Joe Dreger is a Philadelphia Eagles fan. He’s also a hell of an artist (he did all of the mural-work at Elements Social Bar) as well as a fellow history buff. It’s true that I could listen to him talk about the ancient Greeks and Romans all day. However, as a Dallas Cowboy diehard, I just didn’t know if I could get over the fact that from August through February (well, through December anyway) he’s cheering for the bad guys. That’s a line in the sand. But when he reached across it, and set before me a cocktail of jalapeno-infused bourbon studded with peppers and sweetened with honey, all was forgiven. (I mean we both had to suffer through Terrell Owens, after all.)
So it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me when I asked Joe what he loved about Charleston; he grinned and said without hesitation, “Philadelphia Alley.” See, Joe was studying Charleston history before he even got here, or at least the really good bits. He was a high school history teacher in Philly, and was always looking for a way to grab his students’ attention and pull them into the story. Philadelphia Alley, the picturesque little lane that stretches becomingly from Queen St. to Cumberland fits that bill quite nicely. In truth, the path has only been known under this pseudonym for a relatively short amount of time. Past personas of the melodramatic avenue have included: Kinloch Court, named so when Francis Kinloch created a path through his wide property; Cow Alley, presumably because of its use in moving cattle to the Market; Philadelphia Street, a tribute to the City of Brotherly Love when they donated large financial resources to help Charleston recover from the fire of 1810, finally settling comfortably into Philadelphia Alley within the last century. But none of these appellations are as old, as enduring, or as well-known as its nickname, Dueler’s Alley.
“That is where everyone would meet to duel,” explains Joe, “You had this secluded, long stretch of bricked alleyway, and it just so happened to end in a graveyard. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.”
That graveyard is the cemetery behind St. Phillip’s, and it would have certainly provided easy access for the victor, now burdened with the body of the fallen. The alley is said to be one of the most haunted places in Charleston, though you would never know it (or at least I never did) by the sunny disposition it presents to Queen St. during the day. Night, however, is apparently a different story.
“It’s a common dare to try walk the full length of it at midnight,” said Joe. It’s not hard to see why this is the case. The sleepy road, which feels as cozy and charming as a fairytale in the sunlight, quickly becomes reminiscent of a wholly different type of story at night. The aged walls are high and the dim lights do not reach very far into the shadows. There are stones that still bear the marks and indentations of carriage tracks and remember the fell tread of those taking their twenty paces. Today, those who are brave enough to attempt a sojourn through the dark street after nightfall report whispers, strange chills, suddenly being pushed out of the way of unseen bullets, and the whistling of a young doctor, Joseph Brown, who was shot by a friend consumed with envy.
It’s an incredible amount of history to fit into such a twee, little lane. And Joe packed that same beguiling density into the dangerously easy-drinking cocktail it has inspired. It’s aptly called The Fightin’ Philly. A vibrant, freshly-drawn red, the punch lures you in with flavors of peach and strawberry, but make no mistake; with two full ounces of bourbon and another two ounces of vodka, you’d best watch your back. It’s a reminder on the rocks that the sweetest berries can possess the most powerful venom…
…and that the dearest little alley in Charleston has the most blood under its stones.