Photos by Kaleb Dill and Alex Mielcarek
Although Charleston is a popular tourist destination with its rich food and vacation atmosphere, there are still corners built just for locals. The Old Charleston Jail is the unconventional traveler’s dream, giving out-of-towners the chance to see a haunted prison cell as if it were still in use. The Blind Tiger Pub, on the other hand, does not cater to tourists. It is a local restaurant that has gained the affection of Charlestonians since opening in 1992.
The Old Charleston Jail, known for its eerie ghost stories and long entrenched history, has become one of the most sought-after tourist spots in Charleston. The attraction brings in an estimated 25,000 people every year and is open 360 days, according to John LaVerne, owner and operator of Bulldog Tours. Bulldog Tours is one of the most popular tour groups in Charleston, taking people on history, culinary and ghost tours. The tours at the Old Charleston Jail vary from a Haunted Jail Tour where guides take people through the jail witnessing where criminals of the past were once held. In addition to the Haunted Jail Tour there is the Investigators Tour where tour guides lead an after-hours ghost hunt. A tour through the Old Charleston Jail gives visitors a chilling view of what once took place in jail cells and torture rooms. Although not every tour is created the same, they each give a life lesson of history. The jail itself was active from 1802-1939 and held many well-known criminals including Lavinia Fisher, who was rumored to be the first female serial killer. In addition to the rumors, there are countless stories of encounters between visitors and ghostly spirits. LaVerne remembered one story in ghostly spirits. LaVerne remembered one story in particular. “People on the tours would lose stuff: earrings, keys, pagers, and they would call our office saying ‘I lost something’ and we would come back and help them find it. It was often in rooms that the tour did not go in. That will make a believer out of almost anybody,” he said. One popular explanation is that many of the inmates were thieves and now they steal as ghosts. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, visiting a place like the Old Charleston Jail will leave you with goosebumps.
One of the most beloved restaurants in Charleston is the Blind Tiger Pub. The term blind tiger originated as a gathering place for people to drink and gamble illicitly in the 1800s. While rumors speculate that the first blind tigers in Charleston were on Broad St., it is unclear whether the speakeasies or blind tigers of Charleston were at the same address as today’s Blind Tiger Pub. According to their website, “the first Blind Tigers in South Carolina sprung up as a rebuttal to the ‘dispensary’ laws mandated by Governor Bill Tillman.” The South Carolina Dispensary System was a state-run monopoly on liquor sales from 1803-1907 but proved to be the last time a state would require all liquor sold within its borders to be bottled and dispensed through state-run facilities. Certainly drinking and gambling in blind tigers in the 1800s created a community among each other. That sense of community has not been lost on the Blind Tiger Pub, but the narrative has changed. A place once created to harbor illicit activities now welcomes in locals on a personal level.
New owner Mike Shuler, a native Charlestonian, gave his endorsement for the Blind Tiger Pub, saying, “I have been going there since I was well under aged — jumping the fence in the back. It was the coolest place to be.” Shuler believes the Blind Tiger Pub “is the only place in Charleston where you can truly go back in time.” Another impressive component is the longevity of the restaurant. With 25 years of business, the Blind Tiger Pub has certainly staked its claim on Charleston’s bar scene.“The reality is, how many other places in Charleston have stood the test of time? If you go back to 1992, it’s the last one,” Shuler remarked. Located on Broad St, the Blind Tiger Pub might get lost in the shuffle of tourists, but to locals it remains a gem. And they prefer it to stay hidden.
Whether you have been a Charlestonian your whole life or the last few months, Charleston is a place of community that has a spot for everyone.
The Blind Tiger Pub and the Old Charleston Jail give people the opportunity to escape reality and go back in time. Whether to a jail in the 1800s or a bar in the 1900s, the day is yours.
*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Yard.