As you walk south down King Street, the bustling jumble of college shops and clothing stores gives way to a quieter blend of antique and jewelry shops, and the dining options dwindle. Then a block before Broad, Bin 152 is a welcome oasis, a surprisingly European-feeling bar serving carefully chosen wines, beer, cheese, and charcuterie, giving wayward pedestrians a reason to stop in and have a seat. It's been open about a year, and owners Patrick and Fanny Panella have found their niche.
Patrick knows the wine, and Fanny knows the food. The wine list is constantly changing and evolving.
"It's a work in progress," he says. "I want to keep a variety of regions, varietals, and price points. I'm constantly trading out wines. Now that it's getting cooler, I'm moving in more reds." He also constantly tastes. "Tuesdays are my biggest tasting days. Everyone thinks it's fun; it's work."
The bar's bottle prices range from about $28 to $300, and glasses (about 25 at last check) from $7 to $16 (Patrick says they'll sell half glasses if customers ask). Varietals are a good mix of Old and New World, with an increasing lean to the Old. Each have their own charm, and Patrick is happy to make recommendations. They also serve a handful of beers, like Pilsner Urquell, Guinness, and even Pabst Blue Ribbon.
How does Fanny choose the cheese and charcuterie? With similar discernment. Though the offerings are familiar — cheeses like Camembert, Taleggio, Stilton, and Roquefort, and cured meats like speck, bresaola, coppa, and chorizo — she tastes multiple varieties of each for her favorite characteristics. Generous portions of both are offered for $7, along with plenty of fresh baguette slices — and none disappoint. The alluring Speck Alto Aldige, for instance, is a smoked and dry-cured ham with a subtle juniper flavor. It's similar to prosciutto but because it's smoked, its texture is pleasingly firm and even chewy, satisfying for even the fiercest umami craving. All of the charcuterie and cheeses have their own interesting characteristics, so suffice it to say that the selections are as good as you'll find in Charleston, and they're stored, prepared, and served with due attention.
There's no need, by the way, to ask for mustard, pickles, or olives — they don't have any. "We're kind of purists when it comes to that," Patrick says with a slight grin. "I like simple things. I like it when people do one thing and do it well."
For my part, I understand and appreciate that simplicity more and more each time I visit Bin 152. Like a favorite song, Bin 152 is a slow burn.
The Panellas mostly serve the before and after-dinner crowd, along with the late night hospitality folks (they're open until 2 a.m. most nights). Fulton Five, 82 Queen, and Poogan's Porch are relatively close, and with Chef Sean Brock's Husk set to open around the corner, the traffic is sure to increase. "It's going to be great for us," says Patrick. He says they may have interesting ways to cooperate with Brock down the line.
As you go through the menu at Bin 152, you'll notice you can even buy the chair you're sitting in and the table your elbows are resting on. The last page (after the wine, cheese, and charcuterie "bins") is the "antique bin," which has the bar's furnishings listed for sale like so many slices of meat. But for the Panellas, that's kind of an afterthought — a fun twist. Like the Panellas, you'll mostly pay attention to how well the wine or beer, cheese, and charcuterie taste.
About 10 blocks north and three blocks west of Bin 152 and a block away from Ken Vedrinski's Trattoria Lucca is Enoteca, a jewel of a corner bar carefully designed with reclaimed wood, vintage leather, and posh furniture. By design, it's a ripe spot to wait for a table at Lucca — or to pop by for any reason on any other night, before, after, or instead of dinner for a drink or two with friends and some really good Italian cheese, often paired with something tart, tangy, or citrusy to complement it.
True to Vedrinski's love of Italy, all of Enoteca's wines, beers, and cheeses are Italian. "Sometimes people come in and ask for a Budweiser," says Vedrinski. "I just have to politely tell them that I have no problem at all with Budweiser — in fact, we have it at Lucca — but that's just not what we do here."
Fair enough. And anyway, as long as you're in Vedrinski's hands why not try a beer you might end up loving but have trouble finding elsewhere — a Moretti Rosso, say, or a Menabrea, Nuovo Mattina, or Cassissona?
Along with better-known wine varietals, Enoteca's menu features difficult-to-find Italian grapes like Sagrantino, planted only in 250 Umbrian hectares and Arneis from the Piedmont. Bottles are priced from $32 to $150, and glasses (about 12 at last check) from $7 to $14. The wines are an ideal accompaniment to Vedrinski's cheese and charcuterie dishes — dishes that are more composed than Bin 152's. There's a Toma Bielese, a Tuscan sheep's milk cheese paired alongside a Marsala Vidalia Onion Fonduta; a farmy Barolo di Testun (cow's milk from Piedmont) paired with a complex and bold mushroom agrodolce made with hazelnuts; and an assertive gorgonzola creamaficia matched with an orange pepperoncini marmaletta, among others. All are served with crisply toasted and thin slices of bread, and all are damn good.
Enoteca is a labor of love for Vedrinksi, but it also has a convenient synergy with Lucca one block over. It's a place for people to relax while waiting on a table, since space, and sometimes quiet (as Vedrinski readily admits) are limited at Lucca. Beyond the food and drink offerings, Enoteca's décor is beautiful: lush, vintage-feeling blue, green, and gray colors, reclaimed and unfinished pine and rich stone. You may not want to get up once you settle in (even for Lucca). But if not tonight, then definitely another. Once you've tasted what either Lucca or Enoteca has to offer, you'll want to hit the other soon.