Located in an old bank building in the heart of Charleston, Oak Steakhouse is as timeless as historic Broad Street itself. Bringing a classic New York steakhouse vibe to the southern city, it's no surprise that beef is the real star here. With the help of Bar Manager Melanie Frank, the cocktail menu holds court with the tartare and prime rib. We recently chatted with Melanie about Charleston's bustling dining scene, her bartending theories, and her favorite places to drink. She also shared with us her recipe for the dangerously delicious Catalina 'Shine Mixer.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…
I'm Melanie Frank, Bar Manager at Oak Steakhouse in Charleston. I’ve been at Oak for seven years and have been bartending for about 11 years overall.
What first got you behind the bar?
When I was in college, I needed a summer job. I went out looking and got my first bartending job at a sports bar.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
Make it fun. You have to remember you’re basically on stage every night, so if you can have fun while working then it’s not really work.
Favorite drink made by someone else?
I’m the weird bartender that doesn’t really like most liquors and spirits. I’m a red wine or champagne girl all the way.
Favorite drink that you make?
I like making anything I can make look pretty. Aesthetics go along way. If the customer thinks it looks pretty, it’s already going to taste better because their eyes have seen it first.
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
Tequila. I love good tequila. Sipping or shooting or in a cocktail, you can enjoy it and not have a bad sugar headache the next day.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I’m not sure if ice is a credible answer here (editor's note: it is!), but no one wants a hot drink unless it’s a hot toddy. If I can’t use that, then I would choose citrus because it can drastically change any drink or spirit.
What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?
The customers and regulars. I never have a dull night. We have a big local following, and a lot of them have become like family. I really enjoy getting to know people and being part of their lives. I’d say I know 50% or more of my bar most nights. We always joke that’s it’s a "Cheers" bar, but we’re not far from it. I even have some guests that have let me stay at their vacation homes or buy me Christmas gifts. It really is more like an extended family rather than work.
What makes your bar unique?
Our building used to be a bank, and it’s about 200 years old. We have a lot of original flooring and structure to it, including the bank vault. It just makes for a very comfortable and intimate place that people love coming to because they feel welcomed just like at home.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
After work? Somewhere quiet where I can get a nice glass of wine. If I’m not working, I really enjoy rooftop bars and outdoor patios.
What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?
I think Charleston is booming in the food and beverage industry. Years ago, you were hard pressed to find a good bartending job. Now the demand is so high you can go almost anywhere and get hired. I think we have amazing restaurants and bars with some really talented bartenders. You would be hard pressed to go anywhere in the city without a craft cocktail list.
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
Always smile and be pleasant. There is a lot more to bartending than just making drinks. People are out because they want to have a good time or experience, and you’re there to make that happen. People will forget about the food or the drink you made, but they don’t forget how you made them feel. It could be their one night out a year, so if I can make their night more memorable then I’ve done my job.
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
I like the regular moonshine with just a little pickle juice or brine. I don’t like olives, and dirty martinis look so good. So I pickle mine, and it’s delicious.
Catalina Shine Mixer
2 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero
1 oz. ginger molasses
½ oz. lemon juice
few drops of ginger bitters
Top with champagne
Garnish: lemon cranberry habanero lollipop (created by Dress the Drink)
Combine the first three ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Pour champagne on top of mixture in the martini glass and then add a a few drops of ginger bitters. Garnish with the lollipop.
Recipe by Melanie Frank.
All photos by Kate Magee.
Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.