A “coming soon” sign in the storefront of the soon to open bar and restaurant Prohibition on Main Street. Owners say they would like to be up and running by late October. (Photo by Camdyn Bruce/ Carolina News and Reporter)

Main Street has become coveted territory for businesses looking to capitalize on the large crowds of shoppers and tourists who frequent downtown Columbia.

Demand has been so high that more businesses were seeking locations on Main than there were available spaces, said Kelsey Bickley, director of marketing for the Main Street District.

“We’re really kind of running out of vacant spaces on Main Street,” Bickley said.

The casual upscale, 1920s-themed bar and restaurant Prohibition is one of those businesses looking to become a player in the scene. Owners said they hope to open by late October.

“I think this part of town is primed for a quality establishment,” said James Walsh, one of the Prohibition owners.

With Saturday’s Soda City Market drawing crowds of thousands and the variety of unique shops, bars and restaurants in the area, Main Street has evolved into a powerhouse entertainment district, Bickley said.

“The Main Street District has really become a mecca for diverse restaurants and shopping opportunities,” Bickley said.

In years past, most restaurants on Main were destination restaurants. The owner of Bourbon, Kristian Niemi, said with other recent arrivals, restaurants can attract customers who are shopping in the area or just having a night on the town. 

Niemi said new attractions are good for all surrounding businesses.

“You don’t want to be a destination restaurant,” he said. “You want to be around other ones so that you’re in the heart of the matter. So the more that Main Street develops like this, the better it is for everyone.” 

Bickely said Prohibition is located on a key corner in the district, connecting the 1500 and 1600 blocks that are bustling with business.

“We’re excited to have that space filled and vibrant so that … corner can really connect those two blocks together,” Bickley said.

Mike Ellis, culinary director for the newly opened tiki bar, Urban Tiki, along with its sister restaurants in the Grand on Main, attributes some of the success of bars and restaurants on Main to chain restaurants becoming pricier.

“I think instead of spending, you know, 20 bucks to go eat at one of those places, you might as well spend 30 and go eat in a casual upscale place,” Ellis said. 

Tourists looking for places unique to Columbia also drive business to bars and restaurants on Main Street, Niemi said. 

“I don’t believe you come all the way to Columbia, stay downtown, and then take an Uber to a chain restaurant out in the suburbs,” Niemi said. 

With successful Prohibition restaurants in Charleston, and Savannah, Georgia, owners believe Prohibition in Columbia can succeed.

“People were previously driving two hours to visit,” Prohibition chef and co-owner Greg Garrison said. “Now we’re here locally. Instead of coming once every three months, you can come in once a week if you’d like.” 

To fit in with the developing scene on Main Street, Prohibition has undergone a major overhaul prior to opening. 

 Walsh said the space needed work.

“It was very one-dimensional because it was all wood,” said Walsh. “It was lacking character, and I think that one thing we can bring is a good place that feels good.” 

The nearly two years of renovations have included installing new floors, redoing the ceiling and adding new kitchen tile, new bar tile and a walk-in cooler.

Prohibition plans to feature live music, so renovations also included improving the audio and visual capabilities of the space. That meant adding new lights and speakers and soundproofing the building.

“We didn’t want to open Prohibition with the wrong team, come out of the gate faltering, and have that taste be left in everyone’s mouth,” Garrison said.

Garrison also said the decor gives an intimate and old-timey feel — with features such as Edison bulbs — but also incorporates some modern elements such as televisions.

“It’s got a bit of a speakeasy vibe … a little bit of a Great Gatsby thing that we kind of play into without being too gimmicky,” Garrison said. “We’re not trying to create a complete experience where you feel like you’re going back in time.” 

Walsh said Prohibition also plans to feature authentic 1920s art – and, yes, on the ceiling. 

When renovations are complete, a barrel ceiling above a server station will be decorated with murals of 1920s Main Street. 

“The images of Columbia are what Columbia looked like at that time period,” Walsh said. 

And Walsh said some cocktails will be tailored to the Columbia market.

“I think our cocktail program will always be something special,” he said. “We will be rolling out drinks that are not featured in Columbia for sure.” 

Walsh also said that, unlike other Prohibitions, the Columbia location would feature oven-baked pizzas and fresh breads after the owners decided to keep the existing oven. 

“We’re excited about servicing the community,” Walsh said.

A Margarita Picante cocktail served at the Prohibition location in Charleston. The drink features jalapeno tequila, Cointreau, blood orange juice, lime, agave and smoked chili salt. (Photo taken by Andrew Cebulka/ Shared with the Carolina News and Reporter by Prohibition Chef-Owner Greg Garrison)

Clarified New York Sour Cocktail served at Prohibition Charleston. The drink is made by combining bourbon, lemon, and simple syrup and milk in a glass container. Once the milk mixture has curdled and been filtered through a coffee filter the cocktail is completed by pouring red wine on top.(Picture taken by Andrew Cebulka/ Shared with the Carolina News and Reporter by Prohibition Chef Owner Greg Garrison)

A 7-oz grass-fed angus burger served at Prohibition’s Charleston location. The burger is toped with bourbon-bacon jam, cheddar cheese, pickles, an onion ring and garlic aioli. (Photo taken by Andrew Cebulka/ Shared with the Carolina News and Reporter by Prohibition Chef-Owner Greg Garrison)