Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
Best cocktail bar: Pegu Club
77 W Houston Street
One of the most influential players in the city’s craft cocktail revival of the early aughts, this upstairs cocktail joint offers a lengthy menu of inventive drinks (think Earl Grey-infused martinis and mojitos topped off with Champagne) in a dimly lit, plant-filled space that feels equally extravagant. Grab a seat at one of the low-standing wooden tables, or better yet, at the bar, where you can watch while the staff works their magic.
Best dive bar: Spring Lounge
48 Spring Street
A post-work staple, this low-key spot -- lovingly referred to as “Shark Bar,” thanks to a collection of sharks that line its walls -- is the place to go when looking for cheap beers, charmingly unfriendly bartenders, and a crowd of loyal regulars (particularly on Wednesdays when you can get free hot dogs starting at 5pm).
Best date bar: La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
249 Centre Street
From the guys behind the Lower East Side’s Experimental Cocktail Club, this Paris-based wine bar has all the trappings of the perfect date spot: low, intimate tables; dim (flattering) lighting; a lengthy French-heavy natural wine list; and plenty of Mediterranean small plates should you want to extend the date into a dinner situation.
Best happy hour: Botanica
47 East Houston Street
While you’ll likely find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of NYU students at this subterranean dive bar, the drinks more than make up for it. There’s a real cocktail menu as opposed to well drinks, the craft beer selection is diverse, and the daily happy hour -- from 5-8pm -- boasts $3 beers and $3.50 mixed drinks. Also expect a smattering of charmingly mismatched thrift-store furniture, chatty bartenders, and an enormous back room perfect for big groups (where there’s often live music).
Best bar to communally mourn the demise of “the old SoHo”: The Ear Inn
326 Spring Street
Open since 1830, this storied spot is lined with an obscure selection of nostalgic trinkets (old tins, movie posters, license plates) and has barely changed since its inception. It’s the type of place where you can grab a seat at the bar any night of the week and find yourself surrounded by an eclectic mix of longtime locals and SoHo stragglers, all there for a cheap pint and a good burger.
Best hidden bar: The Handy Liquor Bar
527 Broome Street
Named for Tom Handy, reportedly America’s first bonafide “mixologist,” this old-school-inspired cocktail lounge hidden underneath Chalk Point Kitchen is perfect for when you want a quiet (but still scene-y) spot with strong cocktails. Grab a seat in one of the leather booths surrounded by old jazz memorabilia and order from a menu of seasonal cocktails made with hand-pressed juices and local shrubs (to be paired with fancy bar bites like warm black truffle tea sandwiches). The venue also hosts a piano player on Friday nights and a four-piece band on Saturdays -- and to complete the throwback aesthetic: You’ll need a password to drink here after 11pm.
Best bar to meet your spouse: Von
3 Bleecker Street
Single people, take note. At this intimate wine bar, the drinks are priced within reason, the music is just quiet enough for conversation, and the narrow space leaves plenty of room to rub elbows (intentionally or otherwise) with attractive strangers. The clientele is generally varied and conversational, so your odds of meeting someone you actually like in person are fairly high.
Best bar for drinks with coworkers: Mother’s Ruin
18 Front Street
Mother’s Ruin perfectly straddles the line between casual and divey, making it the ideal spot for drinks with coworkers. Ease the awkward conversation with Dave from accounting by tossing back chili & lime-rimmed Tecates and whatever rotating special is stocked in the SoHo/Nolita spot’s adult Icee machines.
Best karaoke bar: Baby Grand
161 Lafayette Street
In terms of square footage, Baby Grand is a glorified walk-in closet -- but belting out Toto’s “Africa” is best suited for a setting as intimate as this one, anyway. And even if you’re not naturally inclined to participate in karaoke, the atmosphere at this kitschy, narrow spot seems to have an impressive ability to draw people out of their comfort zones (the cheap drinks may be a factor as well).
Best bar to network with guys from your frat: Houston Hall
222 West Houston Street
This massive brew pub/beer hall offers an impressive roster of craft beers, bar snacks, and men clad in button-downs who likely work in finance. The place guarantees a rowdy good time regardless of your Greek affiliations (and its 8,000 square feet make it perfect for large groups) -- but make sure to have a business card handy, just in case a prime fraternal networking opportunity presents itself.
Best bar for Negroni lovers: Dante at GENUINE
191 Grand Street
An offshoot of the West Village’s Dante, housed in the old restaurant space above Genuine Liquorette in Little Italy (just barely beyond SoHo limits) Dante at GENUINE’s biggest draw is its Negroni fountain, which guests can help themselves to for $14 a glass. The menu also offers plenty of other signature cocktails as well as a sizable food menu featuring the likes of sourdough flatbreads and Italian small plates.
Best upscale dive: The Randolph
349 Broome Street
This SoHo/Little Italy locale is like a storied college bar, all grown up. There are plenty of dressed-up bar bites (think truffle fries and aioli), the beer roster is enormous, and the crowd is typically a low-key group looking for something that walks the line between a collegiate dive and the standard $18-a-drink craft cocktail bars.
Best bar to bring your visiting friends to: Sweet & Vicious
5 Spring Street
Sweet & Vicious is an easy crowd-pleaser -- the drinks are affordable and served in Mason jars (get a frozen margarita), the patio is littered with tea lights, and the regular crowd consists of post-work 20-somethings who tend to be remarkably mindful of personal space and reasonable conversational volume (meaning you’ll actually be able to hear what your friends are saying).
Hardest bar to find (that’s actually worth tracking down): The Ship
158 Lafayette Street
Tucked down a set of narrow, inconspicuous stairs on Lafayette, The Ship is easy to miss. Once you’ve found it, however, you’ll see the underground speakeasy leans far into the nautical-theme with wide hull-shaped booths, high rounded ceilings, and marbled, ocean-like floors. The classics here are solid -- martinis, Old-Fashioneds, and Aviations -- and as a result of its sub-sidewalk real estate, it’s among the most spacious bars you’ll find in SoHo.
Best Bar Burger: Raoul's
180 Prince Street
Raoul's is a scene. A SoHo staple since the '70s, the classic French bistro has consistently maintained a packed bar area throughout the years -- mainly due to its It Girl-heavy crowd. But the thing to really focus on here is the burger. Deemed the best burger in Manhattan by Thrillist's National Burger Critic, the bar-only burger at Raoul's is a triple-cream Saint-André, red onion, and cornichon-topped brisket patty inside a challah bun. The only downside? There are only 12 of them made each night -- so your best bet is to get there early (around 5:30), just before the kitchen opens.