Big John’s Owner Wants to Restore the Big John’s of His Youth

newbigjohnDespite rumors which swirled after the announcement of The Green Door’s imminent closing, bar owner Ryan Condon says he’s not only keeping Big John’s Tavern open: He’s planning to return the 59-year old institution to its former status as a traditional watering hole, where the TVs tuned to football are a bigger draw than the fish head curry.

“I want to return Big John’s to what Big John’s was when I started going there,” says Condon, who started hanging out at Big John’s as a high schooler. “If Big John would ever have seen The Green Door, he would have rolled over in his grave. I don’t even know what the hell grilled kimchee is; I just want to restore Big John’s the way it was.”

Condon says he evicted The Green Door from Big John’s Tavern because the concept didn’t square with the institution he vowed to protect when he bought it from football great John Cannady in 1991.

“Big John’s was where everybody went,” Condon recalls. “You felt safe there. They had the best roast beef sandwich in town, the best ham sandwich in town. It was a great place to go.”

According to Condon, drinkers flocked to Big John’s because of Cannady’s protective “gentle giant” personality, which helped persuade Charleston parents to let their underage teenagers drink there. But an aging Cannady was struggling to run the bar when Condon made the partly sentimental decision to buy it.

In 1999, Condon leased Big John’s to his nephews, Jim and Chris Condon. Although he wasn’t pleased with their choice to promote Big John’s as a dive bar – the bar’s phone number is 723-DIVE – he says he didn’t interfere with their operations. “They gradually turned it into something it wasn’t,” Condon complains.

“Big John’s has been a dive bar forever,” Jim Condon responds. “We didn’t decide that.”

But the Condons strayed furthest from Ryan Condon’s business plan when they turned over Big John’s kitchen to Cory Burke of Roti Rolls. Burke introduced a relentlessly inventive menu featuring odd pig parts and Ethiopian influences, a far cry from the boiled shrimp and pickled eggs which were mainstays back when the bar’s staff consisted of Cannady, a sandwich maker and a server.

“Just because it’s not my kind of menu doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it,” allows Condon, who’s a co-owner of the local Crab Shack seafood chain. “That’s just not what the business was intended to be.”

Condon’s opinion took on the weight of a ruling when a few weeks back he assumed control of the bar. Condon claims he was owed $60,000 in back rent, but Jim Condon disputes his account:

“Ryan only stepped in because my brother and I decided to step out,” says Jim Condon, who recently moved abroad. “I could not do justice to running the place from Germany and Chris wanted to move on to other things.”

Burke says he knew The Green Door wouldn’t last long under Ryan Condon’s leadership. Burke characterizes the quick closing as a “shock and surprise,” but in Condon’s telling, Burke came up with the Oct. 31 closing date after recognizing Condon’s determination to clear the bar of its modern touches.

“I just told him I’d like to see him get out,” Condon says.

Although Condon agreed to let The Green Door stick around through month’s end, he’s reconsidering his stance after learning Burke is planning to throw “a big party, go all out” on The Green Door’s last night. The prospect of a Halloween blowout is “scary,” Condon says.

According to Jim Condon, “Cory and I had lots of discussions and general verbal agreements but we never had anything in writing,” so Ryan Condon can end The Green Door’s stay whenever he chooses.

Recognizing that “closed for renovations” usually means “closed for good” in the restaurant business, Condon emphasizes that if he closes Big John’s briefly, “it will reopen as Big John’s. We might make it a little nicer. I don’t have it on my bucket list to make it a lot nicer.”

The decision to evict The Green Door wasn’t personal, he adds.

“I like the guy,” Condon says of Burke. “He’s certainly got some vision. If I had another location, I would rent it to him.”

22 thoughts on “Big John’s Owner Wants to Restore the Big John’s of His Youth

  1. So Ryan, how would big John feel about his bar rotting from the inside? Constantly flooding. Bathrooms that never seem to work a kitchen that never worked or would be flooded with back up sewage. I guess you never cared then. But no that a resurgence in the scene due to the hard work but my many you just evict a business. I also find the fact that you would find a Halloween party at big johns scary as a good fact of how far you are removed from reality. That party has gone on for years and I don’t think John was the type of guy to back out of a deal.

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  3. One thing that Big John’s was known for was loyalty and a sense of comraderie. That vanished with the self-propelled entrance of The Green Door and its founder. Slinging kimchi and mixing old garbage with avant-garde labels while surreptitiously back-stabbing those who served the club to a fault, a party on Halloween is scary if only given the spooky nature of those who would have been the sure-fire downfall of Big Johns.

    Ryan Condon obviously figured this out fast and he is way better off for it!

    Good luck with your future endeavors there….and all the best.

    Vickie Johnson

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  5. First off I love how this article glorifies underage drinking but then again that seems to be the Charleston MO. There is a reason why Charleston is called a “drinking town with a history problem”. It’s because of rich dynastic wanna-be kike families like the Condons that do not care about anyone but themselves. People like them are why Charleston is light years behind the rest of the world, why a slave market is a tourist attraction, why the cops care more about lining their wallets than protecting the citizens of this city (just look at how the kate waring murder was handled), and why they could care less about cofc co eds getting raped on the cistern.

    They see people as zeros and they think they are infinity. They are tyrants that laugh while they walk on the little guy while hiding behind their fairy tales of leprachauns and angry deities. They have a master/slave complex and only care about whats in it for them no matter whom it affects. Calling these people human is a stretch at best. They are the type that would lead the citizens into a gas chamber labeled “shower” if they could get away with it. If you want your kids under age kids to get drugged and raped then it looks Big Johns will be the place to be soon enough. Honestly it looks like Charleston is becoming that place as it always has been. That’s why the best this town can do is attract tourists that are looking for a nice town with primitive folk.

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  9. First off Frank… Ryan Condon was in high school in the late 50′s when drinking age was 18 dumbass. You are obviously not from the south and definitely not from Charleston yet I’m sure your here to LINE YOUR POCKETS from the tourist us simple folk have been entertaining for generations. You know nothing about local pride. That “light years behind” is precisely what we strive to hold on to despite the overflow of yankee trash like yourself. It’s what we call charm and historic; and that’s why people all over the country flock here. Cory Burke opened a restaurant in Big Johns without permission or discussion from the building’s owner. Then fired half the staff and ran around talking sh!t about everyone in town that was not like-minded. What business owner wouldn’t put a stop to that? We are glad to see him go and your welcome to leave anytime you like, otherwise recognize we are the hand that feeds you and say thank you and keep your mouth shut.

  10. First of Bill libel is a crime so you might want to think twice about keeping that off. He had the permission of Chris and Jim Condon to buy out Chris’s share of that bar so that Chris could cover his gambling debts because obviously there are some people in this town who don’t care what hand feeds them and wouldn’t think twice about biting it off. Obviously you people are scared of something. Half the staff got fired because they were either not competent in their jobs in form or another just like how this town lacks competency because of inbred simpletons like yourself. Atleast Ryan is old so obviously he’s probably going to have a heart attack or something eventually but either way people like him are miserable since his sex life has probably been less than productive since the 70′s. The article literally said underage which commonly refers to drink under the legal age limit whether it was 18 or 21 after Mothers Against Drunk Driving got involved and got Blue Laws passed. Don’t worry Bill I’m sure if you still had your way you’d be on the porch of some plantantion out on Wadmalaw or something while you got an erection from watching African Americans getting whipped while getting forced to pick cotton ;). That’s why evolution is awesome and people like you eventually die out like all dinosaurs do.

  11. And I line my pockets off of you to pay bills. There are plenty of other people that wouldn’t mind having my services as well to keep people like you out of legal trouble. Not many people in this town that do the job I do also have the skill set I do. A skill set that wasn’t bought but earned through experience. A skill set that has a lot of uses ;).

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  13. Oh yeah and a verbal agreement is valid in the state of south Carolina so technically speaking there was an agreement that the Condons went back on yet they want to speak of honor. I say it’s Good Ole Politics which is based on equal parts ignorance, fear, and a lust for power.

  14. For the past forty-one years I have been blessed with the successful pursuit of a career as a restauranteur and real estate investor. During this time I have found that making mistakes has been one of my greatest, albeit cruelest, teachers. I am not personally acquainted with Cory Burke, but I trust he is a decent, hard working individual who will find great success in life. I feel secure in making these assumptions based on his past success, as well as my intimate relationship with his new aforesaid teacher. His recent experience of not having a signed lease agreement in place prior to establishing a business in a building that he does not own, will serve to make him a more informed entrepreneur, and will save him a great deal of aggravation and money in the future.

    I am personally acquainted with Mr. Condon, and have been involved in multiple business deals with him over the past twenty years. Most of these ventures have been very rewarding and lucrative, although some have not. Regardless of the circumstances, I have always found Ryan to be reasonable and more than fair. Furthermore, he has always demonstrated integrity and character in all aspects of this life, but most importantly while fulfilling his fiduciary obligations in the operation of his business endeavors. I am proud to count Ryan as a friend, landlord, partner, advisor, investor and most importantly a mentor.

    I feel an obligation to address the business relationship between these two individuals as reported in this article. I personally possess enough factual information to recognize that most of the reporters and many of the readers are making assumptions and comments based on emotions and personal beliefs, while purposely disregarding the facts. I find it reprehensible that society has reached a point where it is acceptable to sacrifice the reputation of an individual of Ryan’s caliber, in order to provide a victim to whom the masses can relate.

    In the past I have witnessed Ryan’s dedication to preserve other historic Charleston icons such a as the Cavallaro Supper Club and Condon’s Department Store. I have no doubt that he will display the same determination and perseverance in restoring Big Johns as memorable tribute to this great city’s past.


    Dan Doyle

  15. Here are the facts from a former supporter and friend of Mr. Burke. Ryan Condon’s nephews were in charge of Big John’s and had a kitchen not bringing in revenue. Burke was brought in to run the kitchen and to try and fix a failing part of the bar.

    Without permission from Ryan Condon, he renovated the entire back room of Big Johns and turned it into “The Green Door.” When manager Phil Cotter addressed the overstep by saying “you guys were supposed to run the kitchen not take over half the bar,” Cotter was fired without notice after 14 years of service for protecting Big John’s interests.

    Next Burke openly said he wanted to rid Big Johns of all regulars of the establishment calling them “losers,” “complainers,” and “Pieces of sh!t.” That’s not how we do things in Charleston! He fired all of the existing entertainment to introduce more “Green Door friendly” entertainment while verbally attacking members of the regular entertainment to a bar full of patrons on numerous occasions and slashed the bar’s drink prices in order to sacrifice Big John’s to bring traffic to his restaurant.

    ALL OF THIS was done by a guy that forced his way into a rent-free restaurant location, used free restaurant equipment, and was then somehow allowed to run the day-to-day operations of Big John’s by Mr. Condon’s nephews. It’s no surprise that Mr. Condon is upset. It sounds like Cory Burke just got what was coming to him and I, as well as many others, am glad to see him go!

    I hope Big Johns can recover from this catastrophe. Unfortunately, Cory Burke succeeded in alienating a lot of locals before Mr. Condon finally stepped in. Burke’s only agenda was sacrificing a Charleston landmark to promote his restaurant. He put his restaurant above continuing a beloved Charleston tradition and staple that is BIG JOHNS TAVERN!

    Back to the food truck Cory….

  16. Ryan will have it fixed and reopened. You just have to give him the time needed.

  17. Thank you. I was in the Merchant Seaman’s club at age 16 drinking rum & coke. Not that I wanted it. Everything in the 60′s was different.

  18. Ryan will have it fixed and reopened. You just have to give him the time needed. He is a man of integrity and will do the right thing.

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