If you haven’t been to Charleston, SC recently, it has changed a lot since I was last here almost 15 years ago. On my recent trip to the Holy City in June 2021, I made up for lost time. I visited some great Charleston distilleries and made it to many of the downtown bars. Fun fact, South Carolina liquor laws once limited bartenders to using mini bottles of liquor to serve alcohol and make cocktails. Free pouring wasn’t legal until 2006, which clearly limits how creative bartenders can get. Plus, imagine making all your cocktails for a bar with airplane-sized bottles of liquor! With modern liquor laws continuing to be passed in the state, these bars are creating great drinks in Charleston.
Best Drinks in Charleston, SC at Cocktail Bars
1. Doar Bros.
- Address: 225 Meeting Street
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 4pm-10:30pm | Friday, 3pm-11:30pm | Saturday, 2pm-11:30pm | Sunday, 3pm-9:45pm | Closed Monday
- Hospitality: 5.0, very friendly and knowledgeable staff
- Atmosphere: 5.0, cozy and sleek; it gets busy, so reservations are recommended
- Drinks: 4.9, definitely a very solid bar program, the drinks I had were great
On my first night in Charleston, I booked a cocktail-themed Airbnb Experience. It seemed like a fun way to get reacquainted with the city and hang out with some people. We ended the night at Doar Bros., which ended up being one of my favorite bars in the city. It didn’t hurt that they were expecting us and welcomed us with drinks and their addictive Brown Butter Popcorn. The decor is beautiful and it’s a great place to meet up with friends. While they do have options like caviar service, it’s definitely not a pretentious place. The food I had was really good.
The hardest thing about Doar Bros. was deciding on a cocktail. The menu is full of sophisticated classics and seasonal drinks, including a rotating punch. After much deliberation, I selected the Bourbon & Clyde (right). The cocktail is made with Woodford Bourbon, Green Chartreuse, Fernet, Vanilla Bean, Orange Foam, and Pistachio. It was fantastic. Although I generally don’t judge a bar on just the welcome drink (left) and one cocktail, I feel safe saying you will love it.
- Address: 441 Meeting Street, Suite F
- Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 7pm-2am | Closed Sunday and Monday
- Hospitality: 5.0, friendly and professional service
- Atmosphere: 4.9, the bar is gorgeous and filled with sunlight but the music was slightly too loud
- Drinks: 5.0, serving a well-curated menu of 1950s classics with a twist
If you’re walking to Dalila’s from King Street, the sign with the outline of a woman is where you want to be. They have great seating indoors and outside on the patio. The bar is the perfect size, not too big, and is beautifully designed. I couldn’t stop taking photos. If I had more time, I would’ve definitely visited again but there’s always my next visit!
The drinks were SO good. Expertly made and delicious. The fact that they also looked great never hurts. I had the Duppy Conquerer (left) which is made with Fernet, Falernum, pineapple, and citrus. It’s served with freshly grated nutmeg and was great. The stunner on the right is the Pearl Lagoon. That cocktail is made with white rum, vermouth, gentian root, and grapefruit. Perfectly balanced and bitter in the best way. Easily some of the best drinks in Charleston that I had all week.
3. The Belmont
- Address: 511 King Street
- Hours: Every day, 6pm-2am
- Hospitality: 4.7, I felt welcomed by the bartender I was served by
- Atmosphere: 4.8, very comfortable vibe with black and white movies playing on the wall
- Drinks: 5.0, my drinks were solid and well made (thanks Jack!)
I almost missed out on The Belmont because I couldn’t tell they were open, it’s a little dark when you look in from the sidewalk. My Airbnb host said it was his favorite bar so, I made a point to make it in. (It’s not that I didn’t want to visit, but there are SO many great bars in Charleston, as you can see.) Located inside a classic art deco-style building that used to house another bar, the bar is surprisingly big. They serve some snacks if you’re hungry, including international meats and cheeses. The bar is a great place to meet up with friends for a drink, it’s not super loud or busy.
I was only going to have one drink, but ended up trying two. The Sherry Collins (left) really hit the spot on a warm afternoon. It is made with gin, sherry, apricot, lemon, and club soda. The second drink I tried was Bells of Jalisco (right). It is a nice spicy treat served with a locally made pickled green bean. The other ingredients are tequila, lime, jalapeño honey, and a mezcal rinse. Definitely nice and balanced with the perfect kick of heat.
- Address: 437 King Street
- Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 4pm-2am | Saturday, 6pm-2am | Sunday, 6pm-midnight | Closed Mondays
- Hospitality: 4.8, great service for a busy bar
- Atmosphere: 4.5, comfortable and inviting
- Drinks: 4.8, my drinks were really interesting and good
Proof easily has some of the most creative drinks in Charleston and is definitely worth a visit. While you will certainly find recognizable drinks on the menu, you’ll also find some that will pique your tastebuds. They have a “Featured Cocktail” that they use as a way to test out new recipes. Their liquor selection is broad and spans the shelving that runs around the bar. It was actually hard to pick cocktails because their bourbon selection was so good.
I’m not sure I could’ve picked two more different drinks, but all in the name of research. The drink on the left is The Magic Show (left). It is made with Wodka Vodka, fino sherry, blueberry lemon shrub, B.F. Blueberry liqueur, lemon, and soda. The second drink I had was a tribute to the owner’s grandfather.His grandpa took him to baseball games and would pack a flask of bourbon. He would take a nip and then a sip of his grandson’s Coke. To create the nostalgia, the grandson created the Knuckleball. Made from a blend of Old Grandad Bourbon in Bond, Spicy Coca Cola reduction, orange bitters, and pickled boiled peanuts, it was something. I liked it overall but the peanuts were certainly something new for me in a drink.
5. Vintage Lounge
- Address: 545 King Street
- Hours: Every day, 5pm-close
- Hospitality: 5.0, everyone was very welcoming and friendly, even the staff they were training
- Atmosphere: 5.0, classy and pretty, the perfect place for drinks in Charleston
- Drinks: 4.9, my drink was really good
Named the “Most Beautifully Designed Bar in South Carolina” by Architectural Digest, stepping into Vintage Lounge and you can easily see why. It reminded me of some of my favorite bars in London with a classic European vibe. Definitely a great place for photos! While it’s definitely more of a wine bar, with 20 wines available by the glass, they do have a curated list of cocktails. Their drinks are mostly traditional with a couple of their own creations on the menu. They serve delicious cheese and charcuterie boards.
I enjoyed The Intrepid which was perfect after a long walk through the city. The cocktail is made with Lillet Rosé, Cappalletti, and strawberry with a dusting of orange zest. It was so good. I was so excited to try it that I didn’t even ask about the Drink of the Week but you should!
- Address: 547 King Street
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5pm-11pm | Friday, 5pm-2am | Saturday, 11am-2am | Sunday, 10am-11pm
- Hospitality: 4.8, a busy bar with efficient service
- Atmosphere: 4.7, definitely great neighborhood bar vibes here
- Drinks: 4.8, my drink was solid
While they definitely have incredible food as well, Prohibition leads with its bar. This 1920-style bar was always packed when I walked by, so reservations are a good idea. They have a rustic chic indoor space and a covered patio in the back with Southern charm. I thought the indoor bar was particularly nice with the marble top. For weekend brunch, Prohibition even offers live music.
I enjoyed the Kentucky Orchard. It is made with granny smith-infused bourbon, Cointreau, lemon, and cinnamon sugar on the rim. It was really good and flavorful. The rest of the menu was a good mix of interesting riffs on classics and cocktails featuring infused and local spirits.
7. Bourbon N’ Bubbles
- Address: 570 King Street
- Hours: Every day, 4pm-close
- Hospitality: 5.0, I had the nicest bartender (Malik) and the rest of the staff were friendly as well
- Atmosphere: 4.8, there’s definitely a vibe here, which includes private liquor lockers
- Drinks: 4.7, a little too sweet for me but so pretty
So when I said the bar has a vibe, it was not surprising when someone told me that it was about to be on a reality television show. Since I am not from the area, and don’t have cable, I was unaware of the show Southern Charm. Apparently one of the newest cast members is the woman behind Bourbon N’ Bubbles. The bar is very nice, but it does feel like a place where people want to be seen. This is totally fine, but not necessarily my scene. The drinks were good and certainly photogenic.
I had a house speciality from one of the newest bartenders, Malik. The Malik Mojito (left) is a combination of Malibu rum, Plantation Pineapple rum, lime juice, mint, and a Chambord float. Nice and refreshing. The Charleston 75 combines the two namesakes for the restaurant. The drink is made with Bernheim bourbon, St, Germain, citrus, and sparkling rosé. It was sweet but had a great flavor.
Other Cocktail Bars for Drinks in Charleston
Despite my best efforts, and sampling half cocktails (gotta be safe!), I didn’t make it to all the places I had on my list. If you’ve already been to the cocktail bars above and are still looking for places for drinks in Charleston, here are a few more places to visit.
- Faculty Lounge – This place is described as a laid-back cocktail lounge. They offer a variety of cocktails and other drinks, along with food and some music.
- The Cocktail Club – The night I was going to visit they were celebrating their 10th anniversary with a bash. It seemed like a good one to save for my next trip. They have an indoor lounge and a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy their amazing cocktail menu.
- Victor Social Club (temporarily closed) – Unfortunately this place hadn’t yet reopened when I was in town. The space looks gorgeous and they offer private rooms for gatherings. They are a former “gentlemen-only” establishment serving fresh Southern-style drinks.
Best Drinks in Charleston at Hotels
I love a good hotel bar. And there are a fair share of hotel bars that don’t put in much effort, assuming they just have a captive audience in their guests. The best attract guests along with the public. With limited time, I only popped into these hotel bars so I didn’t apply my normal scoring system. These were notable for their drinks and atmosphere. I would also recommend any of these hotels as a good place to stay after speaking to guests staying at each of them.
11. Citrus Club @ The Dewberry
- Address: 334 Meeting Street
- Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 3pm-9pm | Friday-Saturday, noon-10pm | Sunday, noon-9pm
The Citrus Club sits on the roof of The Dewberry. With 360 degree views of the city, it’s one of the best places to catch a Charleston sunset. This means that you’ll find everyone else on the rooftop bar as well. They do take reservations but they also let me walk in. (A perk of traveling solo.) I paired the sunset with a perfect drink. The Mango Bodine is made with Del Maguey mezcal, Espolòn Reposado tequila, mango nectar, lime, and chili salt. It was really good and my server was awesome.
12. Little Palm @ The Ryder Hotel
- Address: 237 Meeting Street
- Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 11am-midnight | Thursday-Saturday, 11am-1am
I was super excited to try this bar. From the creative minds behind the infamous Death & Co. bar comes this brand new “bar and swim club”. It did not disappoint, but everyone else was also there too so it was very busy. I took photos of the bar and pool but they were full of people, so here are the drinks I had. On the left is the Daydreamer. It’s made with Tennessee whiskey, banana cream soda, East India Solera sherry, and absinthe. So good! My second drink was the Happy Now which is made with Aperol, salted watermelon cordial, fennel, Crémant, and (in my case) citrus. The on-menu version includes olives, which they were nice enough to omit.
13. Frannie & The Fox @ Emeline
- Address: 181 Church Street
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5pm-10pm | Friday-Saturday, 5pm-11pm | Sunday, 10am-3pm
I follow a couple of Charleston-based bartenders and photographers, so I have seen some behind-the-scenes of Emeline opening. Although I really wanted to stay there, I fund my own trips and couldn’t justify the cost. But, I did sneak in for a delicious drink and had a look around the hotel lobby. Frannie & The Fox is a beautiful hotel bar. It has cozy bar seating, traditional restaurant tables, and a patio. I sat in the bar area and enjoyed the Gin Bam Baby! It is a delicious combination of Malfy Blood Orange gin, Amaro Nonino, Lustau vermouth, lemon, and blood orange pureé. Definitely a drink as good as it looks.
Best Drinks in Charleston at Restaurants
14. The Ordinary
- Address: 544 King Street
- Hours: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday, 5pm-10:30pm | Lunch Saturday-Sunday, noon-5pm | Closed Monday-Tuesday
The Ordinary was another place that I really wanted to return to after my first visit. With a beautiful bar and delectable food and drinks, this place needs to be on your list. I enjoyed the most delicious savory cocktail, the Beau Thai along with a dish of red snapper and fresh peaches. The drink is made with coconut-washed rum, tomato, carrot, and curry. It was spicy, salty, and really unique.
15. Wild Common
- Address: 103 Spring Street
- Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 6pm-9pm | Friday-Saturday, 6pm-10pm
Wild Common was the best meal I have had in a long time. The four-course tasting menu is amazing. I thought everything was delicious and the staff and chefs were super friendly. My favorite snack, part of the first course, was a crispy mushroom steam bun (right). The cocktail I had was a highlight of my trip. The Plumed Serpent is made with Casamigos anejo, Pama, lime, and cilantro. It was perfect for the pescatarian tasting. Reservations are required.
16. Neon Tiger
- Address: 654 King Street
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 5pm-10pm | Closed Mondays
It might be hard to believe, but everything served at Neon Tiger is vegan. This is particularly exciting to me as I have been a pescatarian for many years. Being able to order anything off the menu without fear of lurking meats is quite the treat. Even better, their cocktail program is amazing. I heard from several other bartenders in the city how good the drinks are. My first visit was so good, I went a second time. On my first visit I had the Guava the Hutt (left). It’s a blend of rums, fresh guava, allspice dram, and vanilla agave. It was as good as that sounds. My second drink was the Coolada. It also features a rum blend, fresh pressed strawberries, coconut cream, and nutmeg. The drink went perfectly will my garlic knots.
17. Félix Cocktails et Cuisine
- Address: 550 King Street
- Hours: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 5pm-midnight | Monday, Thursday-Saturday, 5pm-late | Saturday & Sunday, Brunch 10am-3pm
I had the most incredible brunch at Félix last Sunday. The food was excellent (lobster deviled eggs pictured) and the service was top-notch. The decor of the Parisian bar was lovely and my cocktail was delicious. I also love any restaurant that takes reservations for one person and then seats them at an actual table. The drink I had was the Félix 75 which is made with cognac, gin, pamplemousse, and lemon champagne. Impeccable.
Hoping that amongst these places for drinks in Charleston, you’ve found what you’re looking for. Please feel free to drop me a note if I’ve missed your favorite spot.