Nick’s Tavern and Deli opened February 26th, 1976 and was established by Nick Vatakis and Milton Antonakos. Before there was Nicks, there was a bar on the site called the Golden Nugget that opened in 1972. The owner of the Golden Nugget was making no money, so he left Clemson one night and was never seen in town again. Nick Vatakis, the cook at the Golden Nugget, and his wife bought the tavern and ran it until the fall of 1985 when Nick learned that he had lung cancer. Nick began looking for a new owner and found her in an old employee, Ester Revis-Wagner and her husband Ken Wagner.
The tavern is smaller than other bars downtown and has 7 booths or a choice of bar stools. Traditionally only beer and wine was served, but in the last few years Nick’s has obtained a liquor license and sells a small amount of liquor. Nick’s Tavern and Deli remained a popular place for Clemson University students, often mentioned in the school newspaper, The Tiger, and that legacy continues until today. A Clemson alumni, Laurie Brennan class of 1998, painted a mural in the bathroom in dedication to her late father called “Daddy-O”. A sorority damaged the mural during a beer golf game and the university took action and made the sorority fix it at their expense. Due to this event, beer golf was banned from Nick’s Tavern and Deli.
Nick’s is home to many traditions in the Clemson community. The last weekend of February, since it was the one closest to February 26th, became known as anniversary weekend. One particular fraternity called the Figi’s come to Nick’s every year for homecoming. In 1986 Nick’s Tavern was one of the many businesses downtown to participate in the Clemson University’s second annual Welcome Back Festival. Nick’s also supported the 1990 Clemson Loyalty Fund, for academic support, with other restaurants in the area. Nick’s has often been a part of fundraising for the radio station on campus.
The history of Nick’s Tavern and Deli can be seen through the objects they have on display, such as the bottles at the top of the bar and the flags on the ceiling. The bottles began when Nick started the beer of the week at Nick’s. He would keep a bottle each week. People would also bring back bottles that Nick did not have when they came back from travels. International students are encouraged to bring the flag of their country and hang it on the ceiling if their country is not represented. Bottles and flags are still accepted if you can find a place to put it. Dale Masi is the current owner of Nick’s, although Ester and Ken still help him out with some things, and he continues to keep the tradition of great craft beer, simple food, and nice conversation going