Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
A tropical atmosphere to sip a boat drink slow
Tucked back behind the wide-open, bright yellow dining room of Revolucion is a little slice of low-lit, tropical heaven. In the summer, the huge patio makes you feel like you’re on vacation, and in the winter the close quarters of the Tiki Lounge make you feel like you’re in a secret ecuatorial speakeasy. If you’re making plans and letting your outfit choose the venue, this is the spot for Hawaiian prints and a relaxed vibe, not bottle service and cover charges. Try the pitch-perfect Painkiller, an easy-drinking mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and coconut.
Best for partying with local bartenders late into the night
The Brass Ring is as iconic in Fountain Square as Pioneer Fountain itself, and it has been packing in patrons for years. The bar’s crowd swells when the hospitality workers of the neighborhood stop by after their shifts are over. It’s one of those old, great, dark bars lit mostly with string lights -- but with one essential upgrade: The Brass Ring uses a Bottoms Up system to fill their beers, so if you want to spend your night at a bar where you can get lots of beer fast and spend less time waiting at the bar, The Brass Ring is about to become your secret hero.
Where necktied drink slingers go to master the Negroni
There are few places in town where you can order a by-the-book Manhattan and get a textbook, old-school cocktail. On the hipster continuum from face tattoos to unironic three-piece suits, the bartenders here fall hard into latter camp -- mustache wax and all. But if you want to spend your evening with a slightly inflated sense of sophistication, this is the bar to escort you. That said, watch your high heels on the deathtrap stairs to the basement bar.
A neighborhood tavern with fancy craft cocktails
Great cocktails often come at the expense of having to wear nice clothes, high prices, and long waits at the bar, but Dorman bucks the trend in every way. This perfect dive bar has a juke box full of Prince hits, and you can get the same quality of drinks as on Mass Avenue, for less money and a lot less pretension. For our money, this is as close as you can get to the perfect spot for the low-key partier: great drinks, outstanding music, and a street where you can safely leave your car and Uber home without worrying about your windows. Try the peppery J. Carpenter if you like heat, citrus, and bubbles.
A slice of English repose in the heart of Broad Ripple
This cute shotgun-style bar shares footprint space with Corner Wine Bar, and they’ve finally hoisted a sign outside the door so visitors can find it. The interior of the bar looks like somewhere you might end up if you wanted to go out in the outskirts of London; it is lined floor to ceiling with polished wood, leaded glass windows, and a smoldering fireplace. It’s one of those cozy little nooks that makes for a great place to kick off or end your night, and it may be the perfect bar to avoid the crowds, play darts, and have a relaxed, fun night.
A craft cocktail locale for the business traveling set
In the lobby of what used to be The Canterbury and what now houses Le Meridien, you’ll find another great cocktail spot right in the middle of the action between Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. Spoke, as it’s known locally, combines all the old bones of the old hotel’s architecture and vibe, but with flavors and decor that is updated for the modern bar patron. You can indulge in cocktails enrobed in cedar smoke and punched up with fresh herbs, and it’s in walking distance from just about every major downtown hot spot.
Fireside drinks, straight from the distillery
Hotel Tango started its life as a simple distillery, hoping to use their bar as more of a tasting spot than a fully-functioning Fletcher Place hot spot. But the huge stone fireplace calls to chilly Hoosiers like a siren song, and the rustic, comforting interior makes you feel like you’re having a drink in a friend’s mountainside cabin. The same goes for those thinking they’ll “stop in” for one drink before a long night: You may just find that the easy-drinking cocktails and warm blaze keep you anchored in this gorgeous little gift of a bar scented with burning wood and barrels full of smoky whiskey.
For those who just can’t choose between a dive and a lounge
If you haven’t been to The Cat in a hot minute, you might be surprised to find that it’s grown a Janusian style second (and much fancier) face. Yes, the old, comfortingly gross alley side of the bar still remains, but with the addition of a fancy little bar connected by a hallway. If you don’t want to go far when youe evening goes from classy to trashy, The Cat ensures you don’t have to anymore. They even serve perhaps the second-best bar burger (Workingman’s Friend is still king) in the city, so you can party, play pool, and sober up all in the same place.
A Midtown neighborhood spot with the soul of a biker bar
Another name shortened to the essentials, The Ship remains a neighborhood favorite for reliable reasons: You can get exceptional craft beer, or a cheap tallboy of PBR, and your server doesn’t care which one you get as long as you tip well. The bar is beloved by old timers and hipsters alike, thanks to a formidable lineup of hearty vegan, vegetarian, and carnivorous plates available late into the night.
Where beautiful pizza slays your beast of a hangover
Entering this dive is like taking a walk through time, with unkempt walls decorated with old license plates and magazine covers. It is also literally a walk through time, as Sam’s has been around since the '60s as a well-known spot for pizza and cheap beer -- though for a long time both were meant for the working class folks that defined the neighborhood. These days, a younger crowd has moved in, and Sam’s has become a bar where old meets new, and the young meets the established. The Brass Ring is like Sam’s fashionable baby sister, but this place is zero frills.
Fun drinks served cheaply and often
Thunderbird claims to be leaving the days of the $12 cocktail behind, embracing more of a big box, low-cost mentality toward its cocktails (though it’s worth noting that there are no prices listed on any of their websites or social media). Either way, this rockabilly-inspired bar is now open from lunch until 3am, slinging their new lineup of vacation-y cocktails and advertising aimed squarely at your mom, or rather, #yourmom, so both you and your mom can enjoy an electric azure Blue Hawaii cocktail to start (or end) your nights with a shot of fun (and sugar).
A dive so hip it was here 60 years before the cool kids
The Dugout is the kind of stalwart you’d expect to still see standing in the charred remains of a nuclear war. It’s been there long before Fletcher Place was cool (1954), and so it will remain long after the hipsters have packed up their chicken coops and moved to a trendier neighborhood. Drinking at The Dugout is the perfect way to say “screw fancy, screw complicated,” pound cheap draft beers, and watch sports on TV. It’s the kind of place where all your friends will end up anyway, so you can save yourself some Lyft money by just going here first and waiting.
Access your inner child while enjoying the fruits of adulthood
OK, OK, so Indy was a little behind the bar arcade phenomenon, but we’re up to speed now, and the fine folks at Tappers have gotten everything right on their first try. Along with a great tap list full of local favorites, the bar will allow you to order Clustertruck or bring your Rook food over from next door to nosh on while you game. Play is free, but parking is a nightmare -- especially on a busy night -- so save the headache and splurge on a Lyft. Tappers is packed most weekend days, so don’t expect the crowds to be small.
Luxurious drinking and dining for the tiny house set
The Patachou family of restaurants continues to expand, this time with a tiny little speakeasy-size “microbar” helmed by Martha Hoover’s Parisian-trained chef son, David. Accordingly, the menu features many upscale versions of gastropub foods (words like butter-poached, smoked roe, and confit appear on the short menu) and a well-curated wine list. The little bar features a perfectly tuned set of Klipsch speakers for the space, so those seeking to entertain all of their senses will find the perfect party for two here. It’s far from the crowds of the Broad Ripple strip but still a short Uber or walk back home for Midtowners.