Charleston has earned a great reputation as a destination for out-of-towners. In fact, we’ve been voted one of the top tourist spots in the world for the past five years. And while it’s acceptable to check out the must-see places around town, isn’t there some fun in living like a local and doing things only locals know about? So please, if you're looking to have yourself a really good time in Chucktown doing what we actually do, skip those tourist traps and check out these under-the-radar local favorites... all of which take place at bars.
Attempt bar putt-putt
Upper Deck TavernAddress and Info
This place is one of those mysterious bars that only true locals know about. It’s not the nicest... but, like, in a charming way. There’s no sign alerting you to its presence, which means you have to either know, or know someone who knows, which sketchy alley to wander down in order to find it. Once inside, take a shot at the “bar putt-putt." Climb on the bar and try to get a hole-in-one into a rocks glass. If you get it, you win a prize, and some serious bragging rights.
Master the 5 pin challenge
The AlleyAddress and Info
This tradition originated at the Food & Beverage League night (it's a bowling thing), but gained infamy at The Alley Downtown. If you knock down all the pins on your first frame except for the five pin -- the one directly in the middle -- the pressure’s on: your teammates are allowed to make as much noise as they want to try and distract you from sinking that last pin. If you miss it, you owe them -- and the opposing team?! -- a prize. Whether it's a round of shots or an order of tater tots, the penance must be paid.
Be the first to announce the train
IcehouseAddress and Info
Icehouse is one of the oldest bars in Summerville, and is so named because it used to be the place people came to get ice long before refrigerators were invented. Since it's right next to the tracks, workers used to load big blocks of ice onto railcars and have them brought into Charleston. Nowadays it’s a bar, and those train tracks, while still highly functional, serve a slightly different purpose: if you hear the train a-comin' and are the first person to yell “TRAIN!”, the bartender will pour you a free shot. See, now you have a reason not to cover your ears when you hear a whistle blowing.
Become a bar trivia champion
The Kickin' ChickenAddress and Info
Charleston is largely a college town, so it's filled with some pretty smart people, which is why it makes perfect sense that seemingly every bar worth its salt in the Holy City offers a trivia night. But among them all, your best bet is to head to The Kickin' Chicken (Thursdays at 10pm), Rec Room (Thursday at 8:45pm), or Bay Street Biergarten (Tuesdays at 8:30pm). Many of the hosts at these places actually pull double duty: fan favorite Bill Davis is a stand-up comedian, and brings that talent to the trivia stage. So you actually get double the entertainment while trying to get freebies in exchange for all that (typically pointless) knowledge.
Master the barcade
Charleston Sports PubAddress and Info
This is one of the best trends to hit the bar scene in Charleston. Nothing makes us yearn for the simpler days of youth more than hours spent in front of classic games like Pac-Man, Galaga, and foosball. And now that we’re able to do that with a drink in hand, adulthood doesn’t seem so bad. If you’re looking for the best ones, head to The Alley, Charleston Sports Pub, or Burn’s Alley. Spend a night at any of these and you’ll master your game in no time.
Drink a boot
Closed for BusinessAddress and Info
King Street Historic District
If you saw that movie Beerfest and thought drinking from a boot seemed like a good idea, you might want to check out Closed for Business. But be warned: it's actually nothing like the movie, and is only offered during Oktoberfest. This place is a classy bar with a serious beer selection (over 42 on tap alone). The boot offered is 2.5 liters of your choice -- provided the ABV isn’t dangerously high -- and costs $25. So please, serious beer drinkers only.
Win the karaoke contest
Dudley's on AnnAddress and Info
Sure, there are many places you could go for some good karaoke in Charleston and grab 15 minutes of fame, but Dudley's on Ann is undoubtedly the best spot. This place offers karaoke every Wednesday night at 10pm hosted by DJ Matterhorn. If you’ve really got skills and don’t just sloppily want to belt out some Journey, sign up for one of the bar’s karaoke competitions. Offered a couple of times a year, these competitions generally last for about six weeks until a final winner is chosen. Who knows? You could be the next one!
Call (boozy) bingo
Tin RoofAddress and Info
This ain’t your grandma’s bingo game. Stop by Tin Roof on a Wednesday night, grab a free bingo card and some tiddlywinks, and settle in as hosts Lily Slay and Rex William Stickel have you rolling with laughter as they pull numbers and deliver a few goofy jokes. Winners get either free drinks or some weird prizes, like rubber duckies or a strange yodeling CD. Honestly, it’s all in how the hosts feel that night. (Hopefully they’re feeling free drinks whenever you go.) Play is from 7-9pm on Wednesdays, and there are plenty of chances to win.
Channel Forrest Gump at the ping pong table
HoMAddress and Info
King Street Historic District
HoM pretty much looks like a lot of bars in Charleston when you first walk in: it's dimly lit and relatively narrow, with a few booths lined along the walls. But if you head to the backroom, you’ll find two ping pong tables set up waiting for you to throw down after you order yourself a burger or some cocktails. But don’t chow down too much (though it's not hard to eat either the Businessman or Cowboy Killer burgers in one sitting); unless you’re like Forrest Gump, you’ll probably need your energy for when you maybe-but-most-definitely whack one of the balls off the table and need to run around to try and catch it.
Play a round of bocce
Bar MashAddress and Info
Bocce has become the new popular bar game around Charleston, so much so that you can even join a league if you feel so inclined. But of course, feel free to just stop by Bar Mash and play a round sans the league. Alongside an indoor bocce court, this Chucktown favorite has an old-school jukebox, a shuffleboard court, and a solid selection of whiskey and bourbon. Plus there’s plenty of Coors Banquet on tap for those who are so over PBR. Bocce or not, there’s plenty to do at Bar Mash. But seriously, play bocce. It’s very fun!
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1. Upper Deck Tavern353 King St, Charleston
2. The Alley131 Columbus St, Charleston
3. Ice House104 E Doty Ave, Summerville
4. Kickin’ Chicken Summerville800 N Main St, Summerville
5. Charleston Sports Pub1124 Sam Rittenberg Blvd, Charleston
6. Closed For Business453 King St, Charleston
7. Dudley's42 Ann St, Charleston
8. Tin Roof1117 Magnolia Rd, Charleston
9. HŌM563 King St, Charleston
10. Mercantile And Mash701 E Bay St, Charleston
Upper Deck Tavern in Downtown Chucktown is the kind of not-so-secret secret dive bar (you have to access it from an unmarked alley on King Street) that’s attracted something of a cult following among hipsters, college students, and young professionals alike. Menu items include all your favorite bar staples— juicy burgers, hearty salads and heaping sides of fries or mac and cheese. Despite the semi-speakeasy entrance, UDT completely lacks pretension: show up in a tuxedo or gym shorts and you’ll still feel right at home.
Located in an expansive warehouse downtown, The Alley is an entertainment hub complete with bowling, skee ball, ping-pong, dozens of old school vintage arcade games, and basketball hoops. The old-school hang out lounge with vintage paneling, memorabilia, two 160” projection screens and multiple TVs throughout the space is a perfect spot to catch a game. The kitchen—open for lunch and dinner—serves American comfort food along with some atypical snacks like siracha boiled peanuts, tuna spring rolls, and chili nachos. Plus, a fully stocked bar includes wines as well as popular and local craft beers on tap.
Icehouse is one of the oldest bars in Summerville, and is so named because long before refrigerators, railroad workers used to load huge blocks of ice onto railcars. Nowadays, those train tracks, while still functional, serve a slightly different purpose: if you hear a train coming and are the first person to yell “TRAIN!”, the bartender will pour you a free shot. Downstairs, it's a traditional seafood shack; upstairs, a lively cocktail spot—offering over 500 liquors and 100 beers—that’s popular among locals and visitors alike.
The Kickin' Chicken in Summerville is one of five locations in the Lowcountry, serving American comforts like burgers and sandwiches, as well as brunch. With indoor and outdoor seating, this casual joint is great for groups, especially Gamecock fans.
Tucked into an unassuming strip mall in West Ashley, Charleston Sports Pub is something of a barcade diamond in the rough. The menu is loaded with comfort food and beer classics (the burgers essentially melt in your mouth), served in a casual hangout that hosts weekly karaoke and trivia. Nothing makes you yearn for the simpler days of youth more than hours spent in front of classic games like Pac-Man, Galaga, and foosball, but with a drink in hand, adulthood doesn’t seem so bad.
CFB in the King Street Historic District is a classy bar with a serious beer selection (over 42 on tap alone). Large leather couches, mounted animal heads and a roaring fire set a warm, almost-too-cool ambiance. Closed for Business is famous for its huge cowboy boot-shaped glasses offered exclusively during Oktoberfest— each drink holds 2.5 liters of your choice (provided the ABV isn’t dangerously high) and costs $25. Serious beer drinkers, your challenge has been set.
Dudley’s in Radcliffborough is a lively LGBT-friendly entertainment spot with drag performances, dancing, and billiards. Host to arguably the best karaoke competition around, it’s not unrelated that this spot has got some good, strong drinks, too.
Tin Roof is lauded as the best bar in West Ashley, and you may recognize it from Shovels & Rope’s “Birmingham” music video (go watch it now if you haven’t seen it. We’ll wait). But it’s more than the perfect dive bar setting for a night out— stop in for its Chucktown-famous bingo nights, schnitzel plates, and very, very loud live music. There’s a ton of beer on tap, plus all the whiskey your heart desires.
HoM is a a lively lounge in the King Street Historic District servin’ up your favorite bar fare, with local craft beer and experimental cocktails. The entrance is dimly lit and relatively narrow with a few booths lined along the walls, and the backroom opens up to two ping pong tables, ready for you to throw down after you order one of the thick-cut, juicy burgers.
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.