In August, 1778 local businessman Edward McCrady made a career change. His previous occupation had been as a barber, which in colonial America, also implied medical services, such as dentistry. With the purchase of land in Unity Alley, he became a waterfront tavern owner.
This was a turbulent time for Charleston; it was two-years after the Declaration of Independence and the colonies were still fighting for their independence. McCrady’s tavern became a popular spot for the city’s elite to discuss politics, current events, and socialize. As a member of the militia, Mr. McCrady would also champion the cause on the battlefield. When Charleston was captured by the British in May, 1780 McCrady was taken prisoner and shipped to St. Augustine with others viewed as potential threats to the Crown.
McCrady survived this hardship and had his property restored at the end of the American Revolution. In 1788 he improved the tavern by constructing a second building, connected by a second story double piazza. This “Long Room” became a popular spot for theater, concerts and other civic entertainments. There are quite a number of Revolutionary War era buildings in Charleston, but McCrady’s is the only one that can boast an intact Long Room.
On May 7, 1791 President George Washington was the esteemed guest of honor at McCrady’s. The Society of Cincinnati, formed by former officers of the Continental Army, hosted the Commander in Chief in high style. The Long Room was done up with a display of plants and a choir brought in for musical entertainment. Washington dined on a thirty-course meal punctuated by frequent toasts. Cannons stood on the nearby street, manned by the Charleston Artillery, were fired each time a toast was made to the President. Upon hearing the booming salutes those who were not in attendance could hoist their glasses and toast Washington too! There were at “least fifteen toasts” that night (which means they stopped counting). Washington was no slouch when it came to drinking, so I'm sure he held his own!
After McCrady’s death in 1801, the property passed through many owners who used it for various purposes, including a French coffee house and warehouse. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, but it was not until 1982 when the derelict building was restored. In 2006, new owners made further renovations to return the tavern back to its’ original grandeur. It remains a nationally recognized fine dining restaurant and voted best wine bar in the Southeast!
Michael D. Coker is a Charleston native, published author, and licensed tour guide. He has worked in local museums for 15 years, and has developed a reputation for his extensive knowledge of history. You can reach Michael by email by clicking on the links above.