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Greenville’s New Speakeasy Serves Prohibition-era Craft Cocktails

BY LINDSEY DELOACH JONES | APRIL 01, 2017

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.