Charleston, the history-filled city in South Carolina where we photographed our summer Open Kitchen dinner party, is suddenly buzzing with a new excitement.
“What’s happening here is that an amazing, vibrant creative community is contributing a great deal to a place that already had a interesting heritage of it’s own,” says Ben Towill, our generous Charleston host who moved down South from New York City a year ago. Here, Towill, his fiancée Kate Dougherty, and their Charleston friends share insider secrets for where to eat, drink, shop and visit in this celebrated city.
“The Commons shop stocks elegant home goods for the table, and so much more. The owner, Erin, is a dear friend of ours and has the most beautiful taste.”
“Coffee & pastries in the morning, wine & sherry in the afternoon… What more could you ask for? St. Alban is a little café is always a destination for us, no matter the hour. Their food is delish and have also just started dinner… now we can be there all hours of the day.”
“Charleston has so many quaint old alleys. Chez Nous restaurant is down one of the more hidden ones in the city in a great young neighborhood. It serves simple, seasonal meals that make you feel like you’re in the French countryside.”
“Fast & French on Broad Street is one of Charleston’s older restaurants, and they have the best coffee. The style of dining is very Parisian and the food is light, simple, and French. It’s romantic and casual at the same time.”
“The Charleston Museum is America’s first museum. It’s been moved many times but he current location is filled with interesting artifacts from the history of South Carolina. Additionally, they have the entry into a few preserved historic homes as part of the ticket admission- making your visit there well worth it.”
“The Obstinate Daughter is located on Sullivan’s Island nearby, and is well worth the 20 minute drive. The food is fresh and well paired, in a beautifully renovated beach house right near the water. Under the house and same ownership is Beardcat’s sweet shop- amazing handmade gelato and ice cream sandwiches.”
“Indigo and Cotton is a beautifully curated men’s shop right down the street from my office. It’s a men’s shop but I have no trouble finding things for myself as well.”
“The Marina Variety Store is the perfect place to meet up for breakfast before work. The old school diner with illustrated paper place mats is situated right on the Ashley River. Most of the staff and patrons look like they’ve been coming there for more than 20 years.”
“I love posting up in the window of Bin 152 with wine and cheese. It’s a charming and cozy spot that transports you straight to France.”
“The Belmont is hands-down my favorite bar in Charleston. The Bells of Jalisco is the best cocktail I’ve ever tasted and the atmosphere is consistent and classic.”
“There’s nothing better than a midday treat-break in Sugar Bakeshop’s courtyard —you can’t go wrong with any of it, but their ginger-molasses cookies and caramel cupcakes are pretty special.”
“There is a sneaky little cafe at the beginning of its existence called Persimmon Café. They opened about one year ago inside a small corner of the College Laundry Mat on Calhoun Street and they make the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Plus, things like their Vanilla Lemonade, and gluten-free cookies are constantly surprising me.”
“The old City Lights Coffee Shop on Market Street has so much soul. Its different than any other coffee shop downtown Charleston in that it has a walk-up bar, much like you would find in Italy.”
Don’t leave Charleston without a trip to one of its amazing beaches. Sullivan’s Island is about ten minutes from downtown Charleston. It’s one of those ‘well-heeled’ beach communities with a number of really, really good restaurants. Check out Poe’s Tavern if you’re coming straight off the beach, or The Obstinate Daughter for fancier fare.
One last recommendation is Zero George, a super cool boutique hotel that is also a great spot for pre-dinner drinks. Set in an enclave of old Charleston buildings, you can sit on a beautiful porch and feel like a local.
If you’re looking for the best place to primp, go to SWISH hair salon in the Old Village in Mount Pleasant and ask for Justin. After your hair is sitting pretty you can head next door to Out of Hand—it is the most amazing store, selling everything from beautiful cowboy boots to orange trees. I just love it!
Coffee is gold, and Black Tap is a simple but serene spot for lovely coffee. They recently opened their own roastery about 10 minutes away, creating an even more local experience for us coffee lovers of the city.
Charleston boasts great shopping and restaurants but it is also home to a booming comedy scene. Theatre 99 is a hidden gem downtown that has improv comedy four nights a week. I am always surprised by how many locals discover the theatre and are shocked that it has been here for over a decade. The bar serves local brews and Charleston artists’ work fill the walls. It is not uncommon to catch great local comedians or headliners from New York, Chicago, and LA. It is my favorite way to start a night out!
Cheese is pretty much one of my reasons for living. Goat. Sheep. Cow. is a beautiful shop in historic downtown Charleston with an incredible selection of cheeses, wines and charcuterie from around the world perfect for creating a picnic to accompany an evening bike ride around the French Quarter and South of Broad.
Xiao Bao Biscuit, or XBB, is one of my favorite restaurants in Charleston. It’s soulful Asian cuisine with a contemporary twist and the building itself is a beautifully renovated filling station. The Okonomiyaki is my favorite dish. Get it fully loaded with the bacon, pork candy and farm fresh fried egg on top—trust me on this.
Redux Contemporary Art Center is another one of Charleston’s gems. In addition to the well-curated visual arts shows, they put on great concert series, showcasing some wonderful bands and musicians from Charleston and around the world.