Food & Drink

Star barkeep Gary Crunkleton plans one big change when he opens in Charlotte

In Chapel Hill, the style of The Crunkleton is classic and adult. The style for the Charlotte location is still on the drawing board.
In Chapel Hill, the style of The Crunkleton is classic and adult. The style for the Charlotte location is still on the drawing board.

When the Charlotte location of The Crunkleton, the high-class cocktail spot, opens in the Elizabeth neighborhood next year, it will have something very important that the original in Chapel Hill doesn’t have: food.

Owner Gary Crunkleton, who has developed a national following for his classic cocktails and liquor selection, has partnered with pitmaster Zach Goodyear, one of the original owners of Sauceman’s BBQ on West Boulevard.

“What we’re hoping to capture is a special scene built around great drinks, service, spirit knowledge and some food. We’re thinking the food will get you there.”

First, though: He doesn’t even have a name for the new place yet. He and his partners, Goodyear and Blake Thompson, have been so focused on finding the right location that they’re still figuring out the details. Although they’ve discussed picking a different name for Charlotte, Crunkleton thinks they’ll probably stay with The Crunkleton because it’s so well known. But the design and style of the new place are still on the table.

“We’re all just putting our heads together,” he says. “We’re going to come in with guns blazing.”

He admits he had tried several times to find a spot in Charlotte, including a space in Plaza-Midwood, before finally seeing the location at 7th Street and Pecan Avenue being vacated when comic-book store Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find moves to a larger location. The spot is two doors up from the former location of Crisp where chef Paul Verica is opening a new restaurant in a few months. Crunkleton plans to open late next spring.

Crunkleton says he looked at the location Verica is taking, but it didn’t fit his plans. He asked what else was available and was taken into the Heroes location.

“I said, ‘This is it.’ And that was a year and half ago.”

Crunkleton, who grew up in a suburb in Denver, N.C., on Lake Norman and went to East Lincoln High School, has wanted to branch out to Charlotte for years. His mother and sister both live here, so he has a reason to go back and forth between Charlotte and the Chapel Hill location, which will stay open. He emphasizes training of his staff, he says, and puts a particular focus on opening up a little and developing relationships with guests.

“The staff are the ones that take care of the guests,” he says. “They’re the ones. People say, ‘Oh, Gary – you’re the face.’ I don’t know what they mean. I hope what they mean is my approach to service.”

For the food, Crunkleton wants to put in a fireplace and feature open hearth/open fire cooking with a focus on small plates, including a burger.

“I’ll be food and he’ll be drinks,” Goodyear told The Observer. “I’m really excited. I’ve been working more with fire than smoke lately.”

Something else that will be slightly different in Charlotte will be the liquor selection. While Crunkleton plans to have a strong liquor selection, he says it can’t be exactly the same as his original location. When he opened 15 years ago, he was able to put together a lot of rare bottles that simply aren’t available in today’s highly competitive liquor market.

“We can’t duplicate what we have at Chapel Hill,” he says. “We’ll still focus on a great whiskey selection – whiskey with an ‘E’ and whisky without an ‘E’.”

In Charlotte as in Chapel Hill, the focus still will be on classic cocktails, often with a spin.

“I really like the classics,” he says. “You’ve got to nail the classics first. We have to build a classic cocktail market in Charlotte. After we get their palates adjusted to the classic-type cocktails, which are bitter and kind of botanical, then we’ll let the staff add other things.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis