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Confronting the tiger of Sloan Street: Son of legendary Frank Howard tells unforgettable stories

Jennifer Roberts // Contributor

Jimmy Howard in his natural habitat.

Step into Sloan Street Tap Room in Downtown Clemson and you are immediately thrown back in time. Pick from a variety of worn down but comfy barstools. Take a minute to look around. Your eyes won’t stop wandering the walls, a kaleidoscope of images and signs that don’t match yet somehow create a satisfying collage. Paintings of old fixtures — the piano and colorful Rock Ola jukebox— hang on the wall in the same place the originals used to inhabit.

Some may turn around at the door without a second thought. It’s definitely not your typical 2022 “college town” scene. Others let the wafting smell of stale popcorn lure them into the unusually decorated setting, a direct extension of owner Howard.

He is not the most welcoming man. From behind the bar, he hunches forward with a scowl. Depending on the day, you may be greeted with a glance and shake of the head. On others, no acknowledgment at all. When he does speak, he is not inclined to worry about political correctness.

He stands at the end of the bar in front of the broken popcorn maker where he banters with his regulars, a majority of whom have been around since the opening of the bar in 1979. They tantalize one another, provoking a spew of explicit language from Howard’s side of the bar. 

The experience of Sloan Street can be intimidating at first.  Speaking with the men who clearly dominate the bar requires a thick skin but yields an invaluable experience.

“Ask him what that sign up there means,” said Howard’s friend of 52 years, who looks like Santa Claus’ brother, pointing to a plaque that reads, “Will Rogers never met Jimmy Howard.” The sign hung directly above Howard’s head. 

 The sign is a dig at Howard. Will Rogers claimed he never met a man he didn’t like, but he may have if he met Howard.

But who is the man behind the bar, and how has he created a place that has sifted through family generations and provided a setting where many feel at home?

Many recognize him as the son of Clemson’s legendary coach, Frank Howard. Coach Howard led the team to 165 wins, the most in Clemson history. Jimmy played fullback for his father from 1961-1963. However, Jimmy Howard isn’t just “Coach Howard’s little boy,” a title that’s bugged him since the day it was uttered. He’s a man with many life experiences. In fact, one of them was watching bees dart from flower to flower.

He graduated from Clemson University in 1967 with a masters in horticulture. From there he went on to join the army and entered the National Guard for about six years. After serving, he proceeded to return to Clemson to teach and was soon offered a job to become South Carolina’s beekeeper specialist. During this period, he opened the bar and operated a tree service on the side. 

A busy man collects a variety of stories. Most of those are reflected on the walls of his bar. Even after spending numerous hours sitting and looking around, you will always find a sign you haven’t read or a picture you haven’t noticed, such as one of Howard’s favorites: “Pregnant—need help? Call 704-372-4663. Need help getting pregnant? Call 854-7210.” The last number is the phone number to the bar. 

If you dare to speak to Howard at the rear of the bar about the stories behind the pictures, you will undoubtedly end up in a mixture of bewilderment and amusement. One of Howard’s favorite stories to tell is about the letter he sent Billy Carter, former President Jimmy Carter’s brother, asking him to come drink at the Esso Club. Howard’s best friend, Robert Willard (Bob) Higby, who passed away in 2021, was the prior owner of the Esso Club. In 1977, Jimmy sent the invitation as stated in the letter “for the purpose of placing a plaque on the door (of the Esso Club): ‘Billy Carter Drank Beer Here.’” Carter unfortunately turned down the invitation, but the story doesn’t stop there.

Coach Howard knew about his son’s desire for Carter to make an appearance at the Esso Club and found a truck driver who was a dead ringer for the President’s brother. But before the coach pulled off the prank, Jimmy’s mother told her son what his father was planning. Jimmy took the idea and escalated it. He brought the doppelganger to the Esso Club to fool Higby. Thousands of people showed up. “It looked like a home football game,” Howard recalled, the crowd thinking they were meeting the real Billy Carter. 

After the fake Billy Carter signed autographs and took pictures, Howard drove the man back to his truck. When he returned, he knew he had to tell Higby and the crowd the truth. Higby was very disappointed, but other attendees refused to believe it wasn’t the real Billy Carter. It was just a few months later when the two best friends were able to meet the real Billy Carter at a local venue. This picture of Higby, Howard, and Carter is on display at Sloan Street Tap Room. 

At 80, Howard is well aware of the reality that comes with age. He has lost several friends within the past couple of years, but through picture frames and the unchanging nature of the bar, their memories live on. While the streets of downtown Clemson may change, Sloan Street Tap Room remains the same unfiltered place it was when it opened. 

Jacob Brown, a 1999 graduate from Clemson University, spoke fondly of Howard and his bar. “It sticks to its tradition … brings you back to reality,” he said. He is the third generation of his family to walk through the doors of Sloan Street and make returning a routine. When Brown’s entire family comes to Clemson for home football games, they are able to merge the generations and find comfort in the place they all are familiar with, Sloan Street Tap Room. 

Howard’s old friend, Santa’s brother, proclaims, “This is the only place I go.” They have the kind of friendship where one always blames the other for anything that goes wrong, but a brotherly love has kept them united throughout the years. He reveals Howard is a penny pincher and refuses to turn the AC on much in the summer or the heat on in winter. As a result, years ago during a cold snap, a fellow friend had to bring in a candle for them to warm their hands so they could continue drinking their cold beer. 

College students are a rarity at the bar, where on a typical day, the average age of patrons hovers around 68. Many confuse Sloan Street Tap Room with the bar next door, Nick’s, and have “no idea who owns it.” Mallory Hatchett, a senior in nursing, is one of many.  That’s fine with Howard. He said he has had to replace the toilet in the men’s room with an indestructible prison toilet because of the lack of respect some college students show toward the facilities. While he has no problem with respectful and of-age customers, for those who disagree with the crude talk and unfiltered thoughts, Howard says “to get the hell out.”

Howard continues to nurture and breathe life into a piece of Clemson history that is unlike anyplace else in town. He has constructed a masterpiece that embodies his personal experiences, and when you walk into Sloan Street Tap Room you get a taste of the fulfilling life he has created. Nonetheless, he will always be “Jimmy Howard, the guy that’s full of bull,” as said by Howard himself.

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