That glorious time of year when every weekend is packed full of opportunities to shuck and suck your way to bivalve ecstasy (not a euphemism) is upon us. We’re well into the “R” months, which means oysters are prime for the shucking in the Lowcountry. Charleston’s many salt marshes, tidal basins, and creeks full of pluff mud mean that oyster reefs thrive in our warm climate. Translation: more local oysters for you to nosh on.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; oyster roasts have long been a social event in Charleston, stretching back to at least the early 1800s (although our passion for this pastime has definitely gotten more enthusiastic since then). Although your weekends are likely to be packed with roast after roast, sometimes you just want to forgo all the work of shucking your own oysters and find a nice spot to unwind on the half shell after the workday. We’ve put together a list of the best oyster happy hour spots for you to get your fix.
King Street Historic District
King Street newcomer The Darling definitely puts a lot of time and energy creating the perfect oyster bar. Grab a chair at the 14-seat raw bar that overlooks King Street for some fun people watching and be sure to stop by during happy hour (4 - 7 pm, seven days a week) for $1 house oysters. You’ll also find $1 off draft cocktails and draft beers if all that slurping makes you thirsty.
French Quarter & Avondale
The self-proclaimed “eclectic little oyster bar” has two locations in Charleston, and both feature a pretty hearty list of happy hour specials for that glorious period between 4 -7 pm during the work week. Try the southern fried oysters for $7.95, $3.50 oyster shooters, and -- the piece de resistance -- a dozen oysters on the half shell for $10.95. Both restaurants always seem to be packed, so get there early if you want a seat at the raw bar.
Although many locals were sad when Market Street staple A.W. Shucks closed after 37 years, the new, more upscale concept seems to be doing well with locals and tourists alike. O-Bar, the raw bar on State Street, features a diverse happy hour menu (available Monday - Friday from 4 - 7 pm) with a number of oyster favorites. A dozen Gulf oysters on the half shell are just $10, opt for a fried oyster taco with sriracha ranch for $4, or a fried oyster slider with seaweed salad for $7. Pair that with a $3 oyster shooter or glass of champagne to really put the “happy” in happy hour.
Just a few steps from Market Street and Waterfront Park, you’ll find Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar. The raw bar menu changes daily, but it has been known to offer up to 20 different oysters at a time. A regular dozen of house oysters at Amen Street will cost you about $19, but at happy hour (4 - 7 pm during the week), they’ll only set your wallet back $9.95. You can also try Amen’s award-winning oyster shooter made with house- infused lemon & pepper vodka, bloody mary mix, hot sauce and fresh shucked oyster for just $3.50.
King Street Historic District
Owner and James Beard award-winning Chef Mike Lata does amazing things with seafood in his kitchen, which is housed in a building that was once a bank. The menu is full of inventive and fresh seafood options, and happy hour at The Ordinary is anything but: nosh on oysters for just $1.50 every Tuesday - Friday from 5 - 6:30 pm. This restaurant is also one of the only places in the city where you can get a shellfish tower.
With a name like “Coast,” you can rest assured that the seafood you’re getting is up to snuff. The chefs meet with local fishermen and farmers on a daily basis, to ensure they’re bringing you the freshest, most quality ingredients. Stroll down Huston Alley to the front door of the ivy-covered brick building and sit yourself in the bar area Monday through Thursday from 5 - 7 pm to take advantage of a half dozen oysters (raw, steamed or fried) for $6.99 and $4.99. There’s drink specials, too, so don’t forget to stay hydrated during your evening at the Coast.
A little further into Hutson Alley at Cuban-inspired Victor Social Club, you’ll find a cozy bar filled with leather couches, Guy Harvey-looking fish paintings, and the highest ceilings of any bar in Charleston. Stop by for happy hour and get $1.50 Oysters, served with cocktail sauce, house mignonette, and hot sauce. Stop by on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday for live music and Cuban-themed cocktails, the best you’ll find this side of Havana.
Old Village Post House Inn is a hidden gem tucked inside the Old Village in Mount Pleasant. While the regular menu is chock full of Lowcountry-inspired dishes like Shrimp & Grits, stop by for happy hour Monday through Friday 4 -7 pm to take advantage of Benne Seed Fried Oysters for $12. The benne seeds add a nice touch of sweetness to the fried oysters, and you’ll find yourself devouring the mollusks like popcorn.
Not many people think to visit a steakhouse for oysters, but Oak should definitely be added to your list of oyster hotspots. Enjoy fantastic deviled eggs with fried oysters for just $12 at the bar from 5 -7 pm during the week. In the dining area, you can get oysters rockefeller for just $3 each or on the half shell at market price.
Stereo 8 is by far one of the grooviest places to hang out on James Island, with live music and entertainment every Friday night, Latin brunch on Sunday mornings, and all kinds of fun in between. At happy hour Tuesday - Friday nights from 4 - 7 pm, Stereo 8 offers $1 oysters, $2 domestic bottles, and $6 cocktails. With cooler weather on the way, be sure to take advantage of the fire pits on the patio for a little more ambiance with your shellfish.
Stop by during happy hour to try one of Warehouse’s life-changing fried-oyster deviled eggs for just $1.50 each. Pair it with a $5 pint or house cocktail (we recommend the Employees Only with jalapeno tequila and pink grapefruit juice) and a game of pool to help you truly unwind from a hard day. You may even have a celebrity spotting -- Chef Emily Hahn on the newest season of Top Chef on Food Network.
In addition to drink specials, Cannon Green offers $1 off oysters during happy hour, Tuesday - Friday from 5-7 p.m. Even without the discount, a visit to Cannon Green is worth it for the ambience alone. The restaurant features bright, natural light, lots of greenery, and a fountain-lined courtyard that practically oozes tranquility.
Every hour is happy hour at Bowens Island when you can get $30 all-you-can-eat steamed oysters, anytime. This Charleston institution is off the beaten path right on the edge of James Island, down a dirt road that you’re likely to miss if you blink. Be sure to visit right at sunset, as its marshfront location offers some of the best views in Charleston.
The cozy unassuming brick building on East Bay street doesn’t look like much, but inside, you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in all of the Holy City. The sister restaurant of a Nantucket favorite, 167 Raw features seafood fare that’s much more common up north -- dishes like lobster rolls, clam chowder, and tuna burgers. If you’re lucky enough to score a table after work, you can enjoy $2.75 oysters from their vast daily selection.
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1. The Darling Oyster Bar513 King St, Charleston
2. Pearlz Oyster Bar - West Ashley9 Magnolia Rd, Charleston
3. The Oyster House35 South Market Street, Charleston
4. Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar205 E Bay St, Charleston
5. The Ordinary544 King St, Charleston
6. Coast Bar and Grill39 John St, Charleston
7. Victor Social Club39-F John Street, Charleston
8. Old Village Post House101 Pitt St, Mt. Pleasant
9. Oak Steakhouse17 Broad St, Charleston
10. Stereo 8951 Folly Rd, Charleston
11. Warehouse45 1/2 Spring St, Charleston
12. Cannon Green103 Spring St, Charleston
13. Bowens Island Restaurant1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston
14. 167 Raw289 E Bay St, Charleston
Housed in a 115-year-old storefront, this gorgeously designed space has a 14-seat raw bar and rich leather green booths, where any seat is perfect for slurping bivalves and sipping cocktails. The Darling blends classical preparations with exciting new flavors with devoted attention to local ingredients and sustainability. For those without their seafood-legs, The Darling also offers non-aquatic options like fried chicken and burgers.
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.
Oyster House and O-Bar is a shellfish haven in the heart of Charleston’s French Quarter, boasting a dining room and an attached raw bar. The menu features fresh seafood and low-country favorites, divided into oysters and chef’s signatures. If you’re a purist, you’ll want to try a flight of oysters; but for rogue mollusk lovers, opt for the fried oysters on a bed of house pork sausage, corn, Old Bay seasoning, and garlic aioli. Signatures include shrimp and grits with tasso gravy, a cedar plank salmon, and the S.O.B. burger, with Angus beef, applewood smoked bacon, and pimento cheese, all layered onto a brioche bun. Leather upholstered seating, vintage photographs of Charleston, and mother of pearl and copper lighting fixtures all amount to an upscale, comfortable dining experience at Oyster House and O-Bar.
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar in historic downtown Charleston celebrates southern coastal seafood in a contemporary, if slightly nostalgic, atmosphere. Oysters are offered baked, fried, or raw, while the menu of starters, salads, sandwiches, and house specialties boasts highlights like seared scallops, shrimp corndogs with lemon pepper ketchup and Carolina spicy mustard, and fried green tomatoes, poised with homemade hot ‘n’ sour pickled okra and a side of pimento cheese. While classic dishes are revised with fresh ingredients, décor at Amen Street hearkens back to an earlier Charleston, namely with authentic maps and documents peppering the walls and art that touts jazz’s influence on the city’s history.
Situated inside an old bank, this seafood hall and oyster bar is full of creative and tasty Southern twists on classic ocean fare, offering both large and small plates. It is the sister restaurant to FIG and maintains equal focus on seasonal and local ingredients to create delicious and fresh dishes every day. Some menu items, however, are so lauded that they have become mainstays, like the oyster sliders.
Coast Bar and Grill’s creed is to serve whatever the sea is offering, and to adhere to its catch of the day policy, chefs meet daily with local farmers and fishermen to dish up the freshest of fish that are seasoned and prepped in the Charleston restaurant’s hickory and oak custom-made wood-burning grill. While the menu changes daily, fish like tilapia, swordfish, and salmon make recurring appearances, and if you opt for a fried seafood dish, you’ll indulge in the bacon bleu cheese slaw, seasoned fries, house cocktail, and tartar sauce that accompany it.
Victor Social Club in Hutson Alley pays homage to Charleston’s gentleman’s clubs of yore, with black-and-white tiled floors, soaring ceilings, dark leather banquettes, and pristine white marble bar. The beverage program boasts draught beers, bottled beers, European and domestic wines, and a distinct roster of Hemingway-inspired, rum-heavy cocktails, like “The Sun Also Rises,” with tequila, passion fruit, and chile, all enhanced by a selection of cigars. The food menu is appropriately comprised of small Cuban plates like ceviche, frita cubana burger, and tequila marinated steak.
The Inn at Old Village Post House boasts an in-hotel restaurant highlighting southern delicacies on a menu of soups and starters, salads, steaks, and chef specialties, like crab cakes with creamed corn, leeks, and crispy truffle potato strings sweet potato gnocchi with spinach, dried cherries, goat cheese, pecans, and brown butter sauce. The dining space is elegant in its décor, lit by brass chandeliers and wreathed with Impressionist oil paintings of landscapes.
Located inside an old bank, Oak Steakhouse has a contemporary atmosphere featuring specially designed chandeliers and local artwork. The old vault was turned into a gorgeous wine cellar with bottles from all over the world, not to mention over 25 kinds of pinot noir. This steakhouse prides itself on sourcing ingredients from local purveyors and has a great selection of seafood on the menu as well, lobsters and oysters.
Stereo 8 brings a globe zig-zagging menu to James Island with Latin/Asian fusion plates in modern space with a huge, funky patio. Pad thai and tacos are presented on the menu next to a classic cheeseburger, attesting to the wide culinary scope. Culturally, it’s all about music and art, with DJs in the back, a gallery space for local artists and live tunes hosted on the deck. Fusions continue in the cocktail and dessert options, with yuzu-kissed gin sips and a churro cheesecake.
This industrial-chic bar garners lines with artisanal cocktails and New American cuisine served in a dark-hued space made edgy with exposed brick. The bar serves plenty of wine and cocktails (as represented by a sleekly designed menu), but PBR and a pool table also caters adequately to the casual post-work crowd.
Enjoy seasonal Mediterranean and Southern fare in this bright space with an amazing Caribbean-inspired courtyard in Cannonborough. Cannon Green is a full-service restaurant in addition to an event space, with communal tables and a full-service bar. The food highlights an emphasis on in-house production, with pastas, breads and curated meats all made in the kitchen. Brunch is particularly popular on warm days in the courtyard.
Bowen's Island Restaurant takes advantage of its waterfront locale both by devoting its menu to ultra-fresh seafood. This graffiti-and-barnacle-covered seaside shack boasts picturesque views of King Flats Creek at the downstairs all-you-can-eat oyster bar, where you can slurp fresh oysters next to the guys who caught them. The menu emphasizes seafood platters of shrimp, fried fish, and crab cakes to be shared among you and your friends. These will pair excellently with entrees like Fragmore Stew, AKA the “Low Country Boil,” with sausage, shrimp, corn, and potatoes.
In a city that has plenty of seafood, 167 Raw still makes a splash on the Charleston scene. Why? Because it's ultra-fresh approach never seems blasé. The raw bar is where it's at in this place (get the sampler if you're into trying everything), but you'd be crazy not to order one of the best lobster rolls in the city -- if you're willing to pay the high price for it, that is. Take some time and cruise the well-curated list of beers and wines and choose a local draft or something from the "everything else" menu.