In a city such as Charleston, South Carolina, there are obviously many choices for your drinking hole of an evening. So it’s easy to see why Proof might escape your notice – after all, it is a narrow, less-than-800-square-foot space on busy Upper King Street, and it’s without a lot of bells or whistles. But it should not be missed, and here’s why:
- That’s right. There are no bells or whistles. This is an honest cocktail bar for people who enjoy craft or “old-fashioned” cocktails, and there is good beer and wine available for your friends. Proof’s cocktails are more than the sum of their parts, and that doesn’t include things like graham cracker rims, artificial coloring or other such distractions. Craig Nelson, bartender extraordinaire, doesn’t need any of these things.
- The rumors are true. It is one of the best Gin & Tonics we’ve ever tasted. It has citrus rind, Hendricks Gin, and Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters, and it is generally so crisp and refreshing in its slim glass that it can be easy to lose count of how many you’ve had. They sold 1,200 in the last year. This is Craig’s personal drink of choice, and it shows.
- There is fancy bar food, and it’s good. Chef Jacques Larson of Wild Olive helped develop the menu, which is listed nightly on a chalkboard behind the bar. Once the bar sells out of things such as boiled peanut hummus or pickled eggs, they are erased for the night. But they never run out of gin & tonics. And usually not pickled eggs (surprisingly popular), in case you’re wondering.
- Craig Nelson built a bar he wanted to visit. “I am not really a concept guy, and I just wanted a place that I would want to hang out in,” he explains. This place feels good. It’s not kitchy, the bar top is central, the lighting is just enough, and the clientele is varied, from tourists to regulars to other beverage professionals. It’s easy to bring a few friends or visit solo.
- He’s there much of the time. A Charleston native, Craig probably looks familiar to you because he is, having served you previously at some of the city’s most well-known spots, including Rue de Jean, where he met his wife. But besides that tidbit, he makes consistent cocktails, is the perfect amount of attentive and reserved (read: He’ll answer your requests while at the same time acting as if he didn’t hear that discussion about your ex), and can help you find something you like while expanding your palate.