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An Insider’s Guide to Upper King Street

By: The Local Palate

An Insider’s Guide to Upper King Street in Downtown Charleston

Downtown Charleston houses with yellow, pink, and green exteriors

The French Quarter and South of Broad neighborhoods often steal the spotlight when people think of “downtown” Charleston. However, the steady revitalization north of Calhoun Street has drawn people farther and farther up the peninsula, taking over Elliotborough and Cannonborough and transforming Wagener Terrace into the next “it” spot. Much like deeper downtown, King Street serves as the main artery, leading foot and auto traffic to a new generation of staple spots for grabbing a bevvie or a bite. This northern end pulses with cool energy—equally likely to attract residents as it is visiting chefs and influencers, minus the crowds of deep downtown.

Downtown Charleston: Eat

The exterior of Leons Oyster shop with plenty of growing flowers in Downtown Charleston

The selection of Airbnb and VRBO properties around Spring and Cannon streets positions visitors for a morning stroll to Upper King’s eateries: the Daily. This sister property to the award-winning Butcher & Bee shares the same bread program, and you can make it your spot for coffee, breakfast, or to-go selections—but you absolutely must try the Israeli Upside Down latte with rose-cardamom syrup and vanilla bean.

Continue north toward Welton’s Tiny Bakeshop, newly opened and one of the best pastry programs in town. This minute bakery is open for limited hours Thursday through Sunday. The line (out the door) moves quickly, and staff ply you with coffee and treats while you wait. Items change to highlight seasonal ingredients, so expect fresh fruit danish pastries, sweet and savory kolaches, loaded focaccia slabs, and pastéis de nata.         

Beef Tartare being served at Maison in Downtown Charleston by someone in a blue apron

For more of a meal-meal, leave your fancy Charleston airs at Line Street and head to Leon’s or Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop merges the South’s two quintessential delicacies, fried chicken and raw oysters, housed in a converted garage space. You can sit on the open patio or at the spacious buzzy bar. For classic South Carolina barbecue, follow your nose to Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, where the smoker fires (as the name suggests) whole hogs, chicken, ribs, and more. Everything is served family style, so go with a crew (or a big appetite) and load up on pulled pork, mac and cheese, collards, and iced sweet tea.

Not into meats? Like, at all? No problem. Neon Tiger, which shares a parking lot with the Daily, serves up all-vegan takes on stoner foods, including pizzas, burgers, mac and cheese, and garlic knots.

Melfi’s and Little Jack’s Tavern are part of the Leon’s empire (conveniently located at the same intersection). Melfi’s draws diners with upscale Italian food in a grown-up spot that exudes New York-level sophistication. For more-casual pub fare, try Little Jack’s Tavern, where the fries are extra crispy and the shrimp burger rivals their Tavern burger. Smack-dab in the center of it all, the cobalt blue Maison is solid for French bistro fare and a wine list to match.

Downtown Charleston: Drink

A cocktail amidst plates of pasta at Melfi's in downtown Charleston

You could make a crawl out of your time on Upper King with its numerous watering holes. The brothers behind neighborhood mainstays D’Allesandro’s Pizza and Cutty’s recently added a third spot, Sugey’s. Tucked in the back of the same building that houses Barsa, this ’80s-themed tiki lounge is punk rock in all the right ways, from the slasher films on the projector to the pinball machine in the corner.

Across the street from the Daily sits the iconic Recovery Room. The no-frills red-and-black bar boasts a winning streak of highest PBR sales in the world and draws all types for game day, foosball, or just a good time.

A visit to Upper King Street wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Graft Wine Shop. This wine bar exudes cool-kid vibes with its lineup of esoteric bottles and owner-curated playlists. Go for the $5 cava happy hour; stay for the Prince oil painting in the bathroom.

Downtown Charleston: Do

A downtown charleston historic home with a growing tree in front of it

Food and drink are the primary draw for this end of King Street, but you can get a taste of neighborhood life while you’re here. Take your crew to the Alley, a dive-bar-meets-bowling alley, for a couple of rounds. Or check out Redux Contemporary Art Center, an edgy, contemporary gallery with exhibits, an artist workspace, and workshops.

Looking for another reason to go back to Graft? (Not that you need one.) On Sunday afternoons, it’s the place to see and be seen at the weekly Good Neighbor Sunday, a midday parking lot party with food trucks, pop-up concepts from local chefs, boutique artists, and by-the-glass deals.

For a true escape, Hampton Park offers an oasis from the urban bustle a few blocks west of King Street. As one of the city’s largest and oldest parks, it offers a multiblock expanse of green space, gardens, a gazebo, and duck pond. Follow the walking trails or take a blanket and soak up the sunshine. The park hosts events, including Teddy Bear Picnics, wine brunches, and more—check the Charleston Parks Conservancy website calendar for upcoming events.

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