Charleston Nightlife: Upper King, Market Street Draw Regulars and Newcomers Alike
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
Whether you're visiting Charleston, South Carolina as a regular or for the first time, you'll find that Charleston is worth getting to know at night just as it is during its sunnier hours. The Holy City is one of variety, its walkable streets lined with excellent late night restaurants, bars, clubs and live music suitable for every level of nighttime enthusiasm. Most Charleston bars are centered around the Market Street and Upper King Street areas, though many fall just outside of these popular hangouts.
Combine your party plans with a few rounds of bowling at The Alley, or, if you're feeling competitive, venture into Hom for an intense of ping pong with a side of specialty cocktails and boutique burgers. Local LGBT and friends head to Pantheon on the weekends for the wildest club experience in Charleston. Those in search of a starlit roooftop evening should seek out Stars on Upper King, while others looking to keep things more low key will revel in the craft beer focused Bay Street Biergarten and Closed for Business. Charleston takes pride in its local craft beer, evident in the happy beer bellies at Bay Street Bier Garten and Closed For Business, while those more inclined to sip will enjoy Social Wine Bar on East Bay Street.
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. A historic 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 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)
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)
Hom brings to the table, what no other bar in the lowcountry does: ping pong balls and paddles, of course! Located at 563 King Street, Hom is quite conveniently located, within walking distance of many hotels and restaurants. Hom is an alternative sports bar, for those who'd rather drink local beers and play games rather than watch them. Head to the back of the house to hit the pong tables, but before things get serious, stop for a juicy pregame burger to ensure an athletic performance. Feel free to return to the refueling station anytime during play, where bartenders serve up specialty cocktails, beers and vintage sodas. Catch happy hour from 4-7pm Monday to Friday for $4 single patty burgers, $4 hotdogs and $2 domestic beers. Stop in on Monday and you'll find yourself at Classic Burger Night, with $5 burgers and $1 beers. Game on, burger and beer lovers! (843-573-7505)
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 wood-grilled blue 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. The bar gets busy (and noisy) late night. If you are interested in a quiet dinner out on Upper King, arriving early with reservations is recommended. Expect a young professionals aged crowd. (843 577 0100)
Social Wine Bar
Winos, rejoice: Social Wine Bar is your top destination in Charleston for an extensive collection of red, white, and rosé 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)
DJs, drag shows and dancing are what it's all about at Club Pantheon. Known to have some of the best music in town, and arguably best club atmosphere, this LGBT epicenter welcomes anyone and everyone 18 & up, and serves both cheaply priced house and premium liquor drinks and beer. Club Pantheon is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the the club and dancefloor are packed every night the doors are open. The Pantheon crowd is all ages, all nights, and is the ideal nightlife destination for anyone looking to dance and drink the night away until closing time (2am in Charleston). Pantheon also hosts weekly drag shows. (843-577-2582)
Closed for Business
Closed For Business is undoubtedly one of Upper King's most popular hangouts, known for its rotating menus, eclectic decor, and window-watching streetfront booths. 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 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)
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)
With the arrival of The Alley at 131 Columbus Street, just off of Upper King Street, the lifestyle of "Eat. Drink. Bowl." caught on in a big way. That's because the Alley is the first bowling alley within the walkable confines of downtown Charleston, and because The Alley isn't your average bowling venue. Open seven days a week until 2am, The Alley has established itself as a nightlife destination for much more than your first rounds. The Alley boasts a perpetually busy full bar alongside the lanes and arcade machines, hosting regular events and one of the biggest and wildest New Years Eve party in Charleston. (843-818-4080)
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.