We don't just appreciate our bars in Charleston; we appreciate our bartenders. If you're here, there are several you need to know -- whether because of the way they're creating drinks, the knowledge they bring to the scene, or just their overall vibe. So take some time and get to know these people (and their mighty concoctions). And please, be nice when you belly up to the bar. They deserve it. After all, not everyone is willing to listen to your less-than-sober stories.
Where to find him: Poogan’s Porch (address and info) and Poogan’s Smokehouse (address and info)
Specialty: As beverage director of both Poogan’s Porch and the new Poogan’s Smokehouse, Kyle is part of a famed Charleston brand. Poogan’s is one of the most popular tourist destinations in town, has a documented ghost story, and cranks out down-home Lowcountry classics in a decor that feels like your rich grandma’s living room. What Kyle's done is create a place locals come to for both classic and updated cocktails, making the drink programs better than they had to be. Because of that, he's getting some serious notice. From bartender competitions, to hosting "King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff a couple of years ago for Charleston Wine + Food, he's quickly become one of the most-favored bartenders in Charleston.
What he’s doing when not behind the stick: Working the bar at a '90s-themed takeover at 492 with Megan Deschaine (in a plaid shirt with a wallet chain).
Specialty: Lesley is the co-owner of this great nook of a craft beer bar with excellent food and a growing cocktail list. But she'll still take time to match you with your favorite new beer, if that's what you're looking for. Just answer a few simple questions and get ready to be introduced to your next go-to brew. Though small compared to some other spots on Folly Beach, this place is a far cry from the cases of Coronas served at other spots down the street. There are tripels, sours, seasonals, reserves, and the occasional “whale” on tap.
What she’s doing when not behind the stick: Buying booths from former Mexican restaurants to retrofit Jack of Cups.
Specialty: From ice cubes that change color through a natural chemical process, to tinctures and syrups concocted from South American teas, Megan’s cocktails are a delightful Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure. With a wide-eyed enthusiasm, she’s really taken the focus of 492’s modern molecular gastronomy approach and brought it to the bar -- not only creating fun libations through science, but also interesting flavor combos the average drinker probably didn’t realize they liked.
What she’s doing when not behind the stick: Organizing and rallying the Charleston USBG Chapter.
Specialty: Hospitality, speed, and patience are a bartender’s bread & butter. Rob Hayner has them in spades. This bar is hopping during every happy hour (Monday-Friday from 4-7pm), with guests two and three rows deep just waiting for those 600 oysters to get shucked (and probably for another drink from Rob). Luckily the crowds don’t faze him at all: his co-workers love working with him, and his regulars can’t get enough of him. After all, he is the ringmaster of Pearlz, and all of us are just lucky to get a seat ringside.
What he’s doing when not behind the stick: Watching his kids incessantly jump on an indoor trampoline.
Specialty: Bethany isn't trying to knock you on your ass with her whiskey-on-whiskey-on-whiskey (with a splash of vermouth) cocktail. Instead, she’s quietly organizing and directing an orchestra of flavors to accompany the refined plates coming out of the McCrady’s kitchen. Whether it be those lemon peels she carves to look like leaves, or just a delicate concoction of flavors in an elegant coupe glass, it's almost as if she’s creating beautiful music behind the bar, and you just can't take your eyes off of the maestro.
What she’s doing when not behind the stick: Getting fresh air by foraging for indigenous ingredients.
Specialty: In a place that already excels at beer and food, Jayce is bringing another full-barrelled shotgun to the party: inventive cocktails. From the favored Red Wedding with hibiscus tea ice cubes; to barrel-aged cocktails; and even the Summer Stinger, with white brandy, white creme de menthe, and mint, Jayce's cocktails are what keep patrons coming back to the Edmund's Oast bar. And luckily for us, he's not greedy about his recipes: he hosts occasional bartending classes in order to let the rest of us in on how to make his famous libations.
What he’s doing when not behind the stick: Experimenting with creating new flavors of bitters and tinctures with local ingredients.
Craig Nelson and Roger Gelis
Specialty: Craig (the owner) and Roger excel at the craft bar, and Proof is where they hold court. They are both excellent bartenders in their own right, but if you can get them together on a weekend night, they make magic. At this "bartender’s bar," be on the lookout for obscure classics from the cocktail menu and drinks with an emphasis on gin and absinthe. These two are so good that they recently brought some Charleston hospitality to NoMad in NYC, and wowed the crowds there as well.
What they’re doing when not behind the stick: Chatting and connecting with some of the best bartenders in the industry, and creating a ground zero for the best bar takeovers in town.
Specialty: Barman Teddy Nixon recently graced the cover of Imbibe. Ask him about it and he’ll gladly give you a copy to peruse. Is that a tad self-promoting? Not to Teddy. He’s just excited because he's a guy who truly loves what he does. He's more than just a pretty face; this guy's a meticulous creator of cocktails. Whether it be gaining inspiration for names via historical references, or adding little garnishes of floating Angostura jewels, there's always something interesting about Teddy's drinks. Be sure to keep an eye out for his seasonal specials, from spring Tiki inspirations, to autumn bourbon-fueled toddies.
What he’s doing when not behind the stick: Reading bar books on the beach in a Boston Red Sox cap.
Specialty: Weaver excels at the creation of cocktails, yes, but beyond that, the creation of the cocktail menu. It rotates seasonally, so sit down and take a while to read it before ordering. Rod's not interested in recreating the wheel, yet each modern concoction has an idea attached to it, which is communicated through the glass and flavor (example: "Representations of Governmental and Social Law and Structure"). If that’s all too cerebral for you, never fear: Weaver’s about as approachable behind the stick as they come. You’ll feel at home by the end of the first round.
What he’s doing when not behind the stick: Making, bottling, and selling his Weaver Family Whey in the Lowcountry.
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It should be evident that Stephanie Burt believes that a good bartender is more than just a server that can make a mixed drink.You can find her (and her thoughts on everything from booze to bacon) on Twitter @beehivesteph or in your earbuds on her weekly podcast, The Southern Fork.
1. Poogan's Porch72 Queen St, Charleston
2. Poogan's Smokehouse188 E Bay St, Charleston
3. Jack Of Cups34 Center Street, Folly Beach
4. 492492 King St, Charleston
5. Pearlz Oyster Bar - West Ashley9 Magnolia Rd, Charleston
6. McCrady's Tavern2 Unity Aly, Charleston
7. Edmund's Oast1081 Morrison Dr, Charleston
8. Proof Bar437 King St, Charleston
9. Mercantile And Mash701 E Bay St, Charleston
10. Husk76 Queen St, Charleston
Poogan’s Porch—part of a famed Charleston brand—serves traditional Southern cooking in a Victorian townhouse, complete with porch seating and a massive wine cellar. It's one of the most popular destinations in town with a documented ghost story and some seriously impressive decor, luring in locals and tourists alike to this classic upscale eatery with wonderful updated cocktails.
If you thought upscale BBQ was an oxymoron, think again. Poogan's serves only the finest, smokiest of ribs in only the classiest of settings (sans white tablecloths): an industrial-chic, loft-style resto in the heart of the French Quarter. In addition to BBQ, the menu pairs European eats and wood-fire pizzas with artisanal wines and craft beers.
Jack of Cups is a nook of a craft beer bar with global pub grub and a growing cocktail list. Its a cozy, no-nonsense space with outdoor seating on a patio. Though small compared to some other spots on Folly Beach, this place is a far cry from the cases of Coronas served at other spots down the street. There are tripels, sours, seasonals, reserves, and the occasional “whale” on tap. Ask about it.
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.
Pearlz Oyster Bar is a casual seafood bistro known for its vibrant bar scene. While Pearlz is oyster-centric, serving up the pearl-bearing mollusks both steamed and fresh on the half shell, the Charleston restaurant also offers coastal southern fare, like Angus burgers and crab cake sandwiches. At the bar, you can find local craft brews on tap and nautical-themed cocktails, like the East Bay Horizon, with Altos Reposado Tequila, Ancho Reyes, Dolin Genepy, Cucumber-Cilantro Juice, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup.
Inspired by the Gilded Age, McCrady’s Tavern’s lunch, and dinner menus are filled with old-fashioned dishes, like escargot-stuffed marrow bone and calf’s head soup, derived from an 1885 cookbook. For brunch, choose from appetizers, like blue crab bisque with vermouth and tarragon, and entrees, like a patty melt with fries or eggs benedict with pea meal bacon. With exposed brick walls, oil paintings, and lilac walls that match upholstered armchairs, McCrady’s Tavern’s décor simultaneously harks back to an earlier century and embraces modern aesthetic trends.
This modern warehouse/barnhouse/beer hall hybrid tucked inconspicuously amongst North Charleston's office parks and empty lots serves New American fare, beer brewed on-site and craft cocktails. Cult-ish domestic crafts like Coast, Evil Twin, and Prairie Artisan Ales are posted next to hard-to-find imports (De Struise, Nøgne ø, J.W. Lees...), all available alongside house-made jerky, charcuterie, and other indulgent bar snacks. Snag a seat on the patio for a relaxed dinner and stay out late with a young-professional crowd.
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.
Headed by two-time James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock, Husk's menu is unique not only because of its interesting takes on Southern favorites, but also because the menu changes twice a day. Housed in an historic 1800s Charleston mansion, the environs themselves are enough to make you lick your lips: the interior reads more like a stately residential home than a restaurant serving honey-lacquered duck with pickled blueberries and rabbit-pimento loafs. Long waits can be avoided at the adjacent and more casual The Bar at Husk, standing apart in a brick warehouse. In addition to a stunning list of some 50 bourbons, including its own barrel of the coveted Pappy Van Winkle, a seat at the more casual bar increases your odds of scoring the must-order, iconic Husk burger: two 100% chuck patties infused with Benton’s bacon, and griddled with onions shaved onto the patty before being topped with American cheese, bread & butter pickles, and Brock's own special sauce.