Charleston is a social city. Rare is there a night where the bars are not filled with imbibers who are buckled up to the bar, ready to enjoy a nice evening filled with some tasty cocktails. Just as the city is home to some of the country’s best restaurants, it, too, has its fill of amazing, top-rated bars and bartenders. For those unsure of where to go, we have selected the must-drink cocktails found in the city right now:
The Ancho Maria at Crave
Everyone loves a good Bloody Mary, especially during brunch or a lunch out. Lucky for us, long-time Charleston veteran John Aquino has recently launched a delicious Bloody Mary mix, the Natural Blonde Bloody Mary Mix, which includes unique farm-to-table ingredients, is chemical and preservative free, and low in calories sugar, carbs, and sodium. Crave Kitchen & Cocktails in Mt. Pleasant has one of the best Bloody Mary’s using the mix as a base. The Ancho Maria features Ancho Reyes Liqueur and Dixie Black Pepper Vodka. Bartender Michael Fitzgerald adds his handmade hot sauce with achiote and chipotle peppers, along with tinctures including caraway seed, celery seed, fennel seed, and porcini mushroom. The glass is rimmed with ancho salt and flanked with cilantro.
Brown Derby at The Belmont
A bartender’s bar, owner Mickey Moran has created a place that people flock to for good drinks. The only thing required is patience, as the bar tends to stay busy and drinks often take some time to prepare. It is worth the wait. It’s hard to pick one drink, but the Brown Derby is a tasty bourbon cocktail with grapefruit and jalapeno-infused honey.
The CBWS’s Punch or Vish’s Twang at The Bar at Husk
The Bar at Husk is a must-go-to place in Charleston. A tiny brick house located next to the award-winning restaurant, the bar only features a dozen or so seats downstairs, and then has a second-floor lounge that is a great place to drink somewhat anonymously. The bar staff are all well-seasoned professionals, including Roderick “Weaver,” who is touted as one of the best in the country. We could not pick one drink, so have two to recommend. First the Charleston Brown Water Society (CBWS)’s Punch is a great, one-of-a-kind punch. Created in honor of the local social club that celebrates all things brown water, it features bourbon, Barbados Rum, citrus, honey, and Raw Sugar simple syrup. The other drink is the Vish’s Twang, named after the beloved southern chef Vish Bhatt, and includes a Ritterhouse Rye, tamarind tea, espelette, palm sugar simple syrup, and mint.
Daisy Cutter at FIG
People have been known to wait more than an hour in line to score the first spots at the bar when FIG opens nightly. It’s no wonder, either, considering the talents of Andrew King, who has been there for over eight years. The menu changes often and you cannot go wrong with any order, but we recommend starting with the Kir Revision: a refreshing gin drink with zucca, prosecco, and lemon, and then carrying on with the Tin Lizzy: a drink for all rum lovers with Mount Gay, Goslings, dry curaçao, amaro nonino, lemon, and orange bitters.
Disco Sour at 492
All the buzz right now is about 492, one of the newest restaurants to open on the bustling Upper King Street. Megan Deschaine is a whiz behind the bar and is getting lots of attention for the Disco Sour. A drink that features pisco, velvet falernum, lemon, and butterfly pea flower, the drink changes colors as the ice melts, making for a fun and tasty way to enjoy it.
The Double Standard at The Cocktail Club
Inside this cozy, tucked away bar above The Macintosh, the bar team creates some amazing, inventive drinks. The menu changes seasonally but one drink that has never left the menu is The Double Standard. The bar’s most popular drink, they sell an average of 350 of them every week. Nice and refreshing, the drink features Serrano-infused gin, cucumber vodka, ginger, cilantro, and celery bitters.
El Satanico at Minero
Chef Sean Brock’s new Mexican-inspired eatery has one of the best frozen cocktails found anywhere. Beverage manager Cappie Peete worked hard to develop a menu that features an extensive tequila and mescal selection, and the cocktails are inspired by the flavors of Mexico, similar to the food. The El Satanico goes down smooth and features blanco tequila, yellow chartreuse, pineapple vinegar, and tepache. Be prepared to want more than one, but be careful, as drinking a few in one seating might have you set for the night.
The Entire Genuine O.G. Menu at The Gin Joint
Even though the menu at The Gin Joint changes often, they keep a section entitled “Genuine O.G.” which includes those drinks that they are always asked to make. The Gin Basil Smash is the most popular of the group and features Boodles Gin, muddled basil, lemon, and sugar. Be sure to ask for a drink featuring one of the owner’s two beverage lines, Bittermilk and Tippleman’s, which are both available for sale to take home to make your own craft cocktails.
Gamechanger at Home Team BBQ
A trip to Home Team BBQ is not complete without ordering a frozen Gamechanger. The drink was created after the popular barbecue joint opened a second location at the beach and wanted to offer something to help beat the heat. Last year, the restaurant collaborated with King of Pops to make it into a frozen ice pop. During a busy weekend on a hot summer day, they’ve sold over 1,000 of them to thirsty patrons.
Knuckleball at Proof
It is hard to choose just one cocktail at a place like Proof; that’s because owner and bartender Craig Nelson is a mastermind behind the bar. Always on the hunt to discover something tasty and new, the menu is one of the best in the city, and perhaps even the country. If you’re only able to drink one, order the Knuckleball. Featuring Old Grand Dad 114, it is paired with a Mexican Coke reduction, orange bitters, and topped with pickled boiled peanuts. What could be more southern than that?
Moscow Mule at Rarebit
Sure, there are plenty of places to drink a Moscow Mule, but Rarebit owner and bartender Brent Sweatman has figured out how to master it. The key, we believe, is Sweatman’s homemade ginger beer, which is mixed with vodka and limeade. Served in a traditional Moscow Mule mug, the gold plated cups seem to be hot commodities and are stolen nightly.
The Red Wedding at Edmund’s Oast
As soon as the doors opened at Edmund’s Oast, The Red Wedding became an instant hit. Eater Young Gun Jayce McConnell brought this signature cocktail to the beer-centric hot spot and customers could not get enough. The drink has Elijah Craig 12 Year along with amaro averna, and orange peel, with hibiscus and thyme sweet tea ice cubes. Be prepared to become an addict.