No event or night out in Charleston is complete without some sort of alcoholic beverage. While there are some pretty amazing local breweries churning out tasty beer, there’s something undeniably decadent and romantic about going out for cocktails. As the Holy City’s cocktail scene grows bigger and better each year, you owe it to yourself to imbibe at Charleston’s best cocktail bars.
King St. Historic District
Prohibition’s self-proclaimed “cocktail wizardry” has won this speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar several awards, including “best cocktails” in City Paper’s Best of Charleston 2016. But the hooch isn’t the only reason to visit (although you’ll definitely want to try the bacon maple Old Fashioned) -- it also has an intimate back patio with live music six nights a week. Enjoy jazz, big band, and funk musicians, or stop by for swing and salsa lessons. Since the addition of executive chef Greg Garrison, Prohibition also dishes out great small plates and entrees.
King St. Historic District
Although it is smaller than most of the bars on this list, Proof features one of the most versatile and robust craft cocktail menus in the city. A perennial favorite is the Hemingway daiquiri, featuring caña brava, rum, maraschino liqueur, lime, and grapefruit. Still not seeing the perfect cocktail on the menu? Let the bartenders know what you like and they’ll whip up something special just for you.
One of the newer additions to the Charleston cocktail scene, Bar Mash has already made quite a name for itself thanks to amazing bartenders like Teddy Nixon. Mash features a number of classic cocktails, originals -- try the Endless Summer, made with Pimm's, cucumber-infused Cocchi Americano, and jam ginger vinegar, among other speciality ingredients -- “spirits of the month,” and daily Jell-O shots (who says Jell-O shots are just for co-eds?). Bar Mash also has fantastic food options (get the fried oysters & boudin -- you won’t be disappointed), making it a one-stop shop for a great night out.
King St. Historic District
We would be remiss to make a list of the best cocktail bars in Charleston without mentioning The Cocktail Club; the name alone should guarantee it makes the cut. But aside from its extremely appropriate moniker and speakeasy atmosphere, Cocktail Club is one of those places where you’d be unsurprised to find Don Draper in one of its dark corners, sitting on a leather couch and sipping an Old Fashioned. A friend once commented, "Everything I learned about bourbon, I learned at Cocktail Club.” So if you’re in need of a bourbon education, you should definitely put Cocktail Club on your list of places to go.
You don’t have to be a gin fan to enjoy a great cocktail at The Gin Joint. In fact, you don’t even have to know what kinds of liquors you like at all. Just think of your favorite cocktail and describe it using two of the words provided on the “bartender’s choice” portion of the menu (think “fizzy” and “refreshing”), and the pros at Gin Joint will whip you up a custom drink that’s sure to be your new favorite.
Often overlooked because of its location inside the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel, Thoroughbred Club is a dark, leathery bar with a low-key, upscale atmosphere. It switches up the cocktails seasonally, which means you can have a different experience pretty much every time you visit. For an extra touch of class, Thoroughbred Club often has a live pianist playing so you can feel like you’re truly living the life of understated luxury.
492 eschews the idea of a “classic cocktail bar” for something a little more modern and trendy. Its creative, somehow whimsical cocktails are artfully crafted by cocktail virtuoso Megan Deschaine, and are, in at least one case, color-changing. Everything from the decor to the drinks to the food (the menu changes daily) will make you feel like you fell down the hole to Wonderland.
King St. Historic District
If you’ve ever been to a '50’s-style diner and thought, “If this place served cocktails, it would be heaven,” then Rarebit is the place for you. Although it's most well known for its Moscow mules, other cocktails are just as worthy of appreciation. If you’re a fan of the bubbly stuff, the Champagne Cocktail with cava, Smirnoff, St-Germain, and seasonal soda is a fun and refreshing option that pairs surprisingly well with the chicken & waffles.
King St. Historic District
If you’re in a hurry to grab a drink and get on with the rest of your evening, we suggest skipping The Belmont. If you want to appreciate an artfully crafted cocktail that is made with the dedication and pride of someone who truly cares about their craft, this is definitely the place to go (it’s also the “Bar Most Likely To Be Frequented By Your Favorite Bartender,” so you know it’s good). Pair that with the cozy space and homemade Pop Tarts, and you’re in for a stellar evening.
Much like a chameleon or the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, Warehouse is one of those bars that can easily transform into exactly what you need for the night. Whether you want a low-key glass of wine after work, a night of playing pool and pounding PBRs, or to indulge in a few craft cocktails (like the Where The Crosswalks End) with friends, Warehouse is the bar that keeps on giving.
For a night when you want to feel really fancy (and don’t mind dropping some serious bills on a few drinks), then head to The Bar located inside The Spectator on Market Street. This 1920’s-inspired bar makes you feel like you’re drinking in the living room of a friend who also happens to be a millionaire. For a cocktail that’s just as fun to drink as it is to say, the Kimchi-huahua (with sesame mezcal, sake, kimchee puree, yuzu, cucumber, palm sugar) is the way to go.
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1. Prohibition547 King St, Charleston
2. Proof Bar437 King St, Charleston
3. Mercantile And Mash701 E Bay St, Charleston
4. The Cocktail Club479 King St, Charleston
5. The Gin Joint182 E Bay St, Charleston
6. Thoroughbred Club205 Meeting St, Charleston
7. 492492 King St, Charleston
8. The Rarebit474 King St, Charleston
9. The Belmont511 King St, Charleston
10. Warehouse45 1/2 Spring St, Charleston
11. The Spectator Hotel67 State St, Charleston
One of the hottest cocktail bars in Charleston, Prohibition takes a modern approach to old school booze: the house specialty is a bacon-maple Old Fashioned, and there's distinctly Southern palette in drinks like the King Street Cobbler (blackberry brandy, lemon, muddled sugar, and brandy-infused berries in a rocks glass). For those who fancy a dance after they've finished a few drinks, worry not: like any self-respecting speakeasy, Prohibition features live music every night of the week, ranging from swing, jazz, and funk. There's a focused menu of New American bites from chef Greg Garrison, featuring light bites like blistered shishitos with garlic aioli and tuna crudo with cherry blossom shoyu as well as larger entrées and a five-course tasting menu.
Craft cocktails and Southern hospitality reign at this King St. bar. Guests can expect expertly mixed drinks ranging from classics (Hemingway daiquiri, anyone?) and modern specialties with an emphasis on bespoke liquors like gin, absinthe, and whiskey -- and with well-decorated veteran bartender and owner Craig Nelson at the helm, it's safe to say whatever you order will be wholly satisfying. The snug space manages to feel intimate even when crowded, refined yet relaxed at the same time, making it a great late night option for those looking to mellow out the evening.
Mercantile and Mash is a gourmet food bazaar and mixology-inspired cocktail bar in one. Occupying the former Cigar Factory space, it's home to a variety of local vendors who serve everything from artisanal cheese and charcuterie, sushi, sandwiches (featuring both croque monsieurs and banh-mi's alike), and other snacks. The sprawling, modern space is also home to Bar Mash, a whiskey-obsessed cocktail bar whose offerings range from fresh takes on classic cocktails (pro tip: try the Fairgrounds), jello-shots, and familiar draft beers. As an added bonus, there's indoor bocce and shuffleboard games to keep you entertained, although we have a feeling you'll be too enthralled talking to the super cool award-winning bartenders who happen to be making your drinks.
Blending speakeasy ambience with contemporary trendy aesthetic (think wooden rafters, exposed brick walls, sleek black leather furnishings and industrial chandeliers overhead), The Cocktail Club is a upscale hotspot for those looking to imbibe on craft cocktails. There's an emphasis on making things from scratch here, with several drinks on the mixology-inspired menu featuring house-made infusions with market-driven ingredients (pro tip: you can't go wrong with the house Old Fashioned or the signature Double Standard). Combined with the rooftop terrace and menu of New American light fare, it's an ideal locale for intimate dates and group outings alike (as an added bonus, the bar also serves craft cocktails by the punch bowl).
The cocktails at The Gin Joint are truly outstanding, emphasizing a "from scratch" mixology approach (market-driven ingredients like local herbs, house-made syrup infusions, and nods to local flavor and Southern palates), but what sets this French Quarter hotspot apart from the fray is its equally solid bar bites. And it's no surprise -- the lively bistro-meets-speakeasy space is helmed by a husband and wife duo who cut their culinary chops in New York City. Guests can expect elevated bar fare like crab dip with potato mousse, beef jerky, and an array of artisanal local cheeses.
This downtown bar located in the lobby of the Charleston Place Hotel lives up to every hotel bar stereotype with an affected, dark-hued space settled with red leather seating and framed equestrian memorabilia. The classy spot isn't all showy though, and an accessible cocktail menu of original beverages and classics, like the barrel-aged Old Fashioned, paired with a savory tapas menu, will instantly convert first-time visitors.
Chef Nate Whiting and his team of gastronomic magicians compress, foam, and crystallize the hell out of high-end ingredients, presenting you with an ever-changing tasting menu of fresh seafood and regional cuisine that looks as much art as food. The interior offers varied seating like a kitchen counter and community tables, in addition to an outside courtyard ideal with a glass of wine in the summer.
This old-fashioned diner serves elevated, modern versions of your favorite comfort food classics, like chicken and waffles with Sorghum syrup and large plates of fish and chips. The '50s themed bar is aptly washed in a retro seafoam green, creating a nostalgia-inducing space in which to imbibe on their popular moscow mules crafted with house-made ginger beer.
This quiet, intimate cocktail bar seats just 40 at a time, shows black and white films on mute, and serves some of Chucktown’s finest bottles. It’s located on King Street located alongside heavy hitters like Stars Restaurant, Indaco and The Ordinary, but starkly differentiates itself with a classed-up, mellow ambiance.
This industrial-chic bar garners lines with artisanal cocktails and New American cuisine served in a dark-hued space made edgy with exposed brick. The bar serves plenty of wine and cocktails (as represented by a sleekly designed menu), but PBR and a pool table also caters adequately to the casual post-work crowd.
The black and jewel-toned color scheme says it all: this hotel bar is for the seasoned cocktail drinker and anyone looking for a night of sophisticated ambiance. While the '20s theme continues with golden embellishes and velvet seating throughout, the beverage program is contemporary, offering options that are as creatively concocted as they are creatively named. For a playful starter drink, consider the Giggle Water, made with Pisco, lychee, and egg white.