If there’s something that Charleston is not short of, it’s good eats, good drinks, and good times. The plethora of drinking holes around the city confirms this.
When the sun sets on Charleston, you’ll find no shortage of nightlife activities. From classic dive bars filled with greasy food and jukeboxes to high-end cocktail clubs serving up signature drinks created by master mixologists, there’s a little something for everyone here. The trick is finding the perfect spot to enjoy your libations.
As you prepare for a night out, the last thing that you want to do is spend hours researching the hotspots. That’s why we’ve put together a handy little guide outlining Charleston’s top bars. Here are our favorite nighttime locales in Charleston.
The Cocktail Club
The Cocktail Club is a local go-to for unmatched cocktails created by talented mixologists.
Located on King Street in a building from 1881, The Cocktail Club has fully embraced the historical ambiance by using reclaimed wood for the bar and allowing original features, like wood beams, to enhance the atmosphere.
The Cocktail Club offers a variety of sitting areas, like multiple lounges, a rooftop terrace with a garden from which they’ll often harvest cocktail garnishes, and other outdoor seating areas. Certain evenings, you can enjoy live music, and the entire venue is set up to encourage good conversation, so you might just make a new friend or two as you sip on your delicious libation.
A venture by Steve Palmer’s The Indigo Road Hospitality Group, The Cocktail Club opened in 2011 as a place for Charlestonians to enjoy craft cocktails. They use house-infused liquors, garnishes from their own garden, and farm-to-shaker juices for a cocktail experience that you can’t find anywhere else.
This makes The Cocktail Club ideal for those who are a bit picky when it comes to their favorite cocktail or those who don’t know what they want; the talented mixologists here have a special knack for whipping up something customized to the customer.
The Cocktail Club isn’t a place to shy away from new experiences. “Our server was amazing,” said one reviewer. “She showed us the light when she brought tequila shots with orange slices instead of limes.” Another reviewer said, “The Cocktail Club is as good as it gets in Charleston.”
The punch bowls are a menu item that pop up again and again in conversations surrounding The Cocktail Club. Serving 4 – 6 guests, these massive bowls are perfect for small groups looking to have a little fun. On Sundays, these punch bowls are half off, bringing the price from $50 – $60 to $25 – $30, making The Cocktail Club a common Sunday afternoon hangout.
The double standard is another regular favorite. Featuring house-infused gin and cucumber vodka, this blended drink offers further splashes of ginger, cilantro, and celery bitters for a fresh cocktail perfectly designed to beat the summer heat.
This is a place where you can also feel free to go off-menu. If you’re a bit of a liquor newbie, this is not a place where you’ll be judged. The staff will be happy to answer any questions, and they may just whip you up something special based on your tastes.
“A fine place to drink.” This simple tagline perfectly encapsulates the vibe that you’ll feel at The Belmont.
Boasting a sophisticated atmosphere, this is the perfect spot to grab a couple of cocktails after work or enjoy a cheese board with some friends.
The Belmont limits seating to only 40 patrons at a time in order to avoid crowding and encourage the feeling of exclusivity. They don’t take reservations, so if you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday night, you might want to arrive early to guarantee a seat.
Owner Mickey Moran opened The Belmont on King Street in 2010. Intended as a place for cozy conversation and great cocktails, he’s crafted an intimate watering hole known for its vintage vibes. With classic black-and-white films playing in the background and bartenders who are happy to have a chat and talk about the menu, The Belmont may make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Lovers of The Belmont rave about its ambiance. “Twice the atmosphere and none of the attitude that you find along the rest of King Street,” one reviewer said. “Every bartender takes the time to ensure that each cocktail is beautifully crafted to delight both sight and taste.” If you’re looking for a welcoming bar with amazing offerings, then The Belmont is where you want to go.
When you ask for the best offerings at a bar, you might be a bit shocked when someone responds with, “Try the pop-tart!” But, at The Belmont, this is the must-have menu item. Their housemade pop-tarts are a local favorite, and you won’t find the like anywhere else.
As for cocktails, talk to the bartender! The Belmont is known for its friendly staff, so you should feel free to ask any questions and gain some recommendations.
The Gin Joint
Whether or not you love gin, you’ll love The Gin Joint.
Even proud liquor connoisseurs may find themselves surprised at certain ingredients found on the menu. Items like pickled watermelon rind, violent CO2, and clarified milk may cause you to pause. The Gin Joint isn’t a place to come to if you don’t like to try new things; the menu is bold, and you should be, too.
Not all of their cocktails feature gin. You’ll find plenty of flavors on their rotating menu, which changes each season. This ensures that the flavors will always be fresh, and the cocktails you choose will always reflect the season.
If you’re not into liquor, they also have a small selection of wine and beer.
But, don’t just take our word for it. The Gin Joint was voted Best Cocktails in Charleston in 2021 by the Charleston City Paper.
The Gin Joint also offers options to allow you to enjoy their drink selection at home. They offer a number of cocktail mix kits so that you can mix your own Gin Joint drinks. You can even order online, allowing you to enjoy The Gin Joint without leaving your home.
Don’t let the menu at The Gin Joint intimidate you. “The staff and bartenders were very attentive and helped pick out the perfect drink based on preferred taste profile,” said one reviewer. The folks at The Gin Joint are known for their friendliness, helpfulness, and knowledge of the rotating cocktail menu. “So swag without the price tag,” another reviewer said.
Featuring a rotating menu, The Gin Joint offers a bit of a different experience every time you go. One item that remains steady is The Bartender’s Choice. A favorite among liquor newbies and experts alike, this cocktail is created after you provide two descriptors, and the bartender creates a unique beverage based on your two words.
Perhaps surprisingly, another menu item patrons rave about is the housemade jerky. Perfect as a small snack to enjoy with your cocktail, even those who aren’t keen on jerky have found this to be one of their favorite menu items.
The Royal American, opened in 2011 by John Kenney and Karalee Fallert, perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a dive joint.
Located in a 1950s-era building that previously housed the Ole Charleston Forge, you can feel the building’s history as you enjoy a pitcher of beer with friends in the dark interior. Boasting an underground feel, the vintage decoration and original accents will take you back in time. Or, enjoy their outdoor seating, which captures the old-school feel of the interior with worn wooden tables and rustic lighting.
With live music offerings, darts, a vintage jukebox, and other features that you’d expect from a good ol’ American dive bar, this is a place where you’ll feel like a local. Enjoy their delicious American fare, from amazing burgers to chili dogs and housemade jerky.
Rated as Business Insider’s Best Bar in South Carolina in 2016, The Royal American isn’t just a regular dive bar. Offering cheap beer and minimal music cover charges, they’ve cultivated the perfect dive bar experience, from the inexpensive menu items to the laid-back feel of a locals’ bar. They’ve proven that the key to a bar isn’t in just its selection but in the entire experience.
Whether you need the hair of the dog after a wild night out, some good American food, or just a place to chill with a local beer, this is the place where you need to go. Reviewer Rachel Christine offers the perfect description: “Just get a beer and enjoy the vibe. Do not come with expectations. This is one of the best-hidden gem bars in all of my travels.”
If you’re looking for a little kick to go along with your beer, try their housemade cinnamon whiskey, similar to Fireball, but with that extra kick that only housemade items can boast.
Beyond libations, their burgers are like nothing else. It’s quite the feat to boast one of the best burgers in the States, but The Royal American has done it.
Edmund’s Oast, combined brewery and restaurant, offers seasonal dishes and other delights that propels it to the position of one of the best bars in Charleston. “This place is so good that during our week-long trip to Charleston, we came here twice!” said one reviewer.
Head chef, Bob Cook, boasts over 20 years in the industry, 14 of which he has enjoyed here in Charleston. His extensive knowledge lends itself greatly to the menu, which has been expertly paired with the proper libation for a full culinary experience.
While most other breweries cultivate a more laid-back atmosphere, offering pizza or other pub grub alongside their brews, Edmund’s Oast pairs seasonal dishes with their beers, all inspired by their beverage list. Here, you don’t just want to order a beer flight; talk with your server about the food and beverage pairings instead.
For those who enjoy cooking, you can grab a seat at the chef’s counter to watch the magic happen. Or, enjoy a drink on their patio.
Located in a former hardware store, Edmund’s Oast expertly blends chill, after-work beer vibes with the luxury of fine dining, creating an atmosphere that you won’t find elsewhere.
Beer lovers will have a lot of fun exploring the brewery menu. For those who don’t know much about beer, talk to your server about your options and which beverage you should pair with your meal.
Opening its doors in 2012, Proof is one of King Street’s favorites for signature and classic cocktails. Reviewer Tim said, “Best Charleston craft cocktail bar! This place is a must-go-to if you care about the quality of your drinks.”
Owner Craig Nelson is also one of the bartenders here. He has brought his extensive knowledge of the bartending craft, creating the perfect escape for those who adore the taste and culture of liquor.
A small venue, when you step inside of Proof, you’ll get the feeling of a tasting room. And that’s really what you can expect here. Come to Proof if you want to have a full cocktail experience with fine liquors; you won’t get a shot of Fireball here.
But, you don’t have to be a liquor pro to enjoy your time at Proof. The knowledgeable staff can help you find the perfect cocktail to suit your tastes, and the bartenders may even mix you a drink off-menu.
If you’re one to appreciate the details, then you’ll appreciate Proof. One reviewer described the atmosphere: “They wear the old bartender aprons with tools. They round the ice for scotch. Their shelf consists of Tanqueray, Beefeater, and Absolute. No Gordon’s or any other cheap brand.”
The key to ordering at Proof is to try something new. They have plenty of signature drink options, and the helpful staff will help you navigate the menu and find something that you love.
If you’re looking for an English-style pub reminiscent of the colonial days, then The Griffon is a must. Consistently voted as one of the best bars in Charleston, The Griffon offers British and American fare served in a classic pub setting.
Its no-nonsense attitude is clear from the decorations on the wall as well as their signage. You’ll see posts like, “Don’t be a dick,” or “Closed for the damn storm,” on their walls and posted outside of their establishment, showing that authenticity is encouraged at The Griffon; you won’t see many frills or fakeness.
One of their most famous points of interest is the dollar bills you’ll see stapled to the walls. Patrons are encouraged to write messages on dollar bills and leave them on the wall as a sort of way of saying, “I was here.” These dollar bills don’t always serve solely as decoration. During the pandemic, The Griffon, like many other establishments, sadly had to furlough some of their employees. To help ease the financial difficulties of furloughed staff, Griffon owner Dan Wenz removed the dollar bills from one portion of the wall. This is one way that The Griffon shows itself to be an establishment that cares for both its staff and its patrons.
The Griffon is one of those places that you go to for the atmosphere, but you’ll return again and again for the good vibes and care of the staff. “The best was the down-home hospitality,” one reviewer raved. Another said, “This bar has a homey-type feel about it without being flashy and trying to be something they’re not.”
If you want to grab a bite and a beer in a place where you’ll feel at home, then The Griffon is where you want to head.
A British staple, the fish ‘n’ chips is one dish that people rave about again and again. For a classic fried dish that’s out of this world, head to The Griffon.
The Recovery Room
When you go to The Recovery Room’s website, you’ll get a nice feel of what you can expect at one of Charleston’s favorite dive bars. A one-page site, it takes on the aesthetic of an old dive bar menu. The site needs nothing more than that. The Recovery Room is what it is: a great place to grab some cheap beer and greasy dishes.
Offering a number of quintessential bar games, like pinball, darts, pool, and foosball, The Recovery Room is a great place to head to after work, on a Friday night, or on a Sunday morning when you need to kill a hangover.
Stay in the dimly lit interior for some classic dive bar vibes, or head to their outdoor patio for some sunshine.
When you’re looking for a good dive bar, you want to find that place “where everybody knows your name.” You’ll find that here. “Bartender Ian ensured that newcomers felt welcome for sure. He pours a nice drink, and the beer is cold. The other patrons were very friendly, too,” said one visitor. “Only in town for the night and stopped here for a much-needed drink. Glad I did because I had a great time and met some new friends,” said another.
This is what’s unique about The Recovery Room: it perfectly exemplifies a locals’ bar while still welcoming newcomers. Too often, locals’ bars are unfriendly to visitors. Gatekeeping locals want to keep new visitors to a minimum, creating a bit of an unfriendly feeling. You won’t find this here. The staff and regulars work hard to make everyone feel welcome, and you just might leave with a few new friends.
Sometimes, the atmosphere makes the beer. Don’t let your fastidiousness keep you from a good time. You’ve gotta order a PBR at the #1 seller of PBR cans in the world.
The bar scene in Charleston is not one to be missed. Featuring cocktails, beers, and meals that you can’t find anywhere else, it’s a foodie’s dream. Whether you’re looking for live music and a laid-back atmosphere or high-end cocktails in a salon-type setting, there’s a little something for everyone when the sun goes down in Charleston.