Chatting with the owner of LowLife bar, on how he traded in cruel New York winters for a permanent vacation on Folly Beach
Lynch, with a frozen Toni Basil cocktail.
CM: You own two Manhattan bars—Mother’s Ruin and Loverboy—and opened LowLife last year on Folly Beach. When did you first get into hospitality?
TS: I’ve been in the biz since I was about 15. I started out washing dishes in the summertime. After college, I had a nine-to-five job for a while, but I hated it and went back to restaurants. I’ve done it all: host, valet, caddy, busboy, dishwasher, manager, assistant manager—to name a few.
CM: Where did you grow up?
TS: I’m originally from Baltimore, which everyone in NYC considers the South and everyone down here considers the North, so we’re kind of a no man’s land in the Southerner vs. Yankee thing.
CM: What brought you to town?
TS: We opened Mother’s Ruin in New York about eight years ago, but I’ve been coming to Folly Beach since I was in my early 20s. One of my buddies went to the College of Charleston, so I always came to visit. My wife Cary had never been. When we came down here together for the first time in 2011, after about five minutes, she said, “This is it. Let’s do it.”
CM: So that was it? You moved here?
TS: Yeah, when we had our son, Max, who’s two and a half now, it was time to get out of New York. I was over the weather too. Fourteen winters was 14 too many.
CM: What do you like best about living on Folly?
TS: Everyone is on vacation or acts like they’re on vacation, so there’s not a lot of seriousness out here—which is great. It’s tons of fun. Too much fun.
CM: What is the concept for LowLife?
TS: Basically LowLife is a beachy version of Mother’s Ruin—a casual cocktail bar with food; that’s our wheelhouse. My partners and I are also doing Nashville and Chicago versions of Mother’s. We’ve found our niche.
CM: How has LowLife been received by Folly?
TS: I was genuinely blown away by how warm and helpful and open-armed everyone has been. I was at Surf Bar one day during our construction, and the bartender brought over drinks, compliments of Lesley Carroll and Nick della Penna—the two owners of Jack of Cups. When I went over to thank them, Lesley said, “Here’s my number. If you need anything at all, call me. We know how hard it is to open something out here.” That kind of sentiment really surprised me. I was expecting a bit of pushback, but I’ve only been called a Yankee once.
CM: How would you describe the menu at LowLife?
TS: I really wish you could find a better phrase for it, but it’s upscale bar food. Mostly, we just try to make everything super tasty and fresh.
CM: Is there a LowLife signature drink?
TS: The Toni Basil is our biggest seller. It’s a basil gimlet, super summery and beachy. Just flies outta here. Our frozen Eric Estrada is another favorite; it’s basically a spiced piña colada.
CM: Frozen drinks are a feature at all your bars, right?
TS: Yeah, we started making better drinks in the slushy machine about eight years ago. We thought slushy machines got a bad rap, but you don’t have to put garbage in there. It was a no-brainer. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably open a Wet Willie’s style bar out here with 87 slushy machines.