In recent years, efforts to revitalize the city of Columbia’s Main Street District have included streetscaping, increased apartment housing, and the addition of several new stores and businesses; the once dormant neighborhood is now blooming with pedestrians who now reside, dine, and socialize on Main Street. And since the August 4 opening of Main Street Public House, the district now has its very own pub, located in the heart of the neighborhood at 1556 Main Street.
MSPH’s bar manager, Scott Scheper, has two major goals for the new pub. First, Scheper hopes to create an atmosphere that will appeal to the majority of Columbia city residents, including those who work, live, or go out in the Main Street district. Secondly, he strives for MSPH to be what finally connects the Main Street District to the rest of downtown Columbia.
“The gap from the Vista to Main Street is getting shorter and shorter,” Scheper explained. “You can walk from here to Pearlz or Liberty Tap Room. We’re trying to be a part of broadening both downtown areas and bringing them together.”
Achieving that goal means casting MSPH as a new hub for the city’s music scene. Scheper has worked diligently with his co-managers to showcase a variety of local and regional musical talents; in the four months they have been open, MSPH has featured local EDM DJs, rock bands, and acoustic music.
The pub is especially proud of their Wednesday nights, which now hosts their “Cola Jazz Series” each week. Every Wednesday evening, local jazz musicians such as Mark Rapp, Kanika Moore, Amanda Mayo, Robert Gardiner, Nick Brewer, and Amos Hoffman perform for pub-goers. Keeping loyal to their homey, neighborhood appeal, MSPH does not ever require a cover charge for nights when they have live music.
With its impressive, spacious, wood-based interior, MSPH is a gorgeous addition to the Main Street neighborhood. But customers are likely to find the most attractive part of the restaurant is actually the warm, personable customer service they receive from the staff.
As the opening day for MSPH approached, Scheper recruited seasoned, well-known bartenders from Columbia nightlife staples such as Pearlz, Tin Roof, and Wild Wing to build a staff who would already be well-acquainted with Columbia nightlife and welcoming to the pub’s customers. “At the end of the day, we are a casual pub with really good service,” he explained. “We want this to be somewhere you can walk into where the bartenders know you and are your friends.”
The intimacy and friendliness of the MSPH staff goes far beyond just a bartender remembering a customer’s favorite drink. One regular customer explained that after tasting Green Spot Irish Whiskey at a friend’s house, he sent a picture of the bottle to Scheper’s cell phone and asked if he would carry it at MSPH. Scheper immediately agreed to order the bottle, and now MSPH may possibly be the only bar in Columbia that carries this liquor.
Another customer asked if he could order something not on the menu—a taco pizza. One of the kitchen staff members talked with him about his food preferences (“Would you like a black bean sauce and pico de gallo?”) and agreed to make the very specialized request. These unique customer experiences demonstrate the commitment to service MSPH has.
“Our demographic is everybody,” says Scheper. While the pub boasts an expansive wine list and a variety of high end liquors, it also has “really reasonable food pricing and 16 oz. PBRs for just $3,” according to Scheper.
Scheper has already changed the pub’s drink menu since the pub opened in August, replacing the more complex cocktails with simple but elegant drinks. “I want to prepare us to do high volume but still put out really good cocktails,” he explained. “We’re not trying to have an ego. We just want to appeal to everybody.”
However, an even more drastic change than the drink menu has been made at MSPH. In September, the pub drafted Curtis Clark as their new executive chef. “Since Curtis got here, things have been amazing,” said Scheper. “We don’t ever have to worry about the kitchen now. He’s been in the game for awhile. He looked at the demographics of our customers and the style of pub we’re creating, and made an awesome menu to match that.”
Clark, who has been a chef for 22 years in California, Florida, and locally at Motor Supply Co. Bistro and the Palmetto Club, said his goal for MSPH was to create “clean pub food” using his own creative spin on traditional comfort food recipes.
“We’re not pretentious,” said Clark. “I consider our food ‘shareables.’ We want this to be a place where you come have a beer and a bite of food, watch TV, hang out, drink another beer, listen to some good music, hang out and have fun.”
While the kitchen now offers fish and steak specials specials throughout the week, Clark hopes to maintain a laid-back and humble mood with his dishes. Below, we give you the best recommendations for what to order the next time you stop by the neighborhood pub for a bite to eat.
“We are constantly evolving and changing, and finding out what works,” said Clark. “We’re a self-taught, self-made group, and that keeps us humble…but if there’s something you want that you don’t see on the menu, don’t hesitate to ask. Chances are, we can do it.”
Scheper echoed that the bar similarly wants to create a “just ask us” relationship with its customers. “People have been really receptive to us so far,” he said. “We’re so grateful to be a part of Main Street right now and what we can offer to the surrounding businesses. We’re looking forward to growing more in the future.”
Newcomers to MSPH can check out our own recommendations on what to order for their first visit below.
From the kitchen…
Roasted beet salad – For those who crave lighter fare for dinner, the roasted beet salad is a healthy but savory option. With a yummy vanilla champagne vinaigrette and Dijon sauce, the salad is made up of fresh, chewy vegetables, complemented warmly by sharp, pungent feta cheese.
Dip & Bap – True to Chef Curtis Clark’s desire to create “shareable” pub food, the Dip and Bap is a scrumptious blend of Guinness beer cheese. With blue cheese, cheddar, smoked gouda, white American cheese, and Parmesan, the Dip & Bap has a warm, sharp taste and is perfect to split with a friend during happy hour.
Margherita pizza – MSPH has already established a reputation for their pizzas. Their kitchen staff was trained in New York to with an award-winning pizza recipe, and their stone, gas-powered rotating pizza oven heats up to 780 degrees, giving their pizza crusts a crispy, crunchy taste. The margherita pizza stands out, full of fresh ingredients, giving it a bright, herby taste.
Chicken wings – At MSPH, their sizable wings are smoked then fried, resulting in a very juicy, tender meat that falls of the bone. While many restaurants promote mostly their wing sauce, often drowning the meat in it, Chef Clark’s staff puts the time and effort into creating exceptional wings. The wings spend seventeen hours on the brine, and the pub’s sweet and spicy rub is unforgettable.
Meatballs – The creamy, cheesy, basil-heavy meatball dish is unexpectedly delicious. With a soft, minced consistency, the dish braises the meatballs in a very traditional Bolognese sauce with added cheesy flavor.
Forager’s Pie – For vegetarians seeking a main dish, this filling, warm pie will do the trick. Each week, Chef Clark uses a different batch of locally sourced vegetables, including Brussel sprouts, butternut squash, zucchini, turnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes to create a well-seasoned, baked gratin. The vegetables are cooked without flaw, maintaining their different textures—some chewy, some crispy—to create a flavorful, complex dish that will leave both meat-eaters and vegetarians satisfied.
From the bar…
The Rye Manhattan – True lovers of whiskey will appreciate MSPH’s pleasant twist on the traditional Manhattan cocktail, utilizing Bulleit Rye as the primary liquor. Orange bitters provides a smooth, fresh taste that somewhat masks the boldness of the whiskey. Partnered with sweet vermouth, it’s a sweet, oaky drink.
Pumpkin Spice Martini – Scheper created this holiday drink himself with vanilla vodka, Grand Marnier, and Bailey’s. “It’s everyone’s favorite time of year, and pumpkin spice lattes are flying off the shelves at Starbucks. So I thought, why not make one with alcohol?” he explained. With aromatic touches like nutmeg, the cocktail is sweet, smooth, and flows consistently, like well-mixed eggnog.
Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita –MSPH bartenders prepare the ingredients for this unique, powerful cocktail long before you arrive. Tequila is fused for over a week with tangerines and jalapenos, providing a subtle heat to a traditionally sweet-and- sour drink. “We’re not trying to kill you with the heat, just add flavor,” Scheper explains. Cucumbers and salt mellow some of the spiciness of the drink for a tasty, well-blended experience.
The MSPH Bloody Mary – While every restaurant boasts a unique take on a Bloody Mary, MSPH’s Sunday brunches have quickly given the platform to cure many downtown folks’ hangovers. The inclusion of their own original beef stock in the drink provides a savory depth to the drink, working well with the tomato, pickle, and olive tastes. The spicy, flavorful drink feels like breakfast in a jar.
Featured image: the MSPH Margherita Pizza (photo by George Herron)