In a city with such an evolved food culture, a cocktail is rarely just a cocktail. Whether rescued from a long-forgotten recipe book or revived from the pre-Prohibition era, history in Charleston tends to turn potable before your eyes. To experience Southern hospitality at its finest, drop into one of the following hotspots, pull up a barstool, and ask the folks behind the bar what they recommend. You’re liable to walk away several hours later with an expanded palate and a new favorite watering hole… that is, until you try the next place.
THE BELMONT Step inside this swank little ode to ole-time bartending to experience dapper servers shaking up craft takes on classics, or select from a range of carefully collected fine spirits to sip straight. With a maximum capacity of forty, The Belmont is the ideal place to catch up with old friends, banter with the knowledgeable chaps tending bar, or brood over the old black and white movies they project on the back wall. A spread of charcuterie is a must, as no matter which meats and cheeses you decide on, it comes loaded with accoutrements. And for that sweet tooth, a homemade Biscoff cookie pop tart might just make the perfect nightcap. 511 King Street. Open daily 5.30pm – 2.00am.
COCKTAIL CLUB It’s all about timing with the Cocktail Club. Stop by during the early evening or mid-week for a romantic, tucked-away atmosphere, or swing by on a Friday night to experience Charleston’s most happening hotspot—either way, you’re guaranteed to be taken with the Cocktail Club’s chic, rustic architecture and moody lighting. Exposed 4x4s frame a library-inspired bar, complete with rolling ladder (you know, to reach that top-shelf goodness). Lean back into a big leather chair, and order something cheeky like the Double Standard, a Cocktail Club classic featuring serrano-infused gin and cucumber-infused vodka, muddled ginger root, lime juice, cilantro, and celery bitters. Or mosey outside onto the back patio, drink in hand, to sip beneath the stars. 479 King Street (head upstairs). Open daily 5.00pm – 2.00am.
The Rosy Cheeks
from the Cocktail Club of Charleston, South Carolina
THE GIN JOINT The Gin Joint has banned vodka in honor of its pre-Prohibition era roots, but with seventy types of gin on hand, finding a substitute shouldn’t be hard, especially when faced with a fun selection like “Bartender’s Choice,” in which imbibers choose from adjectives like “fizzy,” “unusual,” and “sweet,” mixing and matching for a custom-made creation. The bartenders at this East Bay hangout appreciate the order as much as the patrons, and utilize the opportunity to show off their liquid creativity. Suds are sopped up with irresistible snacks such as bologna sliders with pretzel rolls and pineapple chow-chow, or pad Thai popcorn. Though the space is small, with a few friends it seems to fill up quick, and the drinks are so good, it won’t be long before you find yourself toasting to your bartender’s health. 182 East Bay Street. Open daily 5.00pm – 12.00pm.
THE BAR AT HUSK If you really want to knock the socks off someone who is visiting Charleston, then there is only one place to go: Get thee to The Bar at Husk. Housed in an old carriage building and dripping with more charm than an ancient oak has Spanish moss, The Bar at Husk consists of a regal dark wood bar downstairs and a more casual parlor to sip and chat up on the second floor. Cocktails are expertly composed, and for the connoisseur, many a rare bottle is available upon special request. For a taste of history, order the Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch with California brandy, Jamaican rum, peach brandy, black tea, lemon juice, and raw sugar (the recipe was dug up out of the vaults of the Charleston Preservation Society). Then, of course, there is the added bonus that the bites here echo those of the main kitchen, and can offer a tantalizing teaser if you were unable to squeeze in a reservation at the restaurant. 76 Queen Street. Open daily for Lunch and Dinner.
17th Street Shuffle
from Rod Weaver of The Bar at Husk, Charleston, South Carolina
PROOF The perfect bar for grabbing a cocktail after dining out on Upper King, Proof is a stalwart for those looking to score craft cocktails and high-end spirits in a low-key, no frills environment. A cocktail bar for both the on-the-rocks aficionados and lovers of simple, thoughtfully-built cocktails, the straightforward layout is small, clean, and elegant, with low lighting and easy access to the bar, where on any given night you can find the skilled Craig Nelson shaking and stirring (or just doling out nice, even pours). A rotating menu of late-night bites include heartier takes on bar snacks such as deviled eggs and boiled peanuts. At Proof, you won’t have co-eds yelling over your shoulder or artsy, eager-to-impress foodies asking for artisan bitters—just simple drinks, well made, every time. We’ll cheers to that. 437 King Street. Open six-days/week from 4.00pm – 2.00am. (Opens at 6.00pm on Sundays.)