Cocktails in the Holy City: 4 of the Best Bars in Charleston

Headed to Charleston? Try some local tipple. The city is both historic and hip — and so is its bar scene. Discover 4 of the best bars in Charleston here.Read More

Charleston's bar scene (Source: iStock / MaximFesenko)

While you’re in Charleston, be sure and carve out some time to experience some local tipple. The city is both historic and hip, and its bar scene includes some of the best spirits and sippers anywhere. Whether you’re into a tight Manhattan cocktail made from top-quality ingredients or down for a malty craft brew, the Holy City will oblige. Here are our picks for 4 of the best bars in Charleston. Drink up — we think they’re pretty close to heaven.

Something special at Proof (For more about Proof visit online)
Something special at Proof (For more about Proof visit online)

Proof

437 King Street, Charleston SC 29403

A good craft cocktail is hard to find, unless you’re in Proof on King Street. The folks at Proof are known for knowing their stuff, and are pros at deploying choice-y ingredients to mix that beverage of your dreams or your go-to favorite. The crowd is a happy mix of locals and tourists, relaxing within the intimate dark wood interiors while sipping their Old Fashioned (traditional, with Angostura bitters), or tickling their tongues with taste sensation My Elephant’s Keeper: a courageous mix of gin, Drambuie, pollen cream, lemon, honey, rosewater, and egg white. Did we mention the bar-top absinthe fountain? Uh-huh.

The bar menu is extensive and includes a nicely curated selection of wine and beer for those who wish to stay in their lane. If, however, you fancy something you don’t see on the list, just ask. The team behind the bar has the skills to make you something you didn’t even know you loved. Our recommendation? The Knuckleball: Old Grand-Dad B.I.B., spicy Coca-Cola reduction, orange bitters, and pickled boiled peanuts. Trust us, it works.

Bar Mash

701 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29403

In the heart of downtown Charleston, just a jigger’s throw northeast from Proof, is Bar Mash. An industrial-looking space with exposed dark piping and concrete floors, Bar Mash is serious about its American whiskey. Take your amber-liquid-loving companion here for a shot of one of the 120 whiskeys on hand, including our favorite, the lighter-touch Bulleit or the warmer, more full-bodied finish of Woodford Rye. Rumor has it that there are also limited release bottlings on hand, like barrel-proof Elijah Craig.

Thanks to generous happy hour specials, an excellent Prime Rib Plate, and a well-earned reputation for craft cocktails, Mash tends to draw a varied crowd. Depending on the night (read: late Saturday), it can feel a little college-y (there is also shuffleboard and bocce on hand to liven up the tempo), but don’t let this deter you. It’s just as typical to find Gen Xer-couples on hand for a meal and finger’s worth of whiskey before streaming the latest episode of “Stranger Things.” It’s also a favorite of locals – and not just because they have onsite parking; it’s definitely one of the top bars in Charleston.

Head to the Griffon for beers. (Source: visit Griffoncharleston.com
Head to the Griffon for beers. (Source: visit Griffoncharleston.com

The Griffon

18 Vendue Range, Charleston SC 29401

There’s something to be said for doing something better than anyone else, and in The Griffon’s case, it’s beer. That may mean sticky floors and dive bar status, but so long as we understand that up front, we’re good. Head to the Griffon in the French Quarter for its 16 eclectic draft selections, including Westbrook’s Asian-inspired White Thai (a sort of lemongrass-y take on your typical Belgian witbier ale) or Ghost Monkey Stretchy Pants Kölsch for a lighter, crisp brew. There are also 18 bottled brew options on hand and in case you were looking for something really special, order up some $2 PBR on tap. And while you’re waiting for your brew, have a look at the dollar bills papering the walls and ceiling throughout the bar — if that’s not Instagram-worthy we don’t know what is.

A thoroughly satisfying bar menu brings in the white collar locals for lunch (try the Turkey Club with a side order of fried pickles or tater tots) and a more touristy crowd for happy hour specials on summer weekends. Still, when you want that brew or are with the crew, The Griffon is the spot.

Vintage Lounge

545 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

If sipping on a medium-bodied Malbec at an expansive white marble bar top while rubbing elbows with some of Charleston’s toniest is your idea of fun, check out the Vintage Lounge on historic King Street. Though it’s hard to take your eyes off the bar — and its glamorous patrons — the fabulously retro-inspired interiors, including a partially gilded barrel ceiling and soft lighting, add to the venue’s elegant, Old-World ambiance. Vintage Lounge is first and foremost for vino, whether it’s by the glass (there are 30-odd varieties to choose from) or bottle, often featuring small production runs. An ample selection of cheese, charcuterie, and flatbreads is available, but only to accompany the main event. Best to go elsewhere if you’re in the mood for a full meal.

If you’re a true oenophile or just looking for a different kind of night out, try one of Vintage’s signature “Tasting Experiences.” The “Somm” package ($49 per person) includes a flight of three wines coupled with the chef’s selection of cheese, charcuterie, education, and discussion. We suggest the “Master Class” option ($79), a more full-powered evening featuring a flight of five custom wines, food, the chef’s dessert with a pairing, a blind taste test, and more discussion.