The coastal areas of South Carolina are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire Southeastern region. But, when you’re visiting Charleston, South Carolina, you’ll discover so much more than the picturesque landscape. This city is bustling with culture, history and great cuisine. Although Charleston is a relatively small city, it has made a big name for itself in the world of food over the last few years. It’s safe to say that hundreds of restaurants exist throughout the county, bringing locals and visitors a unique taste of everything from traditional Southern dishes to authentic Vietnamese food. But, a truly great food scene would be nothing without handcrafted cocktails to accompany it. Before you hit the restaurant circuit in Charleston, stop by one of these many bars for the cocktail of a lifetime.
The Food and Drink Scene in Charleston
If you’re going to explore the food and drink scene in Charleston, you need to familiarize yourself with some of the most popular items in the area. When it comes to staple Southern dishes, shrimp and grits are a must-have. If you’re not from the South, some other intriguing dishes you’ll encounter include black-eyed peas, fried or pickled okra, collard greens, biscuits (believe me, they’re different than the biscuits you have at home) and even alligator. Don’t hold back during your visit to Charleston. Try everything! We promise you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to cocktails, we have a nearly endless list of bars that will serve you everything from a traditional French 75 to an entirely unique twist on a traditional Old Fashioned. If you’re looking for a place to grab a few cocktails before dinner, consider what type of atmosphere you’re looking for. There are plenty of dive bars in the area if that’s your jam—Recovery Room, which is the number one seller of PBR in the world, Cutty’s, Burn’s Alley and The Griffon are a few local favorites. For college kids taking a spring break trip to the city, you’ll also find dozens of college-oriented bars like Uptown Social, A.C.’s Bar and Grill and King Street Dispensary. But, if you’re on your honeymoon and looking for some upscale places to celebrate your trip, we’ve got you covered. Check out some of our favorite places to grab a fancy, high-end cocktail.
Cocktail Bars in Hotels
The Hotel Bennett
A highly anticipated hotel, the Hotel Bennett only opened its doors in January 2019 but already feels as though it’s been a part of Charleston forever. This gorgeous high-end hotel is located on the corner of King Street and Hutson Street, overlooking the beautiful Marion Square, where a farmers market is held each Saturday. The hotel itself has three separate bars—the lobby bar, the pink bar and the rooftop bar. While all three bars share some signature cocktails, you can find specialty items on each menu as well.
The lobby bar is a more quiet, relaxing environment to sip on a cocktail, while the rooftop can be a bit more lively and offers outstanding views of the city. We suggest getting to the rooftop, which is called Gabrielle, in the early evening to catch a truly magnificent sunset. If you’re looking for a unique luxury champagne bar, head to Camilla’s, also referred to as the pink bar. Located inside the hotel, Camilla’s is decked out from ceiling to floor in feminine pink decor. You can indulge in delicious cocktails here or head to Camilla’s for afternoon tea time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The Grand Bohemian
A unique hotel bar located on Meeting Street, The Grand Bohemian is an art-focused hotel with its own small gallery on the main floor. Before heading up to the rooftop bar, be sure to walk through and peruse the artwork. On the top floor, you’ll find a fancy indoor bar with beautiful chandeliers. Step outside onto the rooftop area and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped through the looking glass into Lewis Carroll’s classic story of Alice in Wonderland. The combination of fake grass and ornate, high-back white chairs gives the entire area a surreal feeling. Make yourself comfortable on one of the couches or oversized day beds as you sip a delicious cocktail.
Also located on Meeting Street close to Marion Square, The Dewberry is a beautiful luxury hotel with a mysterious facade. While you can grab a drink at Henrietta’s, the hotel’s French brasserie, or the Living Room bar, most people head to The Dewberry to check out their rooftop Citrus Club. From this vantage point, you will have a wide-angled view of the city, parks and water in the distance. Enjoy this bar’s light, bright atmosphere and try one of their signature craft cocktails.
If you’re looking for an upscale bar that’s going to have you feeling like you’re sneaking away to a fancy speakeasy, the Spectator is the place to go. As soon as you step into this intriguing boutique hotel, you’ll notice an eclectic kind of decor with dark purple curtains and black and white end tables, though it still possesses a Prohibition era feel. The ambiance isn’t the only influence of the Roaring ’20s era. Each cocktail on the menu has been inspired by traditional Prohibition era drinks and concoctions to make everything feel as authentic as possible. If you’re looking for a light snack before dinner, you can also indulge in some of the classy bar snacks.
Best Cocktail Bars in Charleston
Hotel bars seem to possess a certain type of charm and atmosphere. There’s a bit of class and a sense that everyone in the bar is returning from somewhere or on their way to their next adventure. But, this isn’t always the environment you’re looking for as hotel bars can also be quite crowded or noisy with other guests coming and going. If you’re looking to bar hop, you can pop into one of these hotel bars and then move on to explore the wide range of cocktail bars in Charleston.
The Cocktail Club
How could a place with a name like The Cocktail Club not serve top-notch drinks? This bar is located on King Street in the midst of the most popular bar strip. To enter the bar, you’ll have to walk upstairs into a darkened room where you’ll find leather couches and even an outdoor rooftop area. The inside of The Cocktail Club is a mix of upscale decor and half-finished wall beams, giving it a truly unique look and very much a hidden speakeasy vibe. Their house cocktails are particularly delicious and served in vintage glasses of all different shapes and sizes. Perhaps their most popular cocktail is the Double Standard, made with house-infused serrano gin and cucumber vodka mixed with ginger, cilantro, lime juice and celery bitters to create a refreshing yet slightly spicy concoction.
A fairly new addition to the King Street bar scene, Vintage is all about class. You can choose to sit inside or head to the outdoor bar area, which features a covered patio and a few tables surrounded by lovely greenery. The sleek indoor bar is known for its extensive wine selection, but there are a variety of delicious cocktails available as well. The most unique part of visiting Vintage Lounge is the porron. If you’ve never tried this Spanish tradition, you should definitely swing by the bar during your visit to Charleston, S.C. A porron is a large, glass container that resembles a scientific beaker. Wine is poured into the container, which also features a spout at one end, and guests at your table pour the wine into each other’s mouths (“waterfall style”).
One of the best places to go for a cocktail is Proof, located in a discreet location on Upper King Street. This cozy little bar is dimly lit and easy to walk by if you’re not looking for it, but what the bar lacks in space, it more than makes up for in cocktail selection. When you step into Proof and ask to see a cocktail list, you’ll receive a huge menu with dozens of delicious and creative drinks you’ve never quite seen before. The dark, intimate atmosphere makes it the perfect place to sip a strong cocktail before a date night on the town. If you’re looking for a place to get a top-notch meal with your cocktails, head to Proof on Wednesday, Friday or Sunday night to try their weekly ramen-pop 2Nixons.
The Gin Joint
Tucked away behind a gate and a small courtyard on East Bay Street, the Gin Joint very much has a hidden feel. The inside is dimly lit and truly feels as though you were just let in the back door of a speakeasy. While the Gin Joint offers a list of pre-crafted cocktails, the most unique feature on their menu is the Bartender’s Choice. Select two adjectives that appeal to your taste buds from a list on the menu and the bartender will whip up a surprise drink to your liking. If you’re headed to the Gin Joint with a group of friends, you can opt for one of the punch bowls, also crafted in the same manner as the Bartender’s Choice.
As the name suggests, this bar likes to play up the Prohibition-speakeasy vibe. Both the food and cocktails at this establishment are out of this world, and if you’re looking to get both, just ask your server or bartender to pair food and drink suggestions. One of their most unusual and delicious cocktails is the Shrute Sour, a drink made from beet vodka, lemon, rosemary and egg whites. If you’re looking for a place to enjoy a cocktail and a delicious meal, Prohibition is the place to go–serving up everything from wings and deviled eggs to seared scallops and roasted bone marrow.
Located inside the restored Old Cigar Factory building, Bar Mash is a unique cocktail bar that regularly features live jazz and bluegrass music. If you’re looking for a place to sip a delicious cocktail and play some games, Bar Mash is the spot with an indoor bocce court and cornhole set. On Monday nights, Bar Mash hosts a prime rib night, which includes a 21 oz. piece of prime rib with a baked potato and onion rings for just $21. Steak lovers will definitely want to grab a drink and bite to eat on Monday nights.
A fairly new cocktail bar on Spring Street, Dalila’s has a cozy, intimate vibe with a dimly lit 1950s ambiance and a smaller sized bar. You can ask one of the bartenders to whip you up a custom cocktail or select from the unique list of drinks, including their take on a Mai Tai and a Cuban twist on a margarita. Each of the drinks has some type of Caribbean inspiration, and the food is prepared by Spanish Cuban Kitchen to provide a tasty complement to the drinks.
Another newer establishment to the Charleston food and drink scene, Estadio is a Spanish tapas restaurant with a selection of handcrafted cocktails on tap. Though they try to rotate their drink list, the house tonics featured on draft have been the crowd favorites thus far. Stop by for a delicious cocktail and a few tapas appetizers.
Get a Taste of Charleston Living
When you visit Charleston, S.C., you’ll be blown away by the area’s natural beauty and abundance of exciting things to do–from outdoor activities to dining at great restaurants. The city’s food and drink scene is truly a force to be reckoned with, so make sure you get out there and explore some of the best places in town. If you’re looking for the perfect place to grab a cocktail before dinner, or you’re trying to spend the night bar-hopping in search of Charleston’s best cocktail, check out some of our favorite places listed above and you’re sure to leave satisfied.