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Bowen's Island Catastrophy

The iconic Charleston oyster restaurant, Bowen's Island -- which received the James Beard Foundation's "American Classic" award earlier this year -- suffered a major fire this weekend. All the buildings, including the newer one by the dock (and the dock, as well) were consumed by the fire. The owner's have vowed to rebuild.

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  1. I hated to hear this news. In the three years since I moved to Charleston, I'd yet to make it out there. I'm allergic to oysters, so I've been trying to find an oyster-lover to take there so I could at least enjoy the experience vicariously. I hope they do rebuild, but often in such cases, despite the best intentions, it never happens...

    1. This hurts me to the core. I trust no one was injured?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ellen of SC

        There were no reported injuries to people... just to memories and BI's unique ambiance.

      2. I was really sorry to hear about Bowen's Island, I was looking forward to eating there during oyster season. I hope they do rebuild, I just can't think of another like it in the Charleston area.

        It was a double blow for me this weekend, not only did I hear about BI but I also heard about Anchor Line closing. Just to add to this thread a little, now where do I go? Is there anywhere else besides The Wreck?

        1. If I remember right a lot of the building was made out of cement blocks so maybe it won't be as hard to re-build... though given the location I bet it took awhile for the fire department to show up.

          1. Bowens Island Bummer
            An email from Robert Barber made its way to us on Sunday afternoon with some horrible news:

            Dear Friends,

            Today is a very sad day for me and my family. Last night, Bowens Island restaurant burned down. My grandparents started the restaurant in the 1940s and I've had the honor and pleasure of running it for the last 16 years. The restaurant has always been a special place for me, my family and many fine customers, and we are now incredibly saddened by our loss. Let me assure you, however, that we will rebuild and continue to carry on this great Lowcountry tradition.

            Keep us in your thoughts and prayers,


            1. It is true that Bowen's Island is a irreplaceable Southern Original. My thoughts and prayers go to the Barber family as they rebuild this Lowcountry institution. In the Post and Courier, Robert Barber said that he was going to try to be open this weekend in a limited manner. From the pictures I wonder how that is possible but Bowen's Island was and is an apparition. Fortunately, I am a local and grew up with Bowen's Island. I would like to share some of my memories. First the Charleston area in the 50's and 60's was not grown up like it is today Folly Road was a two lane road and there was no city water and sewer to Bowen's Island so it was bottled drinks because the water there would have tasted and smelled like rotten eggs and the outhouse well I won't say. Yes it had a path. I can remember Govenor Robert McNair who was from Berkeley County a county that is next to Charleston County taking visitors to Bowen's Island. I cannot imagine what they thought of our State. But one thing is for sure they had damn good oysters. On a full moon people would come to eat and the tide would come in and they would not be able to leave until the tide went back out.

              The old jukebox was like the one on Happy Days do not remember what type it was but it had the 78's from the 50's and 60's that had been played so many times the scratches were so bad you could hardly hear the music but I think it was still only a nickel. The stacks of newspapers all around. The two different rooms to eat in. If you were eating oysters you had to eat in the oyster eating room and if you were eating other seafood you could not go in the oyster eating room. This was back when Mr and Mrs. Bowen owned and operated the restaurant Robert's grandparents. And to call Bowen's Island a restaurant is almost to demean it. It was always just called Bowen's Island and everyone knew that this was the place to get good oysters. The old hard cardboard disposable paper plates due not remember the brand name but they were iconic. And biodegradable too. The graffitti (sp) all over every thing. I think it was a two beer limit back in the old days. The sign over the small fireplace where oysters were cooked in the oyster eating room that stated the cook was not paid so please tip. The croaker sacks (translation for people from off Burlap sacks) soaked in water placed on the oysters to cook them just right we call'um Roast Oysters and I know some could take us to task that this is steam cooking but that is what we call it. The snow shovel full of oysters brought to the table cooked just the way you asked to have them cooked.

              These are such good memories that will always be with me. It is terrible that this wonderful icon burned but part of the surfboard that hung at the place is left. I have not had the time to be on Chowhound for and while so have not kept up with Jim Leff's travels. If he was headed this way what a shame that he was unable to partake to this institution of Southern hospitality, quirkness and temple to the worship of the bivalve. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.
              1 wiener hound that loves Roast Oysters.

              1. Thank you for sharing your memories, I could picture everything in my mind. I guess the more things change the more things stay the same.

                1. Any updates on this place? We are visiting Charleston in January. I read about it while researching, then came upon this news. I was so disappointed to hear of the fire. Have there been any changes since October?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gsw

                    The last I heard was that Mr. Barber would not run for anymore political offices so that he could devote all of his time to rebuilding the restaurant. I do think that he is have oyster roasts out on the dock for community groups like Habitat for Humanity etc. My suggestion would be to come to Charleston look for the alternative Arts and Entertainment Newspaper The City Paper. It is free and is found in restaurants, art galleries etc and look to see if a goup is having an event while y'all are in town and then buy the tickets. At least that way you can have a look see as to what haappeed and if rebuilding has begun.

                  2. Good news, Bowen's Island will reopen on Thursday, February 1.