If the phrase “Southern hospitality” brings to mind images of elegant belles and sweet tea, think again: In Charleston, a vibrant creative community is ushering in a new interpretation of the old idea. This new brand of hospitality combines the warm and welcoming spirit of classic Southern hospitality with the unfussy and unconventional contemporary takes on entertaining.
“When we lived in New York City, our kitchen was the size of a cupboard, so we designed our Charleston home with entertaining in mind,” says chef and restaurateur Ben Towill. “It has a big open kitchen and there’s nothing better than having friends over to cook, drink and dance together.”
For Kerry Dawson, another new Charleston resident who was born in Ireland, moving to the South felt like coming home. “I’ve moved more than eight times in my adult life, people are always asking which has been my favorite place and I’ve never quite had an answer – until now.”
Here’s how these new Southerners throw a party that’s rooted in tradition but still unmistakably modern.
“We have a trunk that doubles as our coffee table, and it’s filled with costumes,” says Kate Dougherty, a designer and Towill’s fiancée. “When the booze has been flowing after dinner, Ben is usually he first to pull out some sort of crazy costume and it just goes from there. It’s the best! Everyone acts exactly how they want to when they’re in costume.”
“Music is always playing throughout the house,” says Dawson. “One of our party favorites is 80’s pop radio on Pandora—trust me everyone loves it.”
“In this way, Southern hospitality reminds me a lot of Irish,” says Dawson. “Good people, a wet glass and always, always an open door.” Dawson puts her Scottich-born husband Scott in charge of the liquor, but the Southern influence shows there, too—a substantial whiskey collection has expanded to include bourbons such as Breckenridge and Bulleit. “Sometimes the after-dinner drinks can be the most memorable part of a dinner party,” notes Dougherty.
“No matter how big or fancy the home is, people always seem to spend the most time in the kitchen,” observes Towill. So, when it comes to entertaining, keep the kitchen door open as well, and make cooking part of the fun.
“I adore my huge red Le Creuset pot because my mum, my sister, my aunts and my cousins all have the same pot,” says Dawson. “I can make a Guinness stew or a chili with all the sides and trimmings and it’s easy to lay out on the island and our guests can help themselves. Good food with no fuss—oh, if only pots could talk.”
“I get really well organized before the party,” says Dawson. “ I want to have as little to do as possible when our guests are here – I want to enjoy their company, isn’t that the whole point?”