How the Recovery Room Owner Recovered
Charleston dive bar owner Chris DiMattia remembers his hometown every day thanks to the single landline phone in a house he rented as a student at the College of Charleston.
This was before cell phones became ubiquitous. The downtown shared house in the late 1990s had three occupants named Chris. DiMattia was the one from the Boston area. So when people called, they asked for “the Boston one.” Soon “Boston” became his nickname. These days, some people probably don’t realize his first name is Chris.
But they know what he sells – and a lot – Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. DiMattia’s Recovery Room Tavern on King Street sells more cans of PBR than any other bar in the country. At one point it sold more PBR overall than anywhere else in the world, but that was changed by the pandemic and tourists who gentrified the drink selections at the bar. People used to order PBR and a shot of bourbon, he said. Now they can order a Jager Bomb (a shot of Jagermeister and Red Bull), a vodka and Red Bull or another drink of the moment popular with AirBnB visitors.
The recovery room continues to be filled with many regulars, DiMattia said, but that’s slowly changing, like everything else.
“The working crowd that has been our bread and butter for so long can no longer afford to live downtown,” he said.
A house with stunning views
Just when the pandemic hit, DiMattia and his wife, Kelli, and their two children moved into a 3,200-square-foot former Mount Pleasant home in preparation to die. Nestled in the quiet neighborhood of Bayview Shores, it overlooks Shem Creek and Charleston Harbor. It’s relaxing to sit on indoor and outdoor sofas on a covered back deck and watch the sea traffic – sailboats, motorboats and huge container ships plying to and from Charleston Harbor. A sea breeze gently repels mosquitoes.
The first floor of the house has a separate suite for the mother-in-law, separated by a comfortable living room, a dining room and a spacious kitchen, equipped with a beer fridge. Inside, there’s always PBR along with an array of other beers that the distributors want the businessman to taste, hoping he’ll take to his bar. The ordinary refrigerator in the house mainly contains food for her children. DiMattia insists he can’t – or doesn’t – cook and usually goes out to eat, unless he’s snacking on cereal in the morning.
You can peek between the front and back of the house via cool, open wooden stairs. Upstairs are bedrooms for his 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, as well as a remodeled master bedroom where he and his wife have a million dollar view of the harbor. In a large basement there is a storage room, an entertainment room, a place for video games and a small bedroom. On the day of our visit, a worker was carrying out exterior work.
Over the years, DiMattia has had a lot of construction crews around. He regularly invests in homes in neighborhoods in transition. Its teams fitted them out and then returned them or rented them out.
“I’ve bought and sold about 40 homes now,” he said, adding they were in James Island, Charleston, North Charleston, Hanahan and Ladson.
Lots of hard work
After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2002, DiMattia returned to the Boston area for a year to work. During the day, he worked in a marina. In the evenings, he worked as a bar-back in a strip club. All the while, he pocketed money.
It wasn’t long before he realized he wanted to be back in Charleston. He returned a year after graduating and spent four years working harder – at Moe’s Crosstown as a bartender and valet at other times. DiMattia freely admits that he is obsessive-compulsive, “a bull that keeps plugging away.” At this point in his life, he worked almost every day. He really made a lot of money.
In 2007, DiMattia left Charleston to spend six months traveling the world, from Bangkok to Barcelona. He wasn’t sure what the future held for him.
But as fate would have it, DiMattia had befriended the owner of a former unoccupied King Street club. She gave him the keys. In 2008, the building became the salvage hall at a time when the city of Charleston “was desperate in this area” for economic revival.
DiMattia said opening a bar was comfortable because of his experience and the fact that his parents often took the kids to bars and clubs in Massachusetts as they socialized with neighbors.
“There’s just something about the energy of a bar that I wanted to be a part of,” he said.
The recovery room has been profitable, DiMattia said, from its first day. It didn’t hurt that he was doing what he had always done – work, work and work.
“At the time, I bartender six nights a week,” he recalls. He also washed dishes, swept floors, hosted trivia and more.
“I never opened the recovery room for the money,” the business owner said. “I opened it for the reliable income stream to buy the real estate.”
Next? He has now slowed down some of the house rotations and is now developing a new bar concept.
It will surely be a place where people can (wait) to recover in a new way.
NEWS ON Chris DiMattia
Place of birth: Quincy, MA.
Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, College of Charleston, 2002.
Current occupation : Contractor and Owner, Recovery Room Tavern, 685 King St., Charleston.
Family: Wife, Kelli and two children.
Number of concrete gorillas guarding his house: One, “Sasquatch”.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you: ” I do not know how to swim. I’m sinking. I’m not very good. Now I can tread water. I had two inground pools, but I made sure the deep end was only 5 feet.
Favorite thing to do outside of work: “I really get into things.” Past passions: beard, video games, pinball, curling,
ice hockey and weightlifting.
Favorite cocktail or drink: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Five glasses always at home: “Random water, milk, PBR, white wine and beer, people want me to try.”
Favorite foods to eat: Meatloaf with sauce; Chocolate Chip
Five foods that are always in the fridge: Eggs, yogurt popsicles, cheese sticks, berries, grapes – everything for the kids.
Favorite food to cook: “My favorite dish to cook is to go out
Five favorite local restaurants: Cru Cafe, Bistronomy by Nico, Muse, Red’s Ice House, D’Allesandro’s Pizza.
Three people (living or dead) you would like to have dinner with:
New England Patriots general manager Bill Belichick
Clint Eastwood and Ben Franklin.
What meal would you like served for your last supper: Prime rib from TBonz, PBR and the brownie sundae from Kaminsky’s.
Secret defect: Harris Teeter Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Guilty pleasure: Collecting Nintendo 64 video game cartridges.
Favorite musicians: Al Green, The Four Summits, Stevie Wonder.
Childhood heroes: Bobby Orr.
black beast : “People who are not polite.”
Philosophy: “Follow the golden rule – treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Your advice for someone new to Charleston: “Try to live downtown and get to know some of your older neighbors. They might make you realize what a great place it is.”
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