For the Love of Liquor: A Visit to the Crunkleton in Elizabeth
Neighborhood welcomes Gary Crunkleton’s famous cocktail bar
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER TAYLOR
AS YOUR FRIEND who attended UNC Chapel Hill has undoubtedly mentioned, The Crunkleton opened its new location in the Elizabeth neighborhood back in December. Gary Crunkleton’s bar originally opened on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill in 2008, and ever since, locals, students, and national magazines like Southern Living and Garden & Gun have praised the bar’s approach to classic cocktails and old-school bartending.
Crunkleton, a Lake Norman native, and his partners, local restaurateurs Blake Thompson, Zach Goodyear, and Rob Hord, scoured Charlotte for years before selecting a space on East 7th Street. Those acquainted with the “The Crunk” in Chapel Hill shouldn’t anticipate a mere clone. As expected, the new location serves traditional liquor drinks like the Old Fashioned and Vieux Carré. But the Charlotte “Crunk” has characteristics absent from its college town counterpart—most notably a full dinner menu.
Top: Jungle Bird. Above: Gin Fizz.
Chefs prepare dishes like fire-roasted chicken, the elegant-in-its-simplicity burger, and tobacco leaf tamales in a wood-burning, eight-foot-long fireplace. “People will be surprised by how good the food is here,” says Goodyear, who was previously co-owner and pitmaster at Sauceman’s in South End.
The new Crunkleton does borrow some ideas from the original. A 30-foot bar and exposed brick wall, similar to the Chapel Hill location’s, give the space the feel of a sophisticated study, with a selection of fine spirits stacked tall on shelves behind the bar. Ornate chandeliers hang from exposed beams, and U-shaped booths line the wall opposite the bar; their banana cream color is a tribute to the walls of previous tenant, local comic book store Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, which moved around the corner.
The most intriguing part of The Crunkleton, though, may be the ice. Charlotte’s location is home to one of three machines in the world that create pure blocks of ice (the others reside in Vancouver and New York City). Using a circulation method that eliminates impurities and air bubbles, the ice maker leaves behind nothing but pure frozen water. So when you order the Jungle Bird (two kinds of rum, Campari, lime, and pineapple), your drink will include a chunk of new, glass-clear H2O from the 50-pound block just behind the bar.
Dishes are cooked over an open fire within the view of diners; the burger is a favorite on The Crunkleton’s menu.
Don’t let the fancy ice fool you, however. The Crunkleton isn’t looking to serve only the most fastidious cocktail enthusiasts. “You’ll feel comfortable here ordering a Jack and Coke or a Miller High Life,” Goodyear says. “We have something for the spirits aficionado or someone stopping in for a drink to take in the second half of a football game.”
That neighborhood bar atmosphere has garnered national attention for the Chapel Hill location, successfully catering to a mix of college students and seasoned locals. The patrons visiting Charlotte’s second-oldest neighborhood probably won’t skew toward college age, but this city still has a thirst for the attention to detail that has become The Crunkleton’s cocktail trademark.
Top: Elderflower Sour. Above: bourbon on the rocks.