It’s game day, the season opener for the West Virginia University Mountaineers, and smoke is pouring from the grill on the outdoor patio at The Red Carpet Lounge.
“You working hard, man?” calls a customer, entering the partially covered patio from the parking lot and heading toward the dark bar inside.
It’s more a greeting than a question, but Paul “P.G.” Greco, the relatively new owner of this popular, local watering hole on Charleston’s East End, answers in the affirmative.
“Oh, yeah,” he says, glancing up with a nod.
And he is working hard, checking the boiled crab legs, turning the chicken wings, slapping on a crowd-pleasing, sweet and spicy pineapple-habanero sauce.
Behind him, a cheer goes up from a handful of fans willing to brave the mid-day heat, and a louder cheer from those in the cool, cement interior. The game has taken a good turn for the Mountaineers and Greco pauses for a quick moment to check the score, then returns to the task at hand — cranking out restaurant-quality food at a place not really known for its food.
“You know, the location here had a lot to do with the success of it,” said Greco. “Everybody tells stories about when the session is in and about everybody’s coming over here and the back door deals and the handshake deals. And we still get, you know, a lot of that crowd. But this place is, it’s everybody, from all walks of life.”
“Three governors have graced Friday night karaoke over the years,” said Mike Duda, the most recent past owner.
“There were a lot of deals,” he added. “They used to say, what goes on at the Red Carpet stays at the Red Carpet, so those deals, those situations where votes changed or whatever, are probably in the walls somewhere.”
It’s a two-story, cement block building, scarcely noticeable — or it used to be, until two separate, vivid art projects landed giant, multi-colored murals on two of its four sides, one the work of Charleston Main Streets and the Charleston Department of Public Art, the other done in collaboration with local artist Ian Bode.
Still, if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there, as they say.
But everybody knows.
“It’s the fabric of Charleston,” Duda says. It’s been that way for nearly half a century, he adds.
“In the 11 years I was here, I had dads and granddads, and their children and grandchildren are coming in here how.”
When it came time to sell, Duda recognized what owners before him have apparently known: He couldn’t just sell to anyone.
“I was handpicked when I bought it. I was told there were many, many offers and I had the first right of refusal,” said Duda.
Each owner has found someone who would, in a manner of speaking, honor the integrity of The Red Carpet Lounge (informally known as the "Carpet Rouge"). Who understood what it has meant to the community and would be good stewards of that.
Greco is now the seventh owner, and he, too, was handpicked.
“He and I, we’ve been friends for a lot of years. He’s been in the business, in the bar business, and he’s been a customer here,” said Duda.
Greco has been a bar tender and a restaurant manager or owner for most of his adult life. He started off as a plumber in upstate New York, but landed in Charleston in his 20s and never left. He bought Sam’s Uptown Cafe & Bar in 2011, and shook on the deal to buy the Red Carpet in 2018.
Earlier this summer, he bought the now-shuttered Little India restaurant across the street — really, he just wanted the parking lot, but the owner of the restaurant said Little India was part of the deal.
“He approached me, and, he wasn’t going to allow me to take over the lease on the parking lot unless I bought them out of Little India,” said Greco. “So I bought them out of Little India.”
He’s not quite sure what he’s going to do with the place — though it won’t be an Indian restaurant, and it won’t keep the name.
“We’re going to call it The Red Cafe,” he said. “I’ve got to remodel the kitchen, but the restaurant itself is in pretty good shape.”
He plans a standard lunch menu for the Capitol crowd, and an upscale dinner service Tuesday through Saturday.
And the Fireside Bar upstairs?
“That’ll still be a bar,” he said.
When all of this might happen is harder to pin down. He was hoping for Thanksgiving, but says now it might be early spring.
Meanwhile, Greco said he has a few things to do at the Carpet. He’s put in a permanent awning on the back patio, and wants to get food going full-time. Right now he’s doing steak dinners most Thursday nights.
Not much has changed since the place was rebuilt after a fire in 1990. The carpet’s been there since then.
“I don’t want to do anything too crazy,” he said. “Probably going to change the carpet out.”
The next one, he said, would still be red.
The Red Carpet Lounge is located at 308 Elizabeth Street. For more information, follow the restaurant on Facebook or call 304-342-9977.