This story was updated with renderings August 2018.
The Crunkleton, a classy cocktail bar and restaurant, is targeting a fall grand opening in the space formerly occupied by Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find in Elizabeth.
This will be Gary Crunkleton’s second cocktail bar. The original Crunkleton on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill has garnered national attention, most recently being named one of the Six Best Bourbon Bars in the South by Garden & Gun magazine. It’s legit, and this is a big deal for Charlotte’s bar scene.
Crunkleton grew up in the Lake Norman area, so he knows Charlotte. He’s teamed up with local restaurateurs Blake Thompson, Zach Goodyear and Rob Hord to create a hospitality group. And this isn’t a one-off. The group is looking to open more restaurants and bars.
“Charlotte doesn’t have a cocktail culture yet,” Crunkleton told me.
Unlike the original location, The Crunkleton in Charlotte will offer food.
Crunkleton had been looking for a space in Charlotte for two and a half years. They nearly ended up on Central Avenue before deciding on the space in Elizabeth.
When they open, expect sharable small plates ranging from $10-$12 along with larger dishes like steak and chicken entrees. Gary’s especially excited about the grilled octopus small plate and he told me sales will likely be 80% drinks and 20% food.
There’ll be an open kitchen in the back of the space with an 8-foot hearth.
“The menu will include appetizers, entrees and shared plates and feature everything from dry-aged meats and hearth-hung whole chickens to seasonal small plate offerings and a really good burger,” said Crunkelton management. “Each and every item will kiss the hearth at some point during preparation.”
Enough with the Instagrammable cocktails. It’s about the classics, according to Gary.
“The problem with our industry right now is that bartenders see all these photos on Instagram and want to do their own thing, like adding syrups, without respecting the classics,” Gary says. “When a customer orders a Manhattan, you’ve got to be able to deliver them the 1800s classic. It’s a better drink; that’s why it’s a classic. Only after they understand the classic can you start to augment.”
He’s got a good point. Maybe I’m just an idiot, but I don’t actually know what the classics taste like and I certainly don’t know any of their histories.
The Crunkleton will focus on classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré, Tom Collins and Manhattan. No Fireball. Along with outstanding service and execution, expect to be educated on each cocktail by your bartenders. Gary plans to rent an apartment in Elizabeth and spend the first 6 months there once the Crunkleton opens, implementing what he called a “world-class training system” for employees.
Another interesting detail is The Crunkleton’s ice plan. Yes, you read that correctly, ice plan.
“Most of those spherical ice ball makers are blls**t,” Gary told me. “You can’t have air in your ice because it melts too fast. It needs to be 100% clear.”
Sitting near the front of the bar, The Crunkleton will have a 50-pound block of ice and where they’ll chisel off pieces for the perfect cocktail. I told Gary that sounded cool to which he replied, “Yes, it’s going to be f***ing amazing.” Haha, I told you – this guy is crazy in the best of ways.
The 99-seat space will feature a 30-foot bar with a floor to ceiling backbar loaded with spirits from around the world.
The front windows will be paneled and open like an accordion. When you walk in, the 30-foot bar will be on your right, four U-shaped elevated booths will be on your left, cocktail tables and community tables will be in the center and an open kitchen featuring an 8-foot hearth will be in the back center.
It’s still undecided whether the space will have a pool table, a signature element from Chapel Hill. And while decor has been discussed, nothing has been finalized. Given the ownership group, I expect the vibe and interior to be different than what you’re experienced in Chapel Hill.
The space was designed by Carrie Frye Interior Design.
Will The Crunkleton be a hit?
Yes. Given the experienced ownership group, location and The Crunkleton brand, I anticipate immediate success and a lasting impact on Charlotte’s cocktail culture.
Your friend from Chapel Hill is likely already freaking out in excitement. When we posted the news to the Agenda Instagram, comments like “Crunkleton in Charlotte YAAAAS!!!” and “Oh my Crunk!!! Yes!” poured in.
That said, I’m curious to see the decor they choose, how they handle parking and if they can create a menu that matches the quality of cocktails.
As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” and we’re still in the early stages of cocktail growth in Charlotte. The Crunkleton will grow our overall cocktail culture (thus increase demand), which will be a net positive for all top cocktail bars like Dot Dot Dot, The Cellar, Soul Gastrolounge, Haberdish, Dogwood and The Punch Room.
“I love what Stefan Huebner is doing at Dot Dot Dot,” Gary said when I asked him about other bars he enjoyed in Charlotte. “I want to create a neighborhood bar that serves everybody… You may see a mechanic drinking a beer and a few bar seats down a hedge fund manager sipping a 25-year Scotch.”