The best places to grab a drink in Charleston

A signature cocktail at Prohibition, a Roaring Twenties-themed hotspot in Charleston. | Credit: Prohibition
A bartender strains magenta-colored juice into a coupe glass at Prohibition in Charleston.

Cool drinks go down easy in steamy Charleston. Madeira wine was the beverage of choice here during colonial times, and today, Charleston’s eclectic bar scene still brims with cosmopolitan glamor.

A Park Circle wine bar pours Madeira among its many enticing by-the-glass options. A sleek, French-inspired basement lounge in Downtown Charleston provides respite from the heat. Nearby, a Roaring Twenties-themed hotspot is known for a club-like atmosphere on weekends. 

Charleston’s world-class drinks scene is right on par with its stellar restaurant landscape. Read on for a guide to the 12 top bars to visit now in the Holy City.

The Darling Oyster Bar (Downtown)

A seafood plateau piled with crab’s legs plus oysters on the half shell and a glass of rosé at The Darling Oyster Bar in Charleston
It’s near impossible to stroll by The Darling Oyster Bar on Upper King Street and not be tempted to duck in for a few local oysters. | Credit: Aleece Sophia

The white tile and exposed brick at this King Street landmark immediately convey elegance. That’s partly why many passersby do a double take, then find themselves seated on a mint green barstool, happily chasing raw oysters with an old fashioned. The street-facing raw bar lures you in, and over-the-top indulgences, such as a bloody mary festooned with a lobster claw, crab leg, and cocktail shrimp (with a hushpuppy garnish!), keep you comfortably seated.

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Élevè Restaurant & Rooftop (Downtown)

The Grand Bohemian Hotel’s rooftop bar, Élevè, draws weekend crowds. Bold, modern colors and decor match the hotel’s art-forward vibe. Pair the contemporary digs with views of the historic Market area and a signature spritz cocktail (plus shareable snacks such as truffle frites and calamari with harissa aioli) and you’re in for a night to remember. Oenophiles also know that Wine Bar on the ground floor may be one of Charleston’s best value secrets with one of the city’s largest by-the-glass selections.

Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room (Downtown)

At sunset and on weekend nights, the laid-back rooftop bar at Stars is in high demand. The contrast of a striking wood bar and wicker furniture embellish the view overlooking bustling King Street. A dozen wines on tap are available by the glass, but it’s the signature cocktails, such as a frozen negroni and a classic Hemingway daiquiri, that shine the brightest. The restaurant downstairs helped forge the trend of open-flame cooking in Charleston—plan on dinner, and enjoy the rooftop as an excellent pre- and post-meal hangout.

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Prohibition (Downtown)

Nearing a decade on King Street, this loosely Roaring Twenties-themed hotspot now feels like a stalwart of Charleston’s bar scene. It’s a casual place to hang for happy hour or dinner, but by late evening on weekends, a full-on club atmosphere takes over. Whiskey is the main event at the bar—choose from a prolific selection that includes Scotch and Irish whiskey, plus plenty of bourbon. Signature cocktails make good use of the extensive collection, looking to classic embellishments such as egg whites, bitters, and fresh herbs. Bar snacks include crispy cheddar and potato pierogies, a locally inspired cheeseboard, and wings with a Memphis dry rub.  Wine and beer lists are just long enough not to feel overwhelming, covering a wide range of tastes with minimal fluff.  

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Bourbon N’ Bubbles (Downtown)

This creative King Street spot strikes the perfect compromise for couples who don’t see eye to eye on what defines the perfect drink. The bar’s wall of dark liquor features one of the city’s most extensive bourbon selections. Order hard-to-find whiskeys by one- or two-ounce pours—or try a flight. In a separate room, Champagne takes center stage and bottles can reach the over-$1000 mark. Rest assured there are plenty of affordable by-the-pour options that pair well with shareable snacks such as caviar deviled eggs and blue crab fondue. And if you’re feeling indecisive, there’s a solution—the Charleston 75 cocktail mixes bourbon, elderflower liqueur, and sparkling rosé.

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Bar George (James Island)

It’s already surprising that one of Charleston’s best oyster bars sits in a shopping center on residential James Island. What’s even less probable is that the same outpost boasts the city’s best hot dog. Add a Peruvian rotisserie chicken—perfect for a to-go dinner—and a cocktail program to rival downtown’s best, and you near the unfathomable. But that’s just the vibe Bar George went looking for. Co-owned by a cohort of chefs and entrepreneurs that include Alex Lira (formerly of Estadio) and Hank Weed (of Chico Feo in Folly Beach), the bar is everything you’d expect from restaurateurs pursuing a laid-back side project. Order a round of broiled oysters with green garlic butter and a mezcal cocktail, and sink back into the perfection of it all.

Maya (Downtown)

The patio at Maya in Charleston has white walls and plenty of wicker furniture.
White walls and wicker furniture lend a tropical vibe to Maya’s covered patio. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Enter the dining room at this buzzy modern Mexican restaurant on King Street, and keep walking through a narrow hallway until you’re out back. Here, you’ll find one of the city’s most idyllic garden patios, where mezcal enthusiasts flock for smoky cocktails and perfectly balanced margaritas—great accompaniments for antojitos such as skillet queso and yellowfin tuna tostadas. Choose from a seat at the comfortable bar, covered from the elements and surrounded by greenery, or relax in the open-air courtyard, where a velvet sofa hangs, inviting you to sprawl out and find some tranquilo.

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Topsail Restaurant & Bar (Mount Pleasant)

Everything about Topsail is designed to take advantage of Lowcountry bounty, from the seafood and balmy weather to local craft brews and spirits. Set just off Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, Topsail’s spacious bar welcomes you to come in and hang a while. Snack on lobster rolls and fried calamari and chase them down with an oyster shooter or two (featuring housemade cocktail sauce, vodka, lemon, Old Bay, and pepper). When the weather’s nice, take advantage of outdoor patio seating where you can dine on the full menu and enjoy a Charleston Fizz made with a mix of locally distilled vodkas.  

Stems & Skins (North Charleston)

When this Park Circle wine bar opened in 2016, North Charleston turned a corner. Between Stems & Skins and the standout EVO Pizzeria, any argument that you had to venture to downtown Charleston for a world-class culinary experience fell flat. Co-founded by a veteran sommelier from Husk, the spot has a wine list that is among the state’s best. A wine preservation system enables over a dozen by-the-glass options that aren’t typically found by the three- or five-ounce pour. Those include a Madeira, making this an excellent place to try a wine with deep Charleston roots—without forking over three figures for a full bottle.

Bar Vauté at Brasserie la Banque 

People fill the bar seats at Bar Vauté, a sleek basement lounge in Charleston.
A respite from the heat at Bar Vauté | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

There’s no secret password required to slip into this sleek, hidden basement lounge, a rare architectural feature in low-lying Charleston. It operates like an additional dining area for Brasserie la Banque upstairs. Order the steak frites or one of the seafood entrees worthy of a special occasion, though Bar Vauté is also a cool evening escape from the summer heat. The classic cocktails are expertly executed and include French classics such as boulevardiers and sidecars. For those who aren’t imbibing, Vauté offers spirit-free options such as the Nice, a South of France-inspired blend of pear nectar, cinnamon, ginger, and lime. Stop for Apero Hour every Monday through Wednesday from 4 pm to 6 pm to treat yourself to discounted oysters on the half shell, a cheese plate, and a wine spritz for the ultimate Bar Vauté combo. 

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Bar Rollins (Eastside)

To get away from the raucous nightclub scene on King Street, head to this friendly neighborhood joint. Set in a renovated single house in the Eastside, the bar is a world away from the raucous nightclub scene on King Street. While the exposed brick walls and bottle-clad shelves suggest a casual vibe, the wine selection—a tightly curated list of natural varieties—is serious. The letterboard menu features a rotating by-the-glass list with some types that can only be found at Bar Rollins. It also offers bottles for sale, and there’s usually a beer or two available. A pop-up food menu means you’ll find noodles and ramen on one night and oysters and panini on another. The result is a unique wine dive bar—the only one of its kind in Charleston.

Palace Hotel (Downtown)

It’s neither a palace nor a hotel, but the Palace Hotel is a Charleston favorite for a bucket of ice-cold beers, a basket of hand-breaded lobster corn dogs, and an excellent time. The new, expanded location on Meeting Street is much bigger than its original Eastside digs—and more photogenic. With bright pops of neon pink and yellow, the Palace has evolved from a fun dive into a neighborhood gem with a slight Miami accent. Stop in and grab a seat on the expansive patio, order some cocktails, and dig into a pile of boiled peanuts. Chances are, you’ll become a regular before you know it.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Stephanie Barna is a food writer based in Charleston, SC. As the former editor of Charleston City Paper, she has chronicled the Charleston food scene for two decades and has been to every single Charleston Wine + Food Festival since it started. You can follow her dining exploits (and—fair warning—her Weimaraner’s misadventures) on Instagram @stef_barna.

Stratton Lawrence contributed to this guide.

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