Nestled in the heart of The Innovista, Thirsty Fellow offers a diverse menu and a welcoming atmosphere. Opened in 2009 by longtime Columbia restaurateur Willie Durkin, Thirsty Fellow has become a favorite among the community and on campus.
Walking into Thirsty Fellow the back wall covered in books and the dim light give the restaurant a scholarly feel — like the patrons and waitstaff might start debating philosophical issues or ethical dilemmas. But on the other side of the restaurant, an expansive bar covered with televisions and liquor bottles tells the story of a rowdy night spent with fellow fans watching the big game.
Durkin himself, the mastermind behind Fellow, represents this dichotomous ideal. His Budweiser shirt and red bandana hint at the fun-loving guy he is, but his sharp wit and dedication to Fellow’s menu show his passion for the restaurant/bar.
“[We’re] only as good as our last meal, so every meal that goes out has to be quality,” Durkin said.
Durkin’s intent on freshness is evident in his dishes. He makes sure all the ingredients sent out are top-quality, even specifically choosing where the roast beef comes from.
The menu is an extensive undertaking that can satisfy any craving. Soups, salads and sandwiches are present as well as burgers, pizza and wings. Depending on your mood, you could order a pear salad with goat cheese and lemon vinaigrette or chicken fingers with fries.
In addition to lunch and dinner, Fellow offers a Sunday Brunch. Featuring staples like waffles, bacon and grits, it certainly caters to the ever-growing trend of “Sunday Funday” brunch.
A popular menu item at Fellow’s, The Carolina Chicken Sandwich, is a tasty creation of chicken fingers, bacon, provolone, lettuce, tomato and chipotle sauce, all sandwiched in a hoagie roll. The slightly spicy sauce and the crusty bun combine to deliver a comforting yet exciting taste.
Other sandwiches and burgers, like the crispy BBQ tofu and the grilled three-cheese sandwiches are typical of Thirsty Fellow’s style — simple and classic ideas given a signature twist.
Another option is a specialty pizza consisting of a pesto base, tomatoes and a specialty blend of shredded provolone and mozzarella on an airy crust delivering a filling meal. Pizza, which is one of their top-sellers, was Durkin’s passion project when Thirsty Fellow first opened. Studying under “world-renowned bread maker” Peter Reinhart, Durkin learned the art of dough making and created Thirsty Fellow’s signature dough style. The crispy, thin dough is reminiscent of New York Style pizza, but thicker. Whatever toppings are chosen, the pizza at Thirsty Fellow will inevitably be tasty and fresh.
All of the pizzas are prepared in a stone-fire oven and are build-your-own. Choosing from a plethora of toppings and bases, it’s easy to meet any pizza-lover’s needs.
If you aren’t looking for a big meal, a pub food menu is available. Snacks like Antipasto, calamari and potato chips are perfect while watching a game or meeting friends for happy hour.
Durkin doesn't believe that the Vista takes away his regular customers, but rather persuades people to come more.
“I believe this is true that a lot of our people come here because they don’t want to go to the Vista,” Durkin said.
Relying mostly on word-of-mouth instead of advertisements, Thirsty Fellow draws in restaurant-goers as well as those looking for a more social vibe. With 60 percent of sales attributed to the food and the remaining to beverages, Fellow’s dual personality fits in nicely with its casual setting and proximity to the university.
USC alumnus Tim O’Keefe frequents Thirsty Fellow when he’s back in town for football. O'Keefe highlighted the restaurant’s kid-friendly atmosphere and said, “We have several people in our group that are coming that have children here and they can come in here and eat some pizza and we can act like adults and have a good time.”
The neighborhood mentality is a major draw to Thirsty Fellow. It’s a place to grab a bite and a drink while you watch the game, or a place to come on Sunday afternoons with your parents.
Durkin’s first vision for Thirsty Fellow was a similar atmosphere and menu to The Salty Nut Cafe in Five Points but, with a more central location and older crowd, Thirsty Fellow has carved out a reputation that is uniquely its own. Offering fresh ingredients in classic dishes and a wide range of affordable drinks, Fellow is a haven for hospitality and good food.