century spirit). These elegant sippers are meant to be enjoyed slowly in a fun, stylish environment. A few small plates will also be available to soak up all those potent tipples.



Greenville’s New Speakeasy Serves Prohibition-era Craft Cocktails


I may have been the first person to try to enter Vault & Vator through the wrong door, but I won’t be the last. There’s an air of mystery surrounding Greenville’s new speakeasy, and that’s not an accident. A little hard to find, small (just nine tables), and touted largely by word of mouth, the cocktail bar brought to us by the proprietors of American Grocery is a place for people who are “in the know.” 

And there’s a reason for all this secrecy: the speakeasy serves Prohibition-era cocktails and mimics 1920s ambiences, right down to the feeling that the drink in your hand just might be against the law. Passing from a parking lot in Greenville’s downtown through the indigo velvet curtains at the entrance to Vault & Vator is like walking through a time machine. What awaits you on the other side is a dark underground room piping mellow jazz, a well-dressed man mixing drinks behind the bar with the ultimate precision, and a drinking experience unlike any you’ve had in our city.

Housed in an old Dr. Pepper bottling facility, the bar retains its historic charm: elevator mechanisms and a vault for housing chilled soda. The menu seems both a hundred years old and thoroughly modern, with classic combinations and no-frills food pairings (choose between a meat board or a cheese board) and the addition of brand new offerings like a Birds Fly South saison.

It probably goes without saying that if you’re aiming for intoxication, you’re better off elsewhere. Like the dishes at American Grocery, the craft drinks take time to prepare and patience is encouraged. (Whatever you do, don’t show up in a baseball cap asking for a light beer. Although I doubt you’ll be tempted; I’m a comfort gal, and even I wished I had a flappers-style feather in my hair.)

I’m a sucker for gins and fizzes, so my first order was just that. “Peche Fizz” gets its name from crème de peche (or what most of us refer to as peach liqueur). The addition of rhubarb bitters and black pepper tincture ensured this was not your college roommate’s fruity drink.

My husband is a bourbon man, and not usually of the cocktail variety. But “That’s Amari” suited him well, a rich drink made with Bulleit bourbon and Lucano Amaro that had subtle cherry notes and a hint of spice. After that he moved on to the carefully curated beer list, ordering a Westbrook One Claw Rye in a can.

The clear winner of the evening almost brought tears to my eyes, and I’ll tell you why. My favorite cocktail in all of Greenville fell off the menu of an undisclosed restaurant a couple years ago. They’ll still make it for me on occasion, depending on how busy they are and what kind of mood the bartender’s in. But after just a sip of my second cocktail at Vault & Vator, I knew my cocktail satisfaction would no longer depend on the whims of a bartender across town. 

The flavor profile of “Aviation” is almost identical to my most-beloved cocktail, maybe better. Its base is Death’s Door gin, which is made with juniper berries, coriander, and fennel. The crème de violette layers distinct floral notes. Not that I didn’t love my present company, but for a moment I imagined myself sipping this subtly green concoction alongside Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, tipping back our chic, smart heads in laughter. Served in a cordial glass, this drink is meant to be savored. Indeed, it was.

Greenville’s sophisticated speakeasy rivals the best bars in Charleston, and it’s the kind of place you’re going to want to take your out-of-town guests. You’ll need at least one practice visit, though, to make sure you can find it. Here’s a tip: if you see “Suite 100” above the door, you’re in the right place.