Battle of the Bars

The Esso Club: A Clemson Tradition

A crash course in the long-beloved dive bar that’s #AllIn for the defending National Champions

As two Southern teams—Clemson and LSU—prepare to face off in the College Football Playoff National Championship on January 13, G&G took a dive into the classic gameday bars in each school’s home town where fans are sure to cheer them on. Read up on the Chimes in Baton Rouge here.

The Esso Club has evolved plenty since 1933, when the site of a former fruit stand snagged Clemson’s first beer license and opened its doors as a gas station and grocery at the corner of Oak Street and Old Greenville Highway. Over the years, the Esso renovated, tweaked its name, expanded its menu, and changed owners, but there’s been one constant on its path to becoming what is today one of the town’s best sports bars: People keep coming back. “There’s something about this place that just draws you in, right when you walk through the door,” says Candice Bell, the bar’s general manager. She has worked at the establishment for nearly twenty years, celebrating Tiger wins and mourning tough losses with an endearing cast of regulars, students, alums, celebrities, and even opposing fans. So in anticipation of this year’s college football National Championship—Clemson’s fourth go at the title in five years—G&G turned to Bell for a crash course in everything Esso.

photo: Courtesy of the Esso Club
The Esso Club in the late 1970s, when it also functioned as a gas station.

Year Established: 1933

Historical Tidbit: The bar top is made from old stadium seating, surviving several owners and a renovation that moved it from one end of the building to the other. “It’s probably the oldest thing in here, besides the walls themselves,” says Bell. “It’s a museum in here. You can walk around and read old articles, or get a regular that would really tell you a story.”

photo: Courtesy of the Esso Club
The bar at the Esso Club.

Most-Served Drink: “Probably Bud Light,” Bell says. “The Esso Club’s kind of known for its simplicity.”

Most-Served Food: “Our chicken tenders and our mac and cheese,” she says, noting that their meat-and-three options have also been popular since the Esso introduced them in the early 2000s. But she swats away the idea of special recipes or secret ingredients. “We don’t use frozen food. We make everything in-house. We go with Southern-style cooking.”

What It Takes to Get Kicked Out: “Our opponents like to come here, and people are gonna talk back and forth when tensions are high at a game. It just makes watching the game fun—especially now that we’re winning,” she jokes. “You would really have to start a fight. We would warn you, but we don’t tolerate making people feel uncomfortable.”

Memorable Celebration: “When Dabo was named coach, we all celebrated here. One of the girls made shirts about how much we loved him,” Bell recalls. “We had no idea that it was gonna turn into the dynasty that it’s turned into. But the day that he gave his speech, we all sat here, turned it on the TV, and you could feel it. He was the right choice. I mean, he even loses with class—if I remember correctly.” 

Score Prediction: “Forty-five, thirty-eight. Clemson all the way.” 

Why is Clemson such a special place? “Hospitality. I’ve traveled to away games, and I wear my Clemson gear and I wear my Esso hat, and I have never met anyone that has not had something positive to say,” she says. “It’s part of being in the South, and I think it’s part of what Clemson really thrives on. The biggest, most heartwarming thing is that everyone supports everyone.”