A good dinner party is a thing of beauty. If you can assemble an inspiring group of people and give them good wine, memorable food and plenty of time to enjoy it all in a beautiful setting, you will have accomplished something magical.
Chef Brett McKee and his partner, Kathy Downey, decided that kind of magic was rare in their own lives, so they did what anyone would do: They created a private club where people who are passionate about food and life can enjoy each other’s company over rapturously good food.
The club is called The McKee’s, and it lies behind an unassuming, unmarked door on Market Street. Up the stairs is a beautiful space with exposed old Charleston brick, hardwood floors, soaring ceilings, an open gourmet kitchen and a rotating display of local art curated by the Principle Gallery. The pièce de résistance is a private rooftop terrace with glorious sea breezes and stunning views of downtown Charleston.
More likely than not, you already know Chef Brett, the Brooklyn-born, tattooed, doesn’t-know-a-stranger, award-winning, f-bomb-dropping chef who was open-kitchen before open-kitchen was cool. He’s the chef who created local restaurants Hugo’s on Isle of Palms, Union Hall on Market, Brett’s on Maybank Highway, Oak Steakhouse and O-Ku. Or, maybe you know him as the chef who held a dinner in the middle of the Ravenel Bridge the night before it opened, or threw a fundraiser in the Statue of Liberty, or cooks for Bill Murray and other A-listers.
However you know him, if you’ve been within shouting distance of McKee, you’re not likely to forget the encounter, and nothing he does would surprise you. However, you may be surprised to learn that while McKee has a reputation for living large, these days this dynamo is actually more into living well. “For 26 years I gave everything. I worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I missed being me,” McKee says. “If I could tell my younger self anything it would be to appreciate today and the people who are in the room with you in this moment.”
Enter Downey, a quiet, elegant Charleston native who ate at Brett’s Restaurant for years before she connected McKee to his namesake eatery. Downey, an accomplished graphic and Web designer, spent a long career at MUSC before partnering with McKee to launch the club and Insanely Good, an online store for McKee’s special recipe spices and rubs, beautiful kitchen utensils and fun apparel. The Insanely Good logo, a stylized version of McKee’s face made entirely of his tattoos, represents how soulful Downey’s graphic work can be.
They’re an opposites-attract kind of couple who complement each other in a surprising and delightful way—like jalapeños and strawberries. McKee and Downey share a passion for building relationships with inspiring people, enjoying excellent food and out-of-theordinary experiences. They also value their families, sincerity and a certain level of civilized behavior. For example, the endearing over-the-top banter and trash talk for which McKee is famous endure, but the club still has guidelines: no out-ofhand behavior, no drunk talk and gatherings should wrap up by 11:00 p.m. This is what McKee and Downey refer to as a “safe environment,” a concept understood and appreciated by anyone who has been namedropped, trapped, grilled, Facebook tagged or hit on while just trying to enjoy dinner. “The club is about friendship and community,” Downey says. “This is a combination of our passions and values.”
Besides indulging in McKee’s legendary cooking in a beautiful, boor-free environment, members can host private parties for two to 200 with a theme and menu tailored to their tastes. They can even create their own virtual wine cellar, or stay overnight in the building’s luxurious master suite. Bi-weekly events range from rooftop oyster roasts to seated dinners, from large stand-up cocktail parties to a few friends toasting the sunset. The club’s Inspiration Dinners connect creatives and professionals over dinner— which seems more human than meeting over LinkedIn.
Membership information can be found on the club’s website mckeesat139b.com; Chef Brett’s Insanely Good secret spices and rubs can be ordered online at shopinsanelygood.com.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance
writer in Charleston.