The Charleston Guide
Over the course of three centuries, Charleston—one of the oldest, most storied cities in America—has developed a rich culture shaped by a number of historic events (the Civil War commenced at Fort Sumter, for one) and distinct geographic elements (the city is flanked by two rivers and a beautiful harbor on the Southern tip). And due to its compact size, you’ll inevitably stumble on significant sites and the picturesque Charleston single houses, with their piazzas and lace-like facades, simply by taking a post-dinner walk. What’s more, many of the newer restaurants, bars, and shops are housed in old buildings that have been beautifully converted to accommodate modern-day needs—though they still retain the old-world charm that makes Charleston so unforgettable.
Pavilion Bar225 E. Bay St., French Quarter | 843.723.0500
For a small city, Charleston has a really solid collection of rooftop bars. This one sits at the top of Market Pavilion Hotel, and overlooks Market Street and historic Charleston with a view stretching to Cooper River. The pool here adds a slightly trendy vibe, and there's actually a pretty extensive food menu (apps, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches), making it a particularly nice spot for an afternoon drink (and bite, if you're hungry). It's also a great sunset place, and you could come here for cocktails before dinner at 5Church, which is conveniently located across the street.
The Cocktail Club479 King St., Upper King Street | 843.724.9411
NYC's West Village meets the South in this upstairs bar-lounge perched above The Macintosh restaurant on King Street. The 1881 building has been cooly reimagined—you can see the original beams and salvaged doors through the Cocktail Club's exposed walls; and the sole, long bar is made from reclaimed wood. The layout design reads more home than bar, split into three different lounge areas, each with a slightly different vibe, a mix of high wood tables and low leather couches, fireplaces, and fun lighting accents. When the weather's nice, there is also the rooftop terrace and garden (which is where the Cocktail Club's fresh garnishes come from). The ambience here is matched by the quality handcrafted cocktails, house-made infusions, and expert spirits list.
The Daily652 King St., Cannonborough | 843.619.0151
A bit north of the Upper King's Design District, but still on King Street, The Daily is run by the folks behind the restaurant Butcher & Bee. The coffee here is by fan favorite Stumptown, and The Daily also serves cold-pressed juice, egg sandwiches, bakery goods and bread, plus wine and beer.
The Gin Joint182 E. Bay St., French Quarter | 843.577.6111
Despite the name, The Gin Joint doesn't really play favorites—the bartenders at this curved back corner bar serve up a range of clever cocktails, and the bartender's choice is never a bad idea (the menu encourages picking two words—i.e. spicy and unusual—to describe the flavor you're after). The bar food here is a bit more sophisticated than your average drink spot: pickled shrimp, clams and chorizo, ricotta-stuffed meatballs, pork buns with mustard green kimchi, and a smattering of cheeses and dessert plates.
Élevé55 Wentworth St., Ansonborough | 843.724.4144
The Grand Bohemian Hotel has a combined rooftop bar and restaurant with a great surrounding view. The decor is a combination of rustic and sleek touches that just works. The glass interior of Élevé is spacious and even if you're posted at a bar stool, you feel like you're sitting outside. (And if you actually want to sit outside, Élevé has a small terrace.) In addition to being a nice drinks spot, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
The Rooftop at the Vendue19 Vendue Range St., French Quarter | 843.577.7970
Of all the rooftop bars in Charleston, Vendue probably has the best view. Like the others, it's part of a hotel, but the scene here is more casual. It's a large space, split into a few levels—walk up to the very top for an unobstructed, 360-degree view of Charleston, which is well worth the steps. In addition to patio seating, Vendue has a few nooks outfitted with wicker couches that are perfect for groups. They also serve lunch and dinner, and have live music every Sunday from 4 to 7pm.
The Belmont511 King St., Upper King Street | 843.743.3880
Upper King Street is known for its bars, but The Belmont is one of the more sophisticated ones. A somewhat long, narrow space, there isn't a bad seat in the house, although the two-person high-top tables that run along the glass front make for entertaining people watching. There's also a cozy couch, intimate booths, and a bar—which is the real reason you come here: The cocktails are expertly done.
Bin 152152 King St., French Quarter | 843.577.7359
Opened by a husband and wife duo, this intimate wine bar was made for lingering over long conversations and a few glasses. Bonus: The cheese selection is nearly as great as the wine list.
Charleston Farmers Market329 Meeting St., Harleston Village | 843.724.7305
If you’re wandering through Charleston on a summer Saturday, you’re likely to come across this busy farmers market without looking too hard—its hosted in Marion Square, a super central green space that’s flanked on one side by King Street and the College of Charleston and the other by Museum Mile. The market runs every Saturday from April through November (it really even extends into December, when it converts into a holiday market). There are plenty of prepared foods vendors, and it’s undeniably fun to peruse and taste local bounty like peaches, muscadine grapes, and okra. Definitely pick up some boiled peanuts to snack on while you’re strolling.
Revelry Brewing10 Conroy St., North Eastside | 843.203.6194
Sure, Revelry produces some of Charleston’s most notable brewers of craft beer (head brewer Ryan Coker is a bit of a local celebrity), but what makes it special is that it's such a gathering place for locals. Don’t be surprised if you see a group of local activists sharing ideas, a recreational kickball team celebrating a win, or friendly dogs out on the porch when you arrive. The space itself is open and industrial, with twinkle lights strung up around the kegs and kettles, and an open bar with taps shaped like red trumpets. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, they host local bands for a few hours of live music.