I was recently on a road trip and made a pit stop in Charleston, S.C. I was on vacation and had no intention of tasting cocktails (that’s what I do for my day job), but the restaurant I chose for dinner, FIG, has incredible drinks. And I recognized the bar manager, Brooks Reitz, who I’d met a couple times before at events like Tales of the Cocktail. After a fantastic meal and a few tipples, he sent me off with the names of establishments I needed to check out in town. Here are some of the places I visited that night.
Set inside one of Charleston’s many incredible historic buildings is the acclaimed restaurant Husk. And next door is its beautifully restored bar with a stunning collection of more than 50 bourbons and a selection of delicious Madeiras. The elixirs are split into four groups: historic, modern, punches and (of course) whiskey-based. This is the type of spot you can get lost in for hours.
What to Drink: Nueva-Cane (10 Cane Rum, coconut water, cane sugar, cream, coconut-oolong tea tincture, lime, salted kumquat)
I couldn’t just walk past Bin 152 and not stop to try some cheese, fresh-baked bread, wine and charcuterie. You could easily mistake the charmingly rustic atmosphere here for the French countryside. There are more than 30 vinos by the glass and more than 100 by the bottle, not to mention 35 different varieties of cheese.
What to Drink: Wine
While the drinks are serious, the mood at this stylish watering hole is fun and approachable. Jasmine Beck and her team make all the classics, but I suggest you order something that incorporates a house-made infusion or complex syrup instead.
What to Drink: Married to a Mixologist (Poema Cava, spiced beet maple syrup, Cointreau, lemon juice)
The James Beard Award-winning FIG (pictured above) was the perfect start to my evening. Its mixologist, Brooks Reitz, is quite talented and has put together an impressive cocktail list, including nine twists on the Negroni, a build-your-own Manhattan section and original concoctions.
At The Gin Joint, I learned that Jerry Thomas, our bartending forefather, had roots in Charleston. The establishment has taken this to heart and has done a great job of capturing the essence of cocktail culture throughout the ages. The thorough menu features standards such as fizzes, swizzles, daisies, sours, slings, smashes, coolers and “fancy cocktails,” and there’s always a punch of the week. If you only have time for a single stop, this should be it.
What to Drink: The Original New Orleans Fizz (Plymouth Gin, lemon, lime, orange flower water, egg white, cream)
Named for its tiny size, the dimly lit and inviting Squeeze offers an excellent range of libations, including fresh-fruit creations, Martinis and after-dinner dessert cocktails, plus beer and wine. Show up early so you won’t have to shoehorn your way inside.
What to Drink: Blue Kentucky (Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon, blueberries, basil, agave nectar, club soda)
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.
Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and director of trade outreach and brand education for Pernod Ricard USA. He is also a Liquor.com advisor .