With its cobblestone streets, colorful homes, endless historic sites, contemporary art galleries, and picturesque waterfronts, Charleston has plenty to offer visitors during the day. But between its award-winning restaurants and bars, large student population, and moderate climate, the city also has a thriving nightlife. While Charleston's party scene is tamer than that of its sister city Savannah (sorry, no open containers here), it has a bit of everything: elegant hotel bars, beer emporiums, dive bars with live music, and nightclubs with house DJs.
Charleston's restaurants—which range from relaxed barbecue joints to fine dining—are top-notch, and its bar scene is no different. Whether you're craving bourbon, gin, local beer, or craft cocktails the options are varied, prevalent, and open late. From happy hour to last call, these are some of Charleston's go-to bars:
- The Bar at Husk: Can't score reservations at the much-lauded Husk? Belly up to the restaurant's downstairs bar, which boasts a large bourbon collection, craft cocktails, and one of the city's best burgers.
- The Gin Joint: This East Bay Street hangout is popular with visitors and residents alike for its speakeasy vibe, weekday $5 happy hours, and eclectic small bites menu. Feeling like branching out from your go-to drink? Try the bartender's choice. Choose from words like "bitter" or "refreshing," and the bartender will make a drink made especially for you.
- The Living Room at the Dewberry: From the midcentury decor and elegant brass bar to the extensive reading room and top-notch drinks, The Living Room at the Dewberry is one of the best places in the city for a nightcap.
- Proof: Escape the chaos of King Street with a drink at this intimate watering hole. Choose from a list of classic cocktails like the French 75 or Sazerac as well as an extensive list of wines and craft beers.
- Closed for Business: With over 42 beers on tap—many of them from local breweries—you'll never go thirsty at this popular King Street beer emporium. While you can't try them all in one sitting, the tasting flights are a great option for sampling a variety of domestic and foreign draughts.
- The Cocktail Club: Hidden away on top of the Macintosh in the heart of King Street, the interior of this bar has a sophisticated, throwback vibe, while the rooftop and its gardens provide stellar views of the city as well as ingredients for the Club's house-made syrups and garnishes. In addition to live music, the bar also hosts a variety of special events, like Wednesday's Bourbon Happy Hour, with $5 select bourbons and ryes from 5 to 8 p.m.
- Rooftop Bar at The Vendue: For harbor views, live music, small bites, and great drinks in a refined by relaxed setting, this bar can't be beat.
From gay-friendly nightclubs with drag performances and live music to sleek clubs with dance floors and live DJs, Charleston's night time scene offers something for everyone.
- Cure Night Club: One the city's oldest nightclubs is known for being LGBTQ+ friendly. It's also known for its weekend drag shows, large dance floor, and bottle service—an essential when drinking with a crowd.
- Deco Nightclub: This downtown club boasts the city's largest dance floor (5,000 square feet), plus live music from DJs, prime tables for large groups, and VIP bottle service.
- Mynt: Located in downtown, this sophisticated club offers plenty of dance space—including on the sought-after patio—Tuesday karaoke nights, $1 drink Thursdays, and resident DJs spinning everything from Top 40 to house music on the weekends.
Charleston is home to several nationally-known bands, so it's no surprise there are plenty of spots to hear great live music. From dive bars to vintage jazz clubs to big-seat performing halls, here are some of the best options for hearing a range of music after dark.
- Royal American: Come for the multiple patios and cheap live music—home-grown band Susto plays here regularly—and stay for the 32-ounce punch bowls and excellent pub fare like house-made beef jerky and wings in this spot in the Ole Charleston Forge building.
- Music Farm: Located in an old train shed off King Street, this music venue and event facility hosts over 200 annual performances ranging from bluegrass to hip hop to alternative rock.
- Charleston Pour House: This James Island tavern is the place to catch up-and-coming acts like Lucero and Durand Jones. Pro tip: Come early to eat at Kwei Fei, the celebrated Sichuan restaurant next door.
- The Commodore: A vintage jazz club on the Eastside, the Commodore hosts live music up to five nights a week with performances from house bands as well as regional and national funk, blues, and jazz artists.
- Charleston Music Hall: This traditional concert hall on John Street hosts touring jazz, symphony, and opera performances as well as popular acts like St. Paul and The Broken Bones and Indigo Girls.
- Southeastern Wildlife Expo More than 40,000 attendees flocks to this three-day event in February, which features sporting and food demonstrations, conversation education, lectures, fine art, and other activities dedicated to nature and wildlife.
- Charleston Wine + Food: This March event is one of the South's biggest and best food festivals with food and drink tasting tents, chef demonstrations, intimate dinner parties, classes on wine, food trends, and more.
- High Water Fest: Curated by local band Shovels & Rope, this two-day musical event at Riverfront Park in North Charleston features live performances from the likes of Leon Bridges, Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, and Wilco as well as up-and-coming artists. There are also food tents and an extensive artist market.
- Spoleto Festival US/Piccolo Spoleto: Founded in 1977 by composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Spoleto is the city's largest and most popular annual event. Running from Memorial Day weekend through early June, Spoleto includes over 150 performances including dance, opera, theater, and jazz in venues throughout the city. Its companion festival, Piccolo Spoleto, features free and low-cost offerings from local and regional artists.
Tips for Going Out in Charleston
- Plan your transportation in advance. Taxis and public transportation are scarce in Charleston, so plan on walking or using a ride-hailing service like Lyft or Uber to reach your destination after hours.
- Prepare to wrap up 2 a.m., which is last call.
- Unlike New Orleans and Savannah, open containers are strictly prohibited in Charleston.
- Be aware of your surroundings. While the Historic District and other heavily-trafficked tourist areas are generally safe, be mindful when walking alone or even with a group in unfamiliar areas at night.
- Plan ahead. For bars and clubs that don't take reservations, get there early. For those that do, make reservations for large parties or special occasions.