The Best Bars in Charleston

With lots of locally brewed beers and bartenders famous for their finely concocted cocktails on every corner, rooftop lounges, candlelit bistros, and deliciously divey bars, you’ll never be far from a drink in Charleston.

474 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
The classic cocktail list at The Rarebit is hard to beat: Moscow mules served in gorgeous copper mugs, Manhattans with a touch of Benedictine. The food menu is composed of similarly solid throwbacks: a pork chop with mac and cheese and green beans, a perfect chicken club sandwich.
251 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401, USA
Cane’s chef and owner Paul Yellin grew up on Barbados, and he drew on this experience while putting together this bar and restaurant: the menu is full of Caribbean dishes, and the space is decked out with palms, corrugated metal, and bamboo. Another Barbados-inspired touch? The heavy presence of rum at Cane. The bar houses bottles from across the wold, and the drinks menu serves classic rum-centric cocktails like Zombies and Painkillers alongside more creative concoctions.
205 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401, USA
The Thoroughbred Club is in the lobby of Charleston Place hotel, right in the middle of downtown Charleston. They serve up classic cocktails (try their gussied-up negroni) and also have a great tea service, with live music every afternoon and evening.
511 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
With its pressed tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, and extensive cocktail menu, The Belmont could easily be mistaken for a bar in Brooklyn. But the laid-back vibe is pure Lowcountry. The Belmont is one of Charleston‘s first craft cocktail bars, and it’s still one of the best. No reservations.
2169, 182 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401, USA
The Gin Joint opened in 2010 and was Charleston‘s first real dedicated craft cocktail spot. Five years later, it’s still going strong with its creative drinks menu (including a “bartender’s choice” option for the patron who wants a surprise) and great bites, from gourmet soft pretzels to “cornbread and milk” for dessert.
479 King St #200, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Once the hip newcomer, this craft cocktail lounge is now a King Street veteran that attracts a more mature crowd than the line-up-outside adjacent clubs catering to the college set. Locals meet here for half-price happy hour (Wednesdays feature bourbon) and before shows at the Charleston Music Hall nearby. The stock of spirits is impressive, as are the intricate ways they’re mixed, like a “Macho Man Dandy Savage,” with house-infused dandelion gin, honey, and yellow Chartreuse. The mixologists here have a history of winning local bartender competitions. Complementing the flavors are the gorgeous environs in an historic building that features exposed beams, leather furniture, and a swanky rooftop garden that’s a welcome respite just off the buzz of King Street below. It all sits atop The Macintosh, chef Jeremiah Bacon’s stunning seasonal fare restaurant that shares a mutual owner.
10 Conroy St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Among Charleston’s two dozen thriving breweries, Revelry may have the best digs. It’s located in the peninsula’s NoMo neighborhood and sports a spacious, laid-back rooftop deck bar that’s perfect for viewing sunset over the Holy City skyline. The whole place is adorned with art—including on its cans’ labels—by recognizable local artist, Chris Kemp. Fortunately, what’s inside the cans is equally memorable. Brews like “Gullah Cream” and “Poke the Bear” (an American Pale) are among the city’s signature ales for any beer lover seeking the best of Charleston. Happy hour features live music Friday through Sunday, making Revelry a go-to gathering place.
106 E Hudson Ave, Folly Beach, SC 29439, USA
You may not expect to find the world’s best frozen pina colada at a joint hidden behind a gas station and underneath a condo unit, but that’s where to order the drink—lovingly dubbed the “Erik Estrada” and mixed with coconut milk and spices with a dash of Angostura bitters—and that’s how co-owner T.J. Lynch rolls. He took the hidden-gem aesthetic from his New York bar, Mother’s Ruin, and translated to the laid-back vibe of Folly Beach. In addition to the island’s best cocktails, Lowlife’s loyal following saddle up at the indoor/outdoor bar for the Old Bay-dusted local shrimp roll, the bold, rich tuna poke, and the Duke’s mayo-doused, addictive double cheeseburger.
64 Spring St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
This Spring Street café’s name is deceiving—yes, two in-house sommeliers assure there’s a focus on excellent wines, but this isn’t a pecorino-and-prosciutto wine bar—it’s a full-service neighborhood restaurant serving hearty entrees like a cast iron-seared hanger steak, and squid ink pasta alla chitarra with zucchini, chilis, and local shrimp. That’s not to say there isn’t cheese; it’s a fine place for a snack and a glass of wine (over a dozen are offered by the pour). But likewise, don’t let the name steer you away from house cocktails like the namesake Josephine, with its balance of grapefruit juice, yellow chartreuse, and Lillet. House sodas like a passionfruit limeaid with jalapeño syrup appeal to non-drinkers in search of inspired mocktails. Picture-worthy, white-and-gold décor lends elegance to the space, whether you’re sipping in the late afternoon natural light or out on a dinner date after dark.
700b King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Two sommeliers walk into a bar—it’s not a joke—and soon it’s the hottest spot in town to drink wine. Sure, it’s a wine shop, but the comfy, welcoming blue-leather booths beg you to pop the cork and stay awhile. Owners Femi Oyediran and Miles White (whose sister runs Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit further down King Street) are among the city’s most respected oenophiles, and Graft lets you hang out, surrounded by shelves of incredible wines, priced reasonably. Spare wall space is decorated with vintage records that match the chill/hype soundtrack of funky jazz and hip-hop, depending on the mood and time of day. The minuscule venue hosts live music on Wednesdays and frequent pop-up dinners, plus a regular light menu of charcuterie and cheeses.
247 Congress St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Partly owned by part-time Charleston resident Bill Murray, Harold’s Cabin is a nutty combination of Murray’s sweetest comedic roles and Wes Anderson’s cockeyed art direction. This former neighborhood corner grocery store (opened by the namesake Harold Jacobs in 1929) keeps up the bodega tradition by offering some local goods on shelves and in refrigerated cases in the front, like pizza dough and milk, as well as fancier artisanal stuff. The rest of the place is more Wes Anderson—plaid-upholstered furniture, stenciled murals, vintage porch gliders, knotty pine panelling—the look is definitely not haphazard, though, it’s more balanced and a deliberate design. Entrust your cocktail or beer wishes to the affable veteran bartender, Drew Childers, who will draw from the extensive variety of local brews on tap or mix you a cocktail that draws inspiration not just from the bottles behind the bar but from the vegetables grown in the extensive roof garden as well. In addition to dinner entrees like a bison burger and a popular three-cheese ravioli in mushroom sauce, a ‘Graze ‘n Nosh’ menu section includes boards: a snack board is served with a sleeve of Ritz crackers teetering on a plank beside with cheese curds, slices of pepperoni, ham salad, pickles, and savoure cheeese; another board has a generous serving of cured salmon, latkes, pickles, and beet horseradish. The crowd is full of locals (the mournful face of a dog tied up outside implies that her evening constitutional was waylaid) and much of the conversation at the bar concerns surf reports and the merits of the beers on tap. There is frequently live music, as well as goofy regular events like a monthly Johnny Cash day on which customers dressed in black get a discount. Head out to Hampton Park Terrace and join Harold’s Cabin’s low-keyed party.
1081 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
This cavernous brewpub has a wide-open kitchen, a long bar, tall communal tables, and a patio shaded by live oaks. If you can, grab a seat at the chef’s counter and watch the team spread creamy aïoli on locally made rye bread, topping it with pickled shrimp, vegetables, fresh herbs, and chervil leaves. The beer selection is unparalleled in Charleston, with the restaurant’s own brews ranking among the city’s finest local offerings.
224 Rutledge Ave
XBB, as locals call it, occupies a remodeled and brightly furnished former gas station in the Elliotborough neighborhood. Catering to its surfer clientele with Nicaraguan beer, the spot also offers a constantly changing menu of authentic Asian fare. Order the Vietnamese-style shrimp toast, a purée of local shrimp, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, lime leaf, and chilies spread on baguette slices, then pan-fried—crispy and satisfying.
217 Huger St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
It’s easy to take kimchi beef and tempura avocado tacos for granted, now that fancy gringo taco joints are ubiquitous, but it was Taco Boy that brought the trend to Charleston in the mid-‘00s. The original location on Folly Beach stays busy with a tourist crowd, but it’s their downtown expansion—straddling the North Central and NoMo neighborhoods—that’s become a local hotspot for the recently graduated early ‘20s crowd. The location isn’t walkable, but the courtyard and spacious open layout bar stays packed with revelers who come for the hefty margaritas and extensive tequila selection. The treats are served amidst a lively biergarten-esque courtyard scene, and thoughout Taco Boy a colorful and creative décor sets the tone for a party. In addition to namesake tacos, there are pick-your-protein rice bowls, generously sized salads (the Southwest seared tuna add-on is a winner), and daily specials like a smothered burrito and chile rellenos.
970 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Come for the drinks and stay for the music at the The Royal American. This “hole-in-the-wall” bar along Morrison Drive gets you up close to hip bands while drinking a beer, a signature punch, or the house made cinnamon whiskey, and dining on pub comfort food. You’ll want to look at the cool décor that includes a refurbished Wurlitzer jukebox and paintings on the ceiling of our own “Royal Americans”, such as Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Sitting Bull and Abraham Lincoln.
36-38 Broad St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
When Charleston’s Blind Tiger opened in the late 1980s—long after Prohibition ended—its name, a phrase synonymous with “speakeasy,” lent the Broad Street bar a delightfully naughty air. Not that the joint needs more atmosphere. The building, which dates back to 1803, has the vibe of an old Irish bar, with big front windows, dark wood, the damp smell of years of spilled beer. But walk through the doors in back and you’ll find a tree-shaded, sun-dappled patio full of architectural ruins and kitted out with a few firepits for cool evenings. That handy backyard bar means you can stay in the fresh air and not venture inside for refills. Alas, the blissful al fresco scene is slightly marred by the inclusion of a television over the bar. (With college football enjoying nearly the same status of religion in the Holy City, only the fanciest cocktail bars can avoid having the game on in these parts).
685 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
In its seeming pursuit for consideration as the Platonic ideal of a dive bar, the Rec Room ticks off many boxes: the bar sits in the grimy shadow of a highway overpass, prides itself on selling more cans of PBR than any other bar in the U.S., and is truly dark inside. So dark. The majority of the illumination seems to come from television screens, pinball machines, the fluorescent fixture that hangs low over the pool table, and the light from the street when the front door opens to let in someone who’s been outside smoking. In short, the bar is deliciously down-market without being skeevy. You will find Charleston locals from every walk of life, especially on game days when the televisions—including one playing to the smokers the front patio—are all tuned to football. Come early or late, order a Pabst Blue Ribbon, watch a game, play some foosball or pool, order tater tot nachos, and experience the appeal of a dive bar in a town where propriety and manners rule.
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