There is something marvelous about two Southern greats coming together on a glitzy evening in the capital of the world. There has long been reciprocity between Charleston and New York City. So much of what drives the cultural explosion in Charleston has echoes of a certain cosmopolitan sophistication. The steady stream of New Yorkers decamping south contribute to the increasing worldliness of the Holy City.
The love goes both ways. Everyone is crushing on everything Southern and, after just ten years, Garden & Gun, a publication rooted deeply in the tradition of Southern living, has erupted with popularity. The magazine launched in 2007, the creation of two Charlestonians and one Rebecca Wesson Darwin. The magazine is “a metaphor for the South,” says Darwin. “Its land, the people, their lifestyle, and their heritage.” And for the last ten years, Garden & Gun has drawn its readers into this alluring metaphor, all smoky ballads and Spanish moss and barbeque. Similarly, Kiawah Island has been basking in the glow. Named America’s number one island by Condé Nast Traveler and one of the top ten islands in the world by Travel + Leisure, Kiawah is celebrating forty years as a community this year. The Island has made its name with pristine beaches, world-class golf, and luxury amenities and is a discrete haven for the most discerning buyers, a destination for an increasingly global audience. And so the twain meet for a celebration of these bright successes.
AN EVENING IN SPRING
The Beekman hotel is something to see. Its terracotta facade makes a statement on the otherwise staid block in downtown Manhattan. The lobby opens into an atrium that echoes ten stories skyward, an airy stack of balcony upon balcony. The building and address have an astounding history. Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered in the original building in 1761. Another structure took its place in the mid-1800s and housed the Mercantile Library Association with members such as Emerson, Twain, and Thoreau. At the end of the nineteenth century, the third building was one of Manhattan’s first skyscrapers at ten stories. It is said that you could see Central Park from the roof. Five Beekman was named a historic landmark in 1998 and has been restored in recent years. Yet, despite the fine finishes and buzzy crowd, the building still feels like a relic from another New York. A statement of grandiosity and splendor, a house for greats.
Tonight is just that. Cocktail hour kicks off in the catacombs of the building. The crowd swells quickly and the bourbon punch takes hold. An orange neon Garden & Gun sign blazes amongst a wall of dripping greenery, and cameras flash as VIP after VIP walks through the doors. It’s a mash-up of well-known guests, Southerners and Yankees alike. The Garden & Gun team is glowing at the center of it all, handshakes and hugs all around.
LOVAGE IS TO RABBIT
What a thrill to see chefs Mike Lata and Tom Colicchio standing side by side in pressed kitchen whites. They murmur quietly enough not to be overheard, but they seem to be discussing the menu—ingredients and process. Their gestures say as much. Occasionally they break off for a social visit with a friend or to check on the progress in the downstairs kitchen. They wear what one might call “game faces” as the cocktail hour winds to a close.
As guests are directed up the stairs to the second floor Temple Court Room, the two chefs disappear into the kitchen. Here, the magic begins to unfold. Lata is first, calmly directing a team of uniformed chefs and waitstaff. Each plate is perfect—a savory stew of Carolina white shrimp. One hundred plates walk out the door, and Lata steps back. Colicchio is up. He’s in home territory tonight—Colicchio has been consulting chef at the Kiawah Island Club for over a decade and The Beekman restaurant Temple Court is Colicchio’s latest masterwork in New York. He breaks concentration here and there to crack a joke.
And so it goes. Like a beautiful dance, they co-execute a five-course dinner for the expectant guests.
Garden & Gun president and CEO Rebecca Darwin stands to welcome guests and speak about the magazine’s ten-year anniversary. There is a lot of love in the room for Darwin, and for cofounders Pierre Manigault and John Wilson. Then she passes the microphone to Kiawah partner Chris Randolph amidst thunderous applause. For Kiawah Island, the publication is icing on the proverbial cake, a lovely showcase of everything great about the Lowcountry and the South. “Garden & Gun is more than just a magazine, and Kiawah is more than just development,” says Randolph. “Both of these brands share an unwavering commitment to being stewards for the arts, nature, design, and to creating an unparalleled experience.” Tonight is a celebration of great success, of Charleston and Kiawah, and their places in the cultural and culinary canon of today.
After the five glorious courses and glass over glass of wine, guests play musical chairs or two to a seat, catching up on industry news and connecting with friends of friends. It’s a diverse crowd, from the United States Ambassador to the United Nations to well-known Wall Street financiers to a haute couture milliner. And perhaps that’s what makes the event so dynamic.
After dinner, the partygoers traipse back downstairs, lingering in the atrium to chat with Lata and Colicchio—who both have the look of a relaxed maestro post ovation.
A LINE OF CHEERWINE
Amanda Shires and her band tune up in the Farnsworth Room. Club tables are clustered in front of the stage, and everyone takes a seat. Shires is another cultural emblem, a rising folk and country star. Her voice paired with the fiddle is mesmerizing, and the crowd quiets when she takes the microphone.
The music plays deep into the night. It’s time to go home when a cleanup crew arrives, and the neon sign in the foyer flickers off. Guests make their way out into the cold March air with a Cheerwine and a Krispy Kreme box tied up neatly with string. The South made a good showing in New York tonight. — H.W.