Leva Bonaparte owns King St.
OK, not literally — but the Southern Charm star’s nightlife empire takes up ample space on the famous Charleston, South Carolina, strip. With four spots — nightclub Republic, eatery Mesu, upscale lounge Bourbon N’ Bubbles and private club Lamar’s — she and her husband, Lamar Bonaparte (the namesake of their new, members’ only location), are the most prolific entrepreneurs on the block. Their businesses provide the perfect backdrop for Southern Hospitality, the reality show that follows the on and off-the-clock antics of their staff.
“Somebody yesterday was calling this Bravo Boulevard between [Craig Conover’s store] Sewing Down South and all of our spaces,” Leva tells ET. “People come in, they wanna try everything — they wanna meet the cast, so I kind of love that, ’cause it’s a cool, fun energy, versus the regular patrons who wanna come in and wanna scrutinize. Bravo fans are just, like, so supportive. ‘Everything was the best, it was the absolute best.’ So that makes my heart burst. I really love seeing, or walking down King, and seeing people coming in, seeing the spaces.”
When Southern Hospitality premiered, it quickly drew comparisons to Vanderpump Rules, which Leva embraces, as that makes her the southern version of Lisa Vanderpump. The Brit famously compared her Los Angeles-based restaurants when her Housewives spinoff launched, saying, “Villa Blanca is where you take your wife, SUR is where you take your mistress.”
“You definitely are gonna take your family to Mesu,” Leva offers as her own version of Lisa’s infamous line. “You’re gonna maybe go on a date night at Bourbon N’ Bubbles, mistress… definitely gonna be at Republic.”
“You might meet your mistress at Republic,” she jokes. “Then you might hide her in the corner at Lamar’s.”
Ahead of Southern Hospitality’s return (Thursday on Bravo), ET took a trip to Charleston for a little crawl through Leva’s booming bar business, meeting up with cast members along the way for some sophomore season scoop.
Formerly sports bar 1st Place, Leva and Lamar recently transformed this corner-lot space into a Ralph Lauren-inspired speakeasy, a sort of Soho House-lite experience for the Chucktown elite. The wood-paneled room features leather accents and walls decorated with taxidermied hunting trophies. It’s the “fantasy man cave” of Lamar’s dreams, Leva says, with flat-screen TVs covertly tucked behind tartan curtains.
“We wanted it to feel Charleston and preppy,” Leva explains. “We pulled ideas from the Polo Club, and we wanted it to feel very local, but elevated, you know what I mean?”
One has to know someone to get in, though fans making a pilgrimage to town can snag a reservation via the club’s website.
Inside Lamar’s, ET sat down with “the Bradleys,” VIP manager Joe Bradley and VIP server Bradley Carter. The latter Bradley finds himself in the mix of drama early on in season 2, as he gets a little karmic revenge on co-worker Maddi Reese. After she caused some relationship trouble for him in season 1, by informing his girlfriend that he was hooking up with other women in the Republic alley — an allegation Bradley denies — this year, he informs Maddi that her boyfriend, Trevor Stokes, is now seemingly cheating on her.
“You know, it was a pleasant surprise that I wasn’t exactly expecting or anticipating,” he reflects. “Was I shocked to see her boyfriend cheat on her again? No, absolutely not. No, but it was kind of, like, a good and bad thing. Like, did I feel a little bad like telling her that her boyfriend cheated on her again? Yeah, absolutely. I felt a little bad. But did it feel good? A hundred percent. No regrets.”
Season 1 ended with Joe confessing his love for Maddi, only after she made things official with Trevor. Those feelings have seemingly faded now, even with the prospect of being a rebound for Maddi. It’s unclear if she’s stood by Trevor in the wake of his alleged indiscretions.
“I’m not the kind of guy that’s gonna, like, slide in there,” Joe cautions. “Her relationship right now is just way too complicated for me to even think about that. I would have to wait a little bit. I would have to let the air clear and for everything to simmer down before I would ever shoot my shot.”
There’s also the fact that Joe may be in a new relationship of his own. He hit it off with Summer House star Danielle Olivera at BravoCon; the two have since spent long weekends in each other’s respective cities over the last month.
“I like her a lot,” he admits.
Bourbon N’ Bubbles
To get to the next stop on ET’s Bonaparte bar crawl, all one has to do is look for a trophy sitting a few shelves down on the built-in bookshelves inside Lamar’s. Tug on that, and you’ll open a secret passageway into a jewel-toned champagne and whiskey fantasy. Bubble-themed light fixtures punctuate the design, the walls lined with liquor lockers for notable patrons, including Southern Charm matriarch Patricia Altschul and co-star Olivia Flowers’ dad, Gary.
“So this would be kind of where you and the hubs would come and have dinner and enjoy some nice bourbon, some bubbles and all the good eats over here,” Leva shares, before pointing out the liquor locker she and Lamar gifted to Southern Hospitality’s TJ Dinch for his “exemplary” performance as a bartender over the last year.
ET sat down with TJ and pal Emmy Sharrett, a VIP server, inside the cocktail bar, which serves as the sister location to their main hub, Republic. Season 2 sees Emmy aim to climb the corporate ladder, so to speak, gunning for Maddi’s job as VIP Manager after noticing her Trevor troubles seem to be distracting Maddi from performing at 110 percent.
“It wasn’t just, like, I woke up one day and I was like, ‘I’m going to take Maddi’s job…’ it was a very gradual kind of, fell into my lap [thing], you know?” she says. “She was kind of taking steps back, because her personal life was taking up more attention and time, and I just started taking on more responsibility at work, and the girls just started looking to me more to get stuff done.”
“It slowly just started happening and evolving into picking up her slack, and before I knew it I was, you know, doing really well,” she continues. “I was like, if I’m going to be doing this job, I want the job title.”
The “chaotic” work-play dynamic of the group creates unique challenges, with TJ often winding up as the sounding board for other people’s problems.
“I think everyone had their guard up, season 1, but the cameras are invisible now,” he teases of season 2, adding that Joe will have the most to answer for by season’s end.
“It was hard for me to watch, because I care about him so much,” he says. “I don’t think he means to be how he is. I think deep down he has a strong heart, and I think that’s why everyone’s so forgiving towards Joe, but I think he does put himself into a lot of situations where he chokes on his words and may say things he doesn’t mean.”
About 10 steps over from Bourbon N’ Bubbles is Mesu, the Mexican-Japanese fusion spot inspired by Leva’s pregnancy with her son, Lamar, Jr., aka “Little.”
“So, I’m five months pregnant in bed, craving sushi — can’t have it — my tiny baby was probably, like, built on tacos and trios, like the guac and the cheese,” she recalls. “So, I was like, ‘Lamar, wouldn’t it be good if I could put a piece of sushi in my mouth and have, like, nachos at the same time?’ and he looked at me like, you’re nuts, and I was like, ‘No! And then you can have sake, and then you could have a margarita!'”
Mesu’s been open for about four years, designed with an eclectic mix of bold colors accompanied by luchador and geisha-themed artwork. The menu pairs traditional tacos with sushi staples, just as Leva’s pregnancy cravings dictated.
Over margaritas, ET chatted with VIP hostess Mia Alario and VIP server Lucía Peña. Both ladies’ current employment status with the Bonaparte businesses is a mystery, after each broke a newly enforced rule: no drinking on the job. Leva fired Lucía before cameras went up on season 2, and in the premiere, Mia stands up for Lucía, confronting Leva over what she views as an unfair practice.
“It was inappropriate of me to scream at her in her business that she owns,” Mia admits, but she doesn’t take back the sentiment she was trying to get across. Lucía was the longest-serving Republic crew member, having been on staff for seven years.
“It’s not really fun and games, because I have bills to pay,” Lucía says, previewing her fight to reclaim her job.
“You will have to tune in,” she teases.
“We both definitely have different fates,” Mia cryptically adds. She also says this is a season of relationships “really being tested.” She no longer considers Maddi a friend; neither does Lucía.
“Maddi doesn’t know how to balance [the boundaries of work and friendship], unfortunately,” she shares. “I was able to know clearly who were my ride or dies, and who were the ones who were like, ‘Oh, it was fine for her to be let go…'”
Leva and Lamar are celebrating 10 years of owning the “late-night beast” at the center of Southern Hospitality, which she also dubs the “cash cow” of their empire. Her servers compete for commission on bottle service add-ons, priced up to $10K.
“The is my oldest baby,” she cracks. “It’s going through its little growing pains, you know, its adolescence.”
Her staff is, similarly, going through growing pains. ET caught up with VIP host Mikel Simmons and new VIP server Oisin O’Neill inside Republic; Mikel’s taken a step back from working at the club, only clocking in about once a week.
“It’s been nice to take a step back, and really focus on myself, because adding more drama to my own drama is not what I need right now,” Mikel says. “Took a step back, but I’m still here, still going strong.”
Oisin, however, leans into the drama. He found his way to Charleston via now-co-stars Maddi and Grace Lily, whom he met during their time working in Tulum, Mexico. He tests the boundaries of the “no drinking on the job” policy, while also pursuing Emmy, who’s been dating bartender Will Kulp for two years.
“I can’t reveal too much what goes on there, but I think Will rubbed me off the wrong way, so I’m just gonna rub [Emmy] off the right way, you know what I mean?” he quips.
Oisin’s OnlyFans will also be a hot topic on season 2; he shares NSFW-content in character as “the milkman” on the pay-per-view platform.
“Back home in Ireland, obviously everyone knows who the milkman is,” Oisin offers. “He’s the man who comes around, door to door — while the husband’s at work, you know, leaves his wife at home — knocking at the door, you know what I mean? Answers, ‘How’s it going, Harriet?’ So I guess I carried that on over to OnlyFans, saw a bit of an opportunity there to just take my beautiful body and luscious locks and pour my milk all over myself.”
“There’s nothing better than some full-fat all over this rig, you know,” he continues. “I think that’s what gets everyone stimulated, and I just ran with it and, you know, it’s getting a good response right now, so cheers to that.”
“He’s a porn star!” Mikel jokingly translates.
Southern Hospitality airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, directly following Southern Charm. Episodes stream next day on Peacock.