Columbia, SC’s The Whig was a bar and symbol of the city
The Whig made Columbia cool.
The underground bar on the corner of Main and Gervais vibrates with an intangible essence like a Miles Davis song manifesto.
But soon it will close because the building above the bar will be renovated. Columbia: Let’s enjoy it while we can.
The Whig has bartenders who are more like friends. The spirits are reliable, and the dishes are the chef’s kiss. Chipotle pimento cheese fries are unmatched in Colombia.
In his lifetime, The Whig has had music, comedy, trivia, late nights, New Years parties, Christmas in July, wise wall graffiti, 50 cent tacos, slices of pizza to a dollar and all kinds of reasons to gather friends.
The jukebox is from another era when such a machine was an attraction for the brokenhearted and the ecstatic.
The jukebox may have tried bartenders’ patience at times — people really like to play Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” — but it rocked. That’s all there is to say.
The fumes from bartenders smoking cigarettes along the stairs leading up to the Whig put a strain on the lungs, and more than any bar in Columbia, it was always worth breaking through that toxic cloud.
The Whig’s location in the heart of Columbia and the heart of the state added to its appeal. Location is more than prime real estate for a business.
It is symbolic.
Opposite the Whig, the dome of the SC State House rises from the ground, guarded by a Confederate soldier atop an obelisk. Strom Thurmond walks in bronze over the name of a black child he hid, and Ben Tillman stands on a pedestal of all the terrible qualities associated with South Carolina. For decades, the Confederate flag grew in the sky, hanging like a rag that someone forgot to throw away.
All those hideous symbols came out of the ground. But walk across the street and into Columbia’s underground level, and here’s this bar that’s brought together people, from owners to crowds, who want Columbia and South Carolina to be great, to rid this place that so many people call at their home. this baggage on Gervais with all the talents they had, or even just showing someone from the outside a good chunk of a state they only knew about the bad sides.
The Whig is where these people met and communed and got drunk.
A hotel goes in the building above The Whig. It’s a nice use for it. No problem with that. The renovations needed to restore the building meant The Whig was doomed. It would be nice if it could stay. But it may have lost something as a hotel bar rather than a local restaurant.
Here’s an idea for those who control the fate of the bar: leave the Whig as is. Leave all taxidermy in place. Do not move a table. Let the jukebox stay next to the spiral staircase and keep the safe open. The fish stays in that corner over there, and the saber-toothed skull stays behind the bass. Build walls on all entrances that lead to the Whig from above. Next, seal the front door.
When the last day comes, fill the hallway leading to the front door with concrete. Just bury the place.
Maybe 150 years from now some feisty Colombians wanting something different from all the grossness that will no doubt still be on the grounds of the State House will read this article. This person will have jackhammers and heavy digging equipment, and when they are done dredging the rock, they will see the writing on the brick wall, then the door, and they will open it.
They will breathe the last air that a gathering of people who cared about Columbia breathed, and the only thing they can say is this:
“This place is cool.”