Charleston's Best Bars: Serving Craft Beer, Cocktails with Local Flair
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
If your idea of nightlife includes hitting a bar for drinks and socializing, then our Charleston guide is just what you want. By capitalizing on first-hand experience downing a few pints, as well as extensive research, we've located the best bars in Charleston for hanging out and kicking back. Long-lived mainstays include Blind Tiger Pub, a historical icon rich in stories from past patrons, and The Royal American, a Morrison Drive newcomer with a busy live music lineup.
Two sophisticated rooftop bars have made their mark on the nightlife scene: the recently renovated and rebranded Rooftop at the Vendue Inn and newbie Star's Rooftop Grill and Tap Room. For a happening spot without the sky-high prices, try Squeeze, a trendy new local's favorite.
Beer lovers will appreciate the many brew pubs in Charleston that serve craft beer from all over the globe and right here at home, like Bay Street Biergarten, and CFB (Closed For Business), a unique after-work hangout and weekend hotspot with a continually rotating beer menu.
We present the top bars in town and offer details about them all. What's the energy like? How do the bartenders pour? Are most bars located in the downtown area? No fear - we share all the facts! Here are our selections for Charleston's 10 Best watering holes.
Why yes, you can have an all fresh caught, locally sourced, just picked meal and the latest in local Charleston brewery draft beers at the same place, at the same time. Welcome to Edmund's Oast, located just a short bike ride or drive up the peninsula to Morrison Drive, where gorgeous charcuterie and cheese plates, lowcountry farm-raised beef and poultry, and catch of the day fish are regular fixtures in a menu that changes daily with supply. The chef, kitchen staff and front of house service team take their jobs seriously, with apparent attention to detail and frequent staff trainings, all while maintaining a communal brew pub atmosphere. (843 727 1145)
Recently rebranded, renovated, and remodeled as Charleston's Art Hotel, The Rooftop at Vendue has always been known for its expansive, unforgettable views of the Charleston Harbor and East Bay Street architecture. The Rooftop is a favorite spot for locals to bring out of town visitors, for an impressive introduction to Charleston's classic beauty, top-notch hospitality and cultivated art community. Expect a full house at the Vendue Rooftop on weekdays and some weeknights, especially if the weather is ideal for outdoor dining and drinking. Visitors to The Rooftop at The Vendue come for the views, but stay for the service, specialty cocktail and craft beer menu. (843-577-7970)
The Gin Joint
It's safe to say that The Gin Joint has pioneered the modern craft cocktail scene in Charleston, serving as an East Bay staple for years. The Gin Joint bartenders are highly experienced and proud of their craft, ready and willing to mix up any combination or classic cocktail by customer request. Looking for adventure with a dash of ingredient guidance? The Gin Joint's pre-set cocktail menu represents the small alley venue's penchant for locally-sourced spirits, ingredients and garnishes, and stars the like of the Phil Collins, the Grand Budapest, and the top-shelf Arsenic and Old Lace. Expect to mingle with all ages of cocktail enthusiasts at The Gin Joint, whether you're making a one-drink visit or staying and sampling here for the evening. (843-577-6111)
The Royal American
The Royal American can easily become your new go-to bar in Charleston. Strings of tiny Christmas bulbs provide some of the lighting, and one wall is made almost entirely of old National Geographic magazines. The menu includes homemade beef jerky, muffaletta sandwiches, Frito pie, and even a good ole' fried bologna sandwich. This bar has transformed from bring-your-own CDs to a regular live music venue (visit their website for the performance schedule), but be aware that most of the bands require a cover charge. A decent variety of beer is served in cans, tap, or bottles and budget diners will appreciate their brunch menu, with most items under $7. ((843) 817-6925)
Social Wine Bar
Winos, rejoice: Social Wine Bar is your top destination in Charleston for an extensive collection of red, white, and rose wines by the glass and by the bottle. Open seven days a week, 4pm to 1am, Social brings a lounge atmosphere to East Bay street, with dim lighting and local art adorning the exposed brick and beam style walls. Social takes their wine selection seriously while still offering a wide variety of affordable wines by the glass. Social also excels in its small bar bites, pairing easily with any wine selection. Try Social for a late night bite, or stroll over after dinner on East Bay for your dessert and nightcap. (843-577-5665)
Blind Tiger Pub
The Historic District's Blind Tiger Pub, built in 1803, is a safe bet when you're in the mood to enjoy a cold beer in a cozy indoor tavern atmosphere or hidden garden courtyard patio. The Blind Tiger's shady brick courtyard with ties to certain illegal operations and prohibition era secrecy at the turn of the century now offers a shady respite from your explorations of Waterfront Park and Broad Street. This landmark pub is a local favorite due to its laid-back bar menu and day of the week specials for discounted food and beverages. Visit Blind Tiger seven days a week or brews, grub or both, with Sunday brunch from 11am-3pm. (843-577-0088)
Stars Rooftop Bar and Tap Room
Stars is Upper King Street's answer to the locals' call for rooftop dining and drinking. Stars has earned credibility for its name thanks to the star-gazing friendly views from the building's rooftop-turned-full-service bar. While the rooftop setting may seem luxurious, the prices are more down to earth. The Stars bottom floor kitchen features a live fire grill and rotisserie, creating a pleasing view for the interior crowd as well. Chef Nate Thurston's menu includes items like she crab soup, lobster and grits (a fancier take on the traditional shrimp and grits), and truffle-chicken pot pie. The rooftop bar opens at 5pm, serving cocktails, artisan wine and local craft beer, while a larger bar serves the downstairs crowd. Stars can become quite busy and crowded late into the night. If you are interested in a quiet dinner out on Upper King Street, arriving early with reservations is highly recommended. Expect a young professionals aged crowd here. (843 577 0100)
The Cocktail Club
Stepping into The Cocktail Club is akin to stepping back in time to Charleston of the prohibition era. Located just above The Macintosh at 479 King Street, The Cocktail Club prides itself on superior cocktail craftsmanship and service. This intimate, brick-walled 'hideout' also features a rooftop deck, which doubles as the source garden for cocktail garnishes. If you're a frequent visitor or local to Charleston, consider joining as a Cocktail Club member. Memberships at the Cocktail Club include 50% off of happy hour prices (5-8pm), no line waiting, attendance of the biannual membership party, one free cocktail class per year, one private spirit tasting invitation and more. Memberships are priced at $200 per person or $350 per couple. (843-724-9411)
Bay Street Biergarten
Tucked into a historic building on the corner of Chapel and East Bay Streets, Bay Street Beirgarten isn't your traditional biergarten. This gathering place welcomes you into its interior expanse with high ceilings, communal tables and cozy booths. You're going to be here a while, and not just for the atmosphere. The Biergarten is intent on providing Charleston with top-notch German fare, and serving up the best in craft beer all by way of the latest tap technology, including iPad-equipped tap tables. Tap the screen, pay, and your tabletop tap is activated; you're serving a draught brew to go with those pretzels and mustard. "Bavarian inspired - Southern made" is the theme, which translates into traditional German apps and entrees, Munich-style drinking community and patio complete with picnic tables and "Prosts!" Plan to enjoy patio perfect weather, meet new friends and have your Charleston beers with a side of schnitzel. (843-266-2437)
Closed for Business
Closed For Business is undoubtedly one of Upper King's most popular hangouts, known for its extensive draft beer lists, rotating weekly or by availability. This local's bar offers 42 beers on tap, roughly 50 bottled beers, a seasonal beer menu, monthly beer specials and even local Charleston brewery flights. CFB also offers premium liquor and wine choices for those non beer drinkers you brought along for the night. A faux fireplace, wood-lined walls and community tables in the rustic lodge interior give this neighborhood bar a unique feel. The classic menu features upscale pub food and creative daily desserts. Expect a short line to wait on Friday and Saturday nights, with easy entry on weekdays and Sundays. (843-853-8466)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.