The Surprising Charleston Origins of the “Garden & Gun” Name

From the headnote to our “Garden and Gun Cocktail” (bourbon-based, with lemon-inflected watermelon rind preserves) in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook (WW Norton, 2006), page 52:

“Charleston once had its own version of Studio 54, called the King Street Garden and Gun Club, founded by Richard Robison. A producer at the Spoleto Festival USA, the performing arts festival that takes over the town each year in late May and early June, Robison opened the Garden and Gun (which was all anyone ever called it) primarily as a place for the baritones and ballerinas from out of town to unwind after their shows, but the nightspot attracted a large local following, too. Although the Garden and Gun lasted only from 1976 (the founding of the Spoleto Festival) until 1981, the bar was deeply influential, and even today many Charlestonians claim it was the first bar in the city where people of all races and sexual orientations felt comfortable dancing together. We still hear people of a certain age waxing nostalgic about the dance scene at the Garden and Gun. There was never anything like it before, they tell us, and there hasn’t been anything quite like it since.
We were far from drinking age during the Garden and Gun’s heyday, but the phrase always captivated us for the way it effortlessly welds together two concepts that seem so at odds, the twee domesticity of “garden” and the frightening brawn of “gun.” It was only as we grew older that we realized it captures one aspect of Charleston’s soul: a little bit courtly and a little bit country. It’s a quality perhaps best articulated by one of Ted’s contemporaries at a debutante party. “Don’t you just love deb season?” said the young rake, taking a long slug of a gin and tonic. “Just change out of your camo [camouflage], and into your tuxedo.”

In this cocktail, the bourbon is the gun; the watermelon rind preserves, which is basically a simple syrup infused with lemon, ginger, and the cucumber-y freshness of watermelon rind, is the garden.

A vintage G&G Club matchbook:
Garden and Gun Club matchbook