Food & Drink

The Charleston Cocktail Bucket List: Every Lowcountry Drink to Try Before You Die

Published On 03/17/2016 Published On 03/17/2016

Charleston is a drinker’s town. There are over 160 bars here, which works out to about 1.25 bars for every 1,000 residents (for you math nerds). And that doesn’t even include the seemingly endless number of restaurants that are also known to sling a cocktail or two. With so much liquor flowing through the streets of the Holy City, it can be hard to choose which cocktails are worth the hype. So we’re here to narrow the list down to 16 “try before you die” cocktails in this Charleston bar bucket list.

The Witchdoctor

The Macintosh

Address and Info

King St

The thing we love about cucumber cocktails is that they’re so refreshing: they make you think of summertime, sunshine, and pulling fresh veggies out of the dirt. (OK, again, maybe that's just us.) Anyway, the Witchdoctor at The Macintosh is made with Svedka vodka, cucumber, elderflower, mint, and a Szechuan button. The Szechuan button used to be used in old-timey dentist's offices to numb a patient's mouth, so it offers a slight numbing sensation that’ll leave you humming “ching chang walla walla bing bang” all night long. (You know, like that Witch Doctor song.)

Sydney Gallimore/Thrillist

The Red Wedding

Edmund’s Oast

Address and Info

NoMo

Though known more for that giant wall-o'-beer, Edmund’s Oast’s cocktail menu still packs a mean punch. You won’t go wrong choosing any of the cocktails, but you couldn’t possibly go more right than by choosing The Red Wedding. Made with Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon and hibiscus/ginger/thyme sweet tea ice cubes (say that three times fast), this seemingly simple cocktail takes on a completely new flavor as the ice cubes start to melt. Much like that episode of Game of Thrones, this isn’t a cocktail you’ll soon forget.

Paul Cheney/JWKPEC Photography

Disco Sour

492 

Address and Info

Mazyck-Wraggborough

When it comes to cocktails that are just as pretty to look at as they are tasty, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than the Disco Sour at 492. The drink -- made with pisco, velvet falernum, lemon, and butterfly pea flower -- has a blue ice cube that changes the drink’s color as it melts (hence the disco moniker). If you like mixing chemistry and cocktails, this is the one for you.

The Rarebit

Moscow Mule 

The Rarebit 

Address and Info

King St

Nowadays, it seems no cocktail menu is complete without the word “mule” on it. But Rarebit’s version, made with Sweatman’s Ginger Beer and limeade, is a tried (and tried and tried... ) and true original that is exactly how a classic mule should be made. Just, please, don’t steal the copper mugs

Zero Cafe/Thrillist

The Red Scare 

Zero Café + Bar 

Address and Info

Ansonborough

Everything that comes out of Zero Café + Bar’s kitchen is a delicious work of art, so it’s no surprise that the cocktails would be, as well. We won't lie: the menu is pretty intimidating, with drinks like the “American Surrealist” and the “Alter Ego” (and don’t even get me started on the “Smoke on the Water"). But don’t let that drive you away. Put your trust in Vinson Petrillo and company, and just know that you’re going to like it. The drink is an artful combination of tequila, PAMA, Jack Rudy grenadine, habanero simple syrup, cilantro, and citrus, resulting in one of the most complex and pleasing cocktails you’re ever likely to try: The Red Scare (which is yet another intimidating name).

Courtesy of Indaco

The Jewel Runner

Indaco

Address and Info

King St

This cocktail was made in collaboration with Limehouse Produce’s “Citrus Celebration,” which encouraged restaurants to focus on lesser-known produce in new and creative ways. In the case of The Jewel Runner, that produce was pomelo, which master mixologist Jared Chafin combined with Hat Trick gin, Green Chartreuse, Herbsaint, lime, and house-made coffee pecan bitters. This drink requires you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, but if you have an open mind, you’ll be rewarded by the way the citrus and herb harmonize in your glass.

Courtesy of Halls Chophouse

434

Halls Chophouse

Address and Info

King St

You know how sometimes a drink can be so delicious that you forget there’s alcohol in it, and then after three or four just walking is difficult? (Just us? OK... ) Well, that’s the 434 from Halls Chophouse. The bartenders blend pineapple and orange-infused vodka and shake it with ice until it’s nice and cold, then pour it into a glass -- and that’s it! The drink tastes just like fruit juice, and can easily take down a grown man if he’s not careful.

Courtesy of O-Ku

Jasmanian Devil

O-Ku

Address and Info

King St

There are a few reasons you should try the Jasmanian Devil from O-Ku. First, it has a hilariously clever name. Second, it was a 2010 Bacardi Mojito Challenge winner. Third, because you like your cocktails to be both spicy and sweet. Habanero-infused Bacardi Silver is mixed with passion fruit, mint, lime, and simple syrup, a combination that, at a glance, seems like it shouldn’t work. But trust us, it does. 

Courtesy of Cocktail Club

Double Standard

The Cocktail Club

Address and Info

King St

It takes a lot of preparation and patience for the Double Standard to come to life. First, Cocktail Club infuses its gin with serrano, and the vodka with cucumber. Then, a ginger simple syrup is made. From there, lime juice, cilantro, cucumber water, and celery bitters are added for a cocktail that’s a little spicy, a little refreshing, and a lot delish. And only then comes the cocktail shaker.

Courtesy of The Cocktail Bandits

Pink Rabbit

Proof

Address and Info

King St

Every cocktail on the menu at Proof is a solid choice, but for this list, we’ve decided to go with the Pink Rabbit: a spicy strawberry cocktail crafted by mixologist Craig Nelson. He uses ancho chile liqueur, Reyka vodka, a house-made strawberry smoothie, and strawberry slices for garnish. (Did we make you think about strawberries??)

Courtesy of Belmont Lounge

Old Fashioned

The Belmont

Address and Info

King St

Belmont has been described as a “bartender’s bar” because of its comfortable, intimate atmosphere and varied, but consistent, cocktail list. The Old Fashioned makes the list of Charleston’s essential cocktails because owner Mickey Moran has dedicated an entire page of his drink menu to amaro. There’s no muddled fruit or watery ice cubes to dilute the flavor of the drink. This is an Old Fashioned that Don Draper himself would be proud to drink -- and you will, too.

Courtesy of Grill 225

Champagne Nitrotini

Grill 225 

Address and Info

Ansonborough 

The coolest cocktail in Charleston (and we mean that literally) is the one that’s infused with liquid nitrogen, aka the Nitrotini, at Grill 225. There’s a whole slew of them on the Nitrotini menu, but most of them are over the top and definitely cater to people with a sweet tooth (lookin’ at you, Cotton Candy Nitrotini). The Champagne Nitrotini, made with Louis Perdrier Champagne, pomegranate schnapps, and Cointreau orange liqueur, is still on the sweet side, but a little more mellow. Is it kind of a gimmick? Sure. But is it still fun to drink? You bet. Just don’t review them on Yelp if you don’t like it.

Courtesy of Voodoo Tiki Bar

Singapore Sling 

Voodoo

Address and Info

West Ashley

People sometimes forget that great cocktails exist outside of the Peninsula, but Voodoo -- part of the Smoke & Mirrors Restaurant Group (think Tattooed Moose or Meat House Butcher Shop) -- is a great example of that. The Singapore Sling, made with gin, Heering Cherry, Cointreau, Bénédictine, house-made grenadine, fresh lime, and pineapple, and served in a festive and tropical toucan glass, might look innocent enough, but will “get your ass in a sling if you’re not careful,” according to the menu.

Courtesy of McCrady's

Expatriate

McCrady's

Address and Info

French Quarter

McCrady’s -- aka Husk’s fancy older brother -- is the epitome of molecular gastronomy, so you can expect nothing less than extraordinary from the cocktail menu. The Expatriate is a great example of the level of detail it puts into every drink and dish. One line from the cocktail’s recipe is: “Double strain into a chilled coupe, spray angostura bitters with an atomizer onto foam for garnish.” (Those aren’t just a whole bunch of words we made up.) This cocktail is frothy and nutty, with hints of ginger and honey, that’s intended to be an “ode to the benne seed and its rich history in lowcountry cuisine.” 

Sydney Gallimore/Thrillist

Lil' Shor-Tea

HōM

Address and Info

King St

When it comes to tasty cocktails in Charleston, Upper King St ping pong lounge and burger joint HōM (pronounced like “home”) isn’t usually at the top of people’s “must-try” list. But here’s why that should change: the Lil' Shor-Tea. Made with vodka, luxardo, lime, and sweet tea, this simple cocktail has a really interesting depth to it because it's refreshing and not overly sweet, and will make you wish you were sitting on a beach somewhere. 

Courtesy of The Gin Joint

Bartender's Choice

The Gin Joint

Address and Info

French Quarter

OK, so this one might be considered cheating, but hear us out. You walk up to the bartender and give him or her two adjectives: something like “fizzy” and “unusual,” or “spicy” and “vegetal.” Then, watch them whip you up something totally unique and delicious. It takes a lot of the pressure off of trying to decode cocktail menu lingo, and lets the bartender get a little creative.

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Sydney Gallimore is a food writer from Charleston who loves a good Moscow mule and doesn't care who knows it. Follow her on Twitter @Sydney_Inc.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. The Macintosh 479 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

This upscale American eatery features low country flavors in comfortable, warm setting. The homegrown, farm-to-table eatery cuisine uses seasonal produce from local farmers and fishermen. Two of the menu’s most famous items are the bone marrow bread pudding and the staple Orange Ghost Pepper, a tequila cocktail. The bar area makes up about half of the restaurant, and the other half is for dining. It’s located downstairs from its sister lounge, The Cocktail Club.

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2. Edmund's Oast 1081 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403 (Charleston)

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.

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3. 492 492 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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.

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4. The Rarebit 474 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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.

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5. Zero Cafe + Bar 0 George St, Charleston, SC 29401

Ranked as a Top 5 Foodie Hotel in the World by Condé Nast Traveler, Zero prepares American cuisine carefully and elegantly. The fare features locally-grown and seasonal ingredients, thoughtfully paired with a curated list of boutique wines and craft cocktails. The seasonal menu features small plates and hyper-seasonal dinner specialities, including fresh herbs and vegetables from the on-site kitchen garden. Patio dining lets you take advantage of Charleston's natural beauty as you eat, and the attached hotel is as refined as the cuisine if you need a post-meal nap.

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6. Indaco 526 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Simply put, this is the place to go on Upper King Street. Creamy burrata appetizers leave the open kitchen at a steady pace, pastas are delectable, brunch serves pizza and the Negronis flow from a tap. The waitstaff is one of the most consistently excellent in a city that excels, and communal tables as well as an open kitchen provide an engaging and friendly atmosphere. Indaco’s wood-fired pizzas are exquisite, with a crust that’s thin, but not too thin, so it’s hearty enough to support their upscale and creative mix of toppings.

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7. Hall's Chophouse 434 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Halls Chophouse is an old-school upscale steakhouse known for its impeccable service and hospitality, making it the epitome of a Southern steakhouse. Each steak at Halls is shipped in from Chicago's own Allen Brothers and then seasoned perfectly- but they also have vegan and vegetarian options. Whether you stop by for the petite filet or feel like treating yourself to the $86 on the Tomahawk rib eye, you'll never leave this dark wood-paneled eatery unhappy.

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8. O-Ku 463 King St Ste A, Charleston, SC 29403

O-Ku is a lively Japanese eatery and lounge with a focus on authentic Japanese flavors. The menu has contemporary, seasonal entrees and specialities include Yakiniku duck legs, salmon misoyaki, harumaki and spicy teriyaki pork belly. O-Ku uses fish from the world’s best markets, including areas like Norway, Scotland, Hawaii and New Zealand, and local sustainable sources. The interior has exposed brick and high ceilings.

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9. The Cocktail Club 479 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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).

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10. Proof Bar 437 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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.

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11. The Belmont 511 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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.

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12. Grill 225 225 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

Grill 225’s vows to serve guests the absolute best prime beef around, and they are very serious. This local Market Street restaurant has a great selection of meat (wet-aged for 42-50 days) for any carnivore, and a selection of classic steakhouse sides to go with it. But what Grill 225 is really known for are the unique Nitrotinis they serve, flavorful cocktails cooled to -320 degrees with liquid nitrogen that arrive smoking at your table and require at least a five minute wait to avoid freezing your insides. A theatrical kind of place to say the least, this formal steakhouse is best saved for special occasions that deserve a unique (and expensive) experience.

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13. Voodoo Tiki Bar & Lounge 15 Magnolia Dr, Charleston, SC 29407 (West Ashley)

This eclectic all-in-one tiki spot, lounge, and neighborhood bar offers fresh tiki drinks, an impressive tequila and sake selection, a gourmet bar menu in town, and a kitchen that stays open 'til 1 am every single night. Stop in for live Cuban Jazz and Salsa Dancing on Sunday, 1/2 Price Gourmet Tacos on Monday, and other special events throughout the week.

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14. McCrady's Tavern 2 Unity Aly, Charleston, SC 29401

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.

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15. HŌM 563 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

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.

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16. The Gin Joint 182 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

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.

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