The Crunkleton, an 84-seat cocktail bar and restaurant, recently opened in Elizabeth — and it’s off to a red-hot start.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, The Crunkleton has been slammed — occasionally generating wait times of 30 minutes for a cocktail and often staying busy until 2 a.m.
This is the Crunkleton’s second location. The original Crunkleton, on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, has garnered national attention for its Prohibition-era cocktails, most recently being named one of the Six Best Bourbon Bars in the South by Garden & Gun magazine.
The name comes from bartender and co-owner Gary Crunkleton.
Crunkleton grew up in the Lake Norman area, so he knows Charlotte. He 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. I’m bullish.
Hours are 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The exact address is 1957 E. 7th St. in the Elizabeth.
OK, here are 8 things to know about The Crunkleton.
(1) The Crunkleton Charlotte is a private club, and membership will run you $10 per year.
“Membership dues are required by NCABC for businesses that sell liquor, and we definitely sell liquor,” said Crunkleton. “If food sales are beyond 30 percent of total revenue, then we would not have to be a private club. Our target for food sales does not get us to 30 percent.”
You can purchase a membership online. The Crunkleton has about 2,500 members as of mid-January.
It’s the type of place that’s filled with country club members and the who’s who of Charlotte. It’s paradise for the older, wealth, frat guys in Charlotte.
Given the popularity of the bar, I asked Crunkleton why they didn’t go with a larger membership fee, let’s say $500 per year.
He explained to me $10 is “high enough to cover the costs associated with doing memberships and low enough to allow the people in the community to afford it. … Going with a higher membership fee to create exclusivity is not what we are about.”
(2) It’s beautiful inside.
No expense was spared on the $1 million upfit, and it shows.
“We paid attention to the design details in order to give the community a special place for which they could be proud,” said Crunkleton. “Yet, we wanted the place to feel comfortable and unassuming.”
The 84-seat space features a 30-foot bar with a floor-to-ceiling backbar loaded with spirits from around the world.
It’s the type of place that’s so comfortable that you can walk in at 5 p.m. and the next thing you know, it’s midnight.
When you walk in, the 30-foot bar is on your right, four large U-shaped elevated booths are on your left, four top tables will be in the center, and you’ll find three high tops near the windows (my favorite seats). Straight back, you’ll find an open kitchen featuring an 8-foot hearth is in the back center.
(3) Enough with the Instagrammable cocktails. It’s about the classics, according to Gary Crunkleton.
“Charlotte doesn’t have a cocktail culture yet,” Crunkleton told me.
“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,” Crunkleton said. “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.”
“I love what Stefan Huebner is doing at Dot Dot Dot,” Crunkleton said when I asked him about other bars he enjoyed in Charlotte.
The Crunkleton focuses on classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré, Tom Collins and Manhattan – no Fireball.
The Old Fashioned at The Crunkleton is one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. It’s legit.
Outside of the classics, The Crunkleton’s cocktail menu features nine drinks. The most popular so far are The Dusty Cactus (tequila), The French 75 (gin) and Penicillin (whisky).
Another interesting note is that people want to work for Gary Crunkleton, so the bar has been recruiting top talent. For example, Ryan Hart, the GM and beverage director at Zeppelin, has now joined The Crunkleton team.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work under such a legend,” Ryan shared with the Agenda.
(4) Parking sucks.
Even though we’re becoming more and more urban, Charlotte still loves ample parking and those not taking an Uber/Lyft to The Crunkleton may find themselves driving around the block in frustration.
It’s a small parking lot that’s shared with The Stanley, Burn Bootcamp and Starbucks, amongst others.
(5) The Crunkleton takes ice very, very seriously.
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,” Crunkleton told me. “You can’t have air in your ice because it melts too fast. It needs to be 100 percent clear.”
They purchased a block ice maker that fits underneath the bar. The machine makes four rectangular hard ice blocks which can weigh up to 50 pounds. Currently there are only two of these ice makers in the United States — one is in NYC and the other is here in Charlotte.
“Today, our focus is to get the bartenders comfortable with making the nine drinks on our cocktail menu,” said Crunkleton. “As they get more proficient with drink making, we will add more elements which create a wonderful bar experience for our guests. The artisanal ice program is an element we will introduce in the coming days. We will take the blocks of hard ice and cut them and shape them for the various drinks. Attention to ice is a significant part of what we do.”
The ice is just an example of how The Crunkleton doesn’t cut corners.
When I asked Gary about the early success of the bar, he mentioned quality. “It could be that Charlotte has a more discerning palate and looks for places doing things the right way. Our neighbors, The Stanley, are certainly doing things the right way. My buddy, William Dissen that runs Haymaker, does it the right way. Many of the local breweries are doing things the right way. I am even drinking Kambucha from Lenny Boy because they seem to be doing it the right way.”
(6) If you’re there with a meat-loving group, order the massive 36-ounce dry-aged tomahawk ribeye ($110).
Unlike the original location, The Crunkleton in Charlotte offers food. I’m a big fan of their limited menu — it’s unapologetically a bar first, restaurant second.
Appetizer highlights include:
- Two different styles of oysters ($18) – rockefeller (a personal favorite) and charred
- Hearth charred wings ($12) – house hot sauce, sorghum, gates blue
- Fried sugar toads ($16) – house fermented chiles, preserved lemon, benne
(7) Don’t sleep on The Crunkleton’s burger.
The Crunkleton Burger is topped with cheese, lettuce, pickles and house-made Crunkleton sauce served with fries ($12).
It’s a top five burger in Charlotte.
(8) You don’t have to spend a ton of money at The Crunkleton — but you can if you want. It’s kind of fun that you can order a $3.75 Bud Light or a $230 pour of rare bourbon.
“I want to create a neighborhood bar that serves everybody,” Crunkleton shared with the Agenda. “You may see a mechanic drinking a beer and a few bar seats down a hedge fund manager sipping a 25-year Scotch.”
I love the different price points. But, I’d argue that this is the “Copacabana of Charlotte” where all the power players hangout, not a neighborhood spot — at least for now.