CRITICS' PICKS ‌ Drinking 

click to enlarge Best Drinker Swindle: - Free Pour
  • Best Drinker Swindle: Free Pour

Best New Coffee Shop
Kudu Coffee House
4 Vanderhorst St. Downtown 853-7186
Coffee's origins have been traced to ninth-century Ethiopia. No visit to this East African nation is complete without partaking in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, enjoying what many describe as the strongest beans around. If you don't have the fat wallet to finance a transcontinental java journey, get on over to 4 Vanderhorst St. One sip of Kudu Coffee's multiple African blends and you'll be singing "Hakuna Matata" for the rest of the day. The interior is vintage safari, but the vibe is far from an adrenaline-charged hunt. They've got excellent WiFi access, and welcome the idle ... to chill and kill time. --Kinsey Labberton

Best New Bar Trend
Nonsmoking Bars
A new poll taken by the SC Tobacco Collaborative found that 81 percent of Charleston residents believe that the right of customers and employees to breathe clean air is more important than the right of smokers to smoke in restaurants. A handful of local bars agree, making "no smoking" the biggest trend in drinking since the cosmopolitan. Newer watering holes like Raval, J. Paul'z, and West Ashley Bait & Tackle are jumping on the bandwagon and telling smokers to take it outside. That's cool with us, because when we bring our kids out boozing with us, we don't want them inhaling second-hand smoke. —Anna Claire Hodge

Best Trend We'd Like to See More Of
Bars Without TVs
Granted, the nature of some joints demands lots of television sets. These are called "sports bars." But those aside, most watering holes are primarily places for people-watching and conversation, and nothing is more inimical to either of those pursuits than a television -- to say nothing of several dozen televisions, occupying every nook and cranny and inch of wall space, which is the direction more and more bars seem to be going lately. Nothing kills conversation like having to alternate your attention between a friend and whatever insulting television pap (and what isn't, these days?) is flashing at you from every possible sightline. If there's one thing we need more than bars without cigarettes, it's bars without boob tubes. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Reason to Fall Off the Wagon
Free Pour
Well, it started off a little shaky, with a surprising number of bartenders and bar owners who had only worked with minibottles keeping drink prices the same, but with about half the boozy bang for your buck. Now that a few months have passed, many places in the tri-county area have finally wised up, refining mixed drink lists and prices to better suit the bourbon (or gin, or vodka, or Jager) lover. Finally! All those years of making nice with (read: banging) the bartenders pay off! (Of course, this only applies to fans of mixed drinks -- tell 'em about the shot-splitting bullshit, Schlau!) --Sara Miller

Best Drinker Swindle
Free Pour
Most of South Carolina's traditions are better left unpracticed, but one we always enjoy (sometimes more than we should) is splitting shots of liquor with friends. So when those with a love of strong drink voted to allow bars to choose between free pour and mini-bottles, the CP and our drinking buddies thought the transition heralded the coming of heaven on earth. But the owner of one of our favorite bars, which will go unnamed (you know who you are), denies the bartenders the freedom to split their new 1.5 oz. free pour shots. Needless to say, we no longer go there almost every night. Now it's just a couple nights a week, and the occasional happy hour. Sadly, this is not the only nonsplitting free pour bar either. Please stop this madness. --Benjamin Schlau

Best Transaction Policy
Dunleavy's Pub
2213-B Middle St. Sullivan's Island 883-9646
This Irish-style tavern at the east end of the action on Sullivan's Island's busy bar district keeps it real ... real convenient for the drinker with a wallet full of bills and real inconvenient for the cashless youngsters. As the bar staff happily announces at the first sight of plastic, Dunleavy's forbids the use of digital financial transactions with a strict "No Credit Card Policy" (hence the ATM stationed at the front door). —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Waste of Money and Effort
Big Game Billfish Bar & Grill
100 Church St. Mt. Pleasant
The squeaky-clean, brand-new Big Game Billfish — located in the old Trawler building at the foot of the Shem Creek bridge — was a family-friendly addition to the Coleman Boulevard bar scene ... but not for long. After spending weeks and weeks last winter refurbishing the puddle-filled parking lot — the old lighthouse, the creekside deck, and the entire kitchen and dining room — the owners suddenly shut it down in Dec. '05 and announced plans to demolish the whole thing to make way for a new hotel complex. Arrrgggh... —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Empty Bar
The New Moulin Rouge
585 Rutledge Ave. Downtown 853-2570
Located at the corner of Race Street and Rutledge Avenue on the doorstep of a couple of neighborhoods, the old New Moulin Rouge used to be one of the few places whites and blacks would drink and socialize together on the peninsula. Of course, not wanting to let a good thing keep going, frat boys started to pack the joints on certain nights, probably hoping Otis Day and the Knights would be the house band. Regardless of the reason why NMR closed, one-fourth of the bar is up for sale (go figure), and let's all hope something good and funky goes on there again real soon. --Bill Davis

click to enlarge The Best Bar Staff at A.C.s, Charlestons Best Downtown and Late Night Bar with the Best Sunday Brunch and Cheap Beer Deal, celebrates with the champagne of beers
  • The Best Bar Staff at A.C.s, Charlestons Best Downtown and Late Night Bar with the Best Sunday Brunch and Cheap Beer Deal, celebrates with the champagne of beers

Best People-Watching Perch
Thoroughbred Club during Renaissance Weekend
205 Meeting St. Downtown 722-4900
This revamped hotel lobby bar still serves traditional afternoon tea from 2-4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but at sundown it reinvents itself into a swanky "see and be seen" spot. Cocktails, tapas, and desserts are served nightly until 11 p.m., providing plenty of reasons to stay and watch the people wander through the polished lobby... especially when Renaissance blows into town. --Ida Becker

Best Meat Market
Coast Restaurant
39-D John St. Downtown 722-8838
It's like a rave without the glowsticks. Sunday night at Coast is the sceniest scenester sensation since Ugg boots. The bold and the beautiful flock to the alley off John Street every Sabbath to guzzle deeply discounted (read: half-off) bottles of wine and rub against each other in rhythm to hip-hop/techno fusion beats. Every frat boy, sorostitute, and wannabe yuppie in Charleston will be there, why aren't you? If you want to literally press the flesh with tanned, pimped-out young bucks and broads this is your place. Or you can go just for the excellent fish tacos, it's your call. --Kinsey Labberton

Best Place to Get Soused By Yourself
A Sports Bar
We're not judging -- if you feel like tying one on all by your lonesome, that's your prerogative. But if you want to do it without looking like you're either a) working up the courage to take a swan dive off the Ravenel Bridge or b) there just to hit on the bartender, then your only option is a place with lots of TVs. You can play like you're just an unreconstructed sports nut. Hundreds of blaring televisions allow you to surreptitiously check out the eye candy in any direction. Pick up your phone once in a while and pretend to be taking a call. Gorge yourself on chicken wings and cheese fries. Drink lots of beer. And the best part: you can do it all while enjoying the cultural benefits of Skating With Celebrities, Fear Factor, American Idol, Desperate Housewives, etc. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Little Bar That Was
Charlie's Little Bar
141 East Bay St. Downtown 723-6242
Sure, it was rumored to be a den of drugs and money-laundering above a restaurant that never actually seemed to do any business (does anyone know anyone who ever ate a meal at Saracen?), and it was hard to find, smoky, full of slutty college chicks and horny frat guys, the bartenders played favorites with the beautiful people, the music was all over the map, and it was impossible to sit at any of the couches in the bar without worrying what that wet spot was. But Charlie's Little Bar had its downsides, too. We just can't remember any of them. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Bar to Take the "Best Friend"
Red's Ice House
98 Church St. Mt. Pleasant 388-0003
In 2004, Palmetto Paws and the Pet Helpers Adoption Shelter joined forces to launch one of the liveliest, shaggiest monthly happy hours in town — the dog-friendly "Yappy Hour" on the creekside deck at Red's Ice House. The monthly series really took off and continues to draw proud, local dog lovers and their best friends — usually a wide variety of hunting dogs, spaniels, toy poodles, and herders — from 5:30-8 p.m. on every second Wednesday of every month. Attendees make $5 donations to a rotation of local pet charities and for the adoptable animals at Pet Helpers. (Non-alcoholic) treats for the doggies are made available by Palmetto Paws. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Most Authentic Scottish Pub in Summerville
McNeill's Pub
10597 Dorchester Road Summerville 875-3500
Located at the far-west end of Dorchester Road, at the Limehouse Crossroads, the medium-sized UK-style tavern with an extraordinarily warm Scottish flair, quickly became a favorite among locals. The colorful pub décor and authentically Scottish antics of proprietor Herman "Heineken Skywalker" McNeill make for a bona fide UK-style bar atmosphere. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Venue to Catch the Proprietor on Stage
Oceansong Café
1400 Palm Blvd. Isle of Palms 886-0707
Affable pub owner Carroll Brown — a mustached fellow with a vast repertoire of folk, Irish, and country tunes — conducts several weekly theme nights with local guests, songwriter's showcases, and his own solo sets every week at this loungy, Irish-style pub "at the light" on the IOP. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Bar For a Good Ol' Boy Pickup Line on a Saturday NightT
Pickled Parrot Bar & Grill
8780 Rivers Ave. N. Charleston 377-1517
With weekly live rock bands and a hearty built-in crowd of regulars, the little neighborhood bar on upper Rivers Avenue gets rowdy enough on the weekends to lure in some of the most animated redneck Casanovas in town. Each seem slightly more determined (or full of liquid, malty courage) to embarrass themselves on and around the dance floor with lame pick-up lines and macho gestures — a phenomenon not uncommon across the entire bar scene. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Conversion
West Ashley Bait & Tackle
1117 Magnolia Road West Ashley 556-1828
Opened in the fall by co-owners Andrew Hollowell and Yates Dew (formerly of the Music Farm), this new neighborhood hangout really picks up where the old neighborhood hangout left off ... but with more live bluegrass throughout the week. Located near the corner of Magnolia Road and Highway 61, the building with the turquoise exterior is doing great — a feat that original owner, the late C.W. "Smitty" Smith, would have been proud of. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Industrial Neighborhood Bar With Naked Chicks
The Wild Joker
1337 King St. Downtown 722-9206
Hey pal, wanna hang with a few topless dancers and get wrecked on cheap draft beer in a lounge decorated in red paint and checkerboard? This uptown spot (just up the way from upper King Street) is now in its fourth decade of casual decadence and runs the least conventional happy hour north of Marion Square, replete with 75¢ Busch drafts and $3 well drinks, daily drink specials ... and five small VIP rooms. And they're always hiring "beautiful ladies!" —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Bar For Lonely Cowboys
Market Street Saloon
32-D N. Market St. Downtown 577-6665
Girls, trim, toned, and tan, midriffs bared, up dancing on the bar, beer, a steady mix of country rock with down-and-dirty rock 'n' roll, and rubbing shoulder to shoulder with a roomful of locals and tourists ready to party from now until last call. What? You need more than that? —Jason A. Zwiker

Best Place to Ride the Bull
The Plex
2390 W. Aviation Ave. N. Charleston 225-PLEX
The cavernous, cinder-block Rodeo Room at The Plex facility claims to be "home to Charleston's only mechanical bull" — and they show it off nightly with displays of beer-induced bucking and weekly "bikini bull rides" on Saturday nights. In the middle of the neon beer signs, the Cat Country 107.5 banners, cowboy-hatted patrons can sign up to buck and sway to the sounds of Trace Adkins and Toby Keith on the mechanical centerpiece in the plastic, American Flag-design bull ring. Don't believe us? There's plenty of photographic evidence of such behavior on display at —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Place for Dirt Cheap Bar Food and PBRs under $2
301 King St. Downtown 577-9469
The walls of your home are starting to close in on you. You're going stir crazy, but you don't have a lot of cash, or you're just cheap, and you're sick of pizza. You could get fast food, but the ambience sucks and they don't sell beer. Instead, take your ass down to Cumberland's for some dirt-cheap bar food and PBRs under $2. Burgers start at $3.95. A fried catfish sandwich can be had for $5.95. They even have veggie burgers and a small variety of fried vegetables, if you don't mind a little grease. Or save stomach room to attempt breaking what we were told was the record of 14 Duff beers (Bud Light) for $0.50 a cup during The Simpsons. —Benjamin Schlau

click to enlarge Peninsula Grills Dennis Perry is, hands down, Charlestons Best Sommelier
  • Peninsula Grills Dennis Perry is, hands down, Charlestons Best Sommelier

Best Beer Club
Mellow Mushroom
309 King St. Downtown 723-7374
The Mellow's beer club is a haven for beer geeks. The club encourages you to drink your way through their extensive beer list, and REWARDS YOU FOR DOING SO! Wow. Why waste your time drinking high-end beers elsewhere when these guys will log your selections and keep track of what you had and when. They also throw parties and special events for their club members and they'll give you a mug with your name on it when you complete the first circuit of 100 beers. The 200-beer club gets you started down the path of the Beerland game, where you have to traverse the Frothy Bog to make it to even better prizes, like a soccer jersey and your very own mug that's guaranteed to be there whenever you are. —Stephanie Barna

Best Vintage Bar Chandelier
The Village Tavern
1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 884-6311
With all the commotion and bustle going on at the crowded, V-shaped bar, it's easy to miss the vintage, deep-green stained-glass Schlitz light fixture hanging between the TV sets at The Village Tavern. The centerpiece adds a bit of old-school, blue-collar authenticity to an otherwise generic setting ... and reminds the drinker that, indeed, it's "just the kiss of the hops" that gets the job done with a cold can of Schlitz. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Display of Active Lauter Tuns
Southend Brewery & Smokehouse
161 East Bay St. Downtown 853-4677
The tall, stainless steel vessels with the V-shaped bottoms are where the real fermentation magic gets started — and they're prominently featured behind glass in the middle of the spacious, beamed dining hall. This brewery is the only true brewpub in Charleston and features some of the cleanest hand-crafted ales and lagers in the state. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Use of Modernistic Metallurgy
The Break Room
2700 N. Hwy. 17. Mt. Pleasant 388-2601
Adding an elegant decorative flair to what's otherwise a generic yuppie sports bar, the impressive light fixtures in the foyer, dining room, and bar area of this suburban lounge stand out. Situated at the northeastern tip of "new" Mt. Pleasant, in the Shoppes at the Brickyard, the Break Room's sparkly bar counter and high ceilings enhance the fancy vibe. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Displayed Collection of Cracked Cymbals
The Windjammer
1008 Ocean Blvd. Isle of Palms 886-8596
From huge Zildjan rides and shiny Paiste hats to decimated Sabian crashes, this IOP hangout proudly displays these autographed relics of percussion across the walls of the main music room as testimony to the idea that one can never have too much of a "jam good time." —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Decorative Antique Appliance
Bert's Island Characters
2209 Middle St. Sullivan's Island 883-3924
The cool, vintage soda fountain behind the bar at the no-frills, beachfront watering hole on Sullivan's Island is leftover from when the venue served as a pharmacy in the 1930s — as are some of the regulars. While its days as working soda and ice cream server are over, it stands as a quiet monument to some good ol' beach days. That 25-year-old "Elect Dangerfield" bumper sticker pasted on the front panel somehow fits perfectly. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Pint of Ale or Lager
Charleston Beer Works
468 King St. Downtown 577-5885
Being the cheap, drunk bastards that we are, we're always on the lookout for good beer specials, and none is better than the pints-for-$2 deal during happy hour (or anytime there's a pro game on the TV) at Charleston Beer Works. They've got a big selection of 33 drafts — from Anchor Steam to Wielmer Hefeweizen — and they're served in a 16-oz. pint glass, for $2, during the 5-8 happy hour, plus 2-for-1 appetizer deals on fried calamari and spring rolls. Now do you understand just how good this deal is? —Stephanie Barna

Best Pint of Stout
Tommy Condon's Irish Pub & Seafood Restaurant
160 Church St. Downtown 577-3818
Although the bar offers a half-dozen variations on the familiar "black & tan" combo, their classic straight-up pints of Guinness and Beamish stouts are the main attractions. Perhaps one of the most authentic Irish pubs in the Charleston area — alongside Madra Rua, The Griffon, and others — Tommy Condon's knows how to properly tilt an Imperial pint glass, how much time to allow the first pour to settle, and precisely how much foam to squeeze up at the meniscus of the vessel. Served a tad on the chilly side (compared to cellar temperatures in Dublin), it's the closest thing to a perfect pint of dry, roasty Irish stout available to local ale enthusiasts. Sláinte! —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Authentic Sake Buzz
Red Orchids
1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. West Ashley573-8787
Strip mall location aside, the best locale for upscale Chinese fare in the city is also the place to get your sake buzz on. Owner Tony, who sometimes stands in as host, busboy, and bartender, knows his sake, once making several hundred gallons himself for a Chinese wedding. He pours Red Orchids' several dozen offerings with a liberal hand and an informative lesson, each order served in beautiful stoneware, and with the proper decorum. There seems to be sake for every occasion, for every dish, for each day of the week, for drinking by itself, as well as light sakes, heavy sakes, "fruity" sakes, clean sakes, rough sakes -- did we mention he pours with a free hand? --Jeff Allen

Best 'Adult Milkshake'
Shem Creek Bar & Grill
508 Mill St. Mt. Pleasant 884-8102
Just a block off from Coleman Boulevard, this creekside bar features a pricey but delicious menu of "adult milkshakes" (featuring the decadent mix of liquor and vanilla ice cream) in addition to their massive list of wines and specialty drinks. The "Shem Killer" with pineapple and nutmeg is a nice happy hour follow-up. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Reason to Go Out on Tuesday and Thursday Nights
DJ Nights at the Upper Deck and Voodoo (respectively)
353 King St. Downtown 958-0002
15 Magnolia Rd. West Ashley 769-0228

Those bastard children among the weeknights, Tuesday and Thursday, are often given the shaft by the really good touring bands, and hence, the revelers. But all hope is not lost! There are hardy folk out there willing to lug their equipment around, set it up, and provide a forum for all the groovy kids who dig on vinyl to boogie to their hearts' content. On Tuesdays, the Upper Deck's got DJ Lanatron, Matt Wilcox, Charley Howle, and a rotating cast of characters mixing it up with a Molotov cocktail of rap, indie rock, dance punk, house, and, if you get there early, old Stax and Motown 45s. Then on Thursdays, head over to West Ashley for Voodoo's Thursday Night Vinyl Parties hosted by DJ D-Rock, and make sure to bring your own collection for consideration. Oh, and some money for those damn good tacos they have over there -- 'cause you know you can't dance on a empty stomach. --Sara Miller

Best Place to Bump Without the Grind
Purple Tree Lounge
36 N. Market St. Downtown 722-4222
Ladies love this Market Street dance club because you can dance here without getting your ass grinded on by some meathead, which can be a real downer for girls who just wanna have fun. The guys here seem content to hang back and watch the girls dancing with each other. Other bonuses include an intimate setting and less crowded lines at the bar. —Stephanie Barna

Best 50th Anniversary
Big John's Tavern
251 East Bay St. Downtown 723-3483
The longest-living dive bar in town (in the red brick building) celebrated its 50th anniversary last summer with about as much hoopla as they celebrate the weekly karaoke, but the rowdy regulars raised a lotta hell just the same. A favorite watering hole among rowdy college dropouts, returning tourists in-the-know, and longtime carriage handlers from down the block, Big John's was named for the original owner, former New York Giants linebacker "Big John" Canady. Things still get crazy on the black and white floor tiles during karaoke nights, screenings of playoff games, and sloppy rock shows. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Drinking Contest
Gene's Haufbrau
817 Savannah Hwy. West Ashley 225-4363
The annual Oktoberfest celebration features a live polka/oompah band under a large beer tent, bratwurst with sauerkraut, long picnic tables, raffles and giveaways. The highlight has to be the drinking contest — or the so-called "Bier Wench Contest" — in which female volunteers gather around a table at the stagefront and attempt to pound three pints of dark, malty Spaten Oktoberfest lager in the fastest time. Last year's winner guzzled all three in less than 70 seconds, winning a crown, a $40 gift certificate, and the respect of the lederhosen-clad crowd. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Bar Gimmick
Spin the Wheel at The Icehouse
104 E. Doty Ave. Summerville 875-5500
Last year, we dropped in on the Icehouse, Summerville's perennially favorite bar, and discovered why this place rocks. On the wall near the bar, they've got what owner Woody has dubbed "The Party Wheel." This contraption gets spun every Wednesday night, and everyone must try their luck before ordering. There are 10 fates, which include getting a free drink, buying someone else a drink, winning a T-shirt, or even getting lei'd (but only in that cute Hawaiian way). On our first try, we got our first round on the house. It quickly got us conversing with the regulars and jumpstarted a great experience at a unique place. —Stephanie Barna

Best Vintage Pinball Games
Fast Break Lounge
1204 N. Main St. Summerville 871-1660
This members-only pool hall, located just off of the east edge of downtown Summerville in Parks Plaza, sports a late-'60s model Miss American bingo pinball game and a Malibu Beach pinball game — neither of which are easy to play. Fortunately for the rookie, this venue is teeming with self-made pinball champs who'll gladly shout instructions at you from across the room. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Upscale Game Room
Trayce's First String
1561 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. West Ashley 556-3625
On the fancier end of Sam Ritt sports bars, Trayce's is a spot where one can wear designer threads, smelly cologne or perfume, sip a Key lime martini, and blend right in during a karaoke night or bikini contest at the air hockey table ... or by the shuffleboard table, the dart lanes, the Golden Tee, the video Turkey Hunting, the Galaga machine, or the Ms. Pac Man machine. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Utilization of Bar Staff
Johnson's Pub's Sex Belt Basement Party
12 Cumberland St. Downtown 958-0662
It always depends on who's available, but Johnson's Pub dedicates every Monday night in the back-room lounge to the musically-inclined members of the bar staff. With the curious moniker "Sex Belt Basement Party" (a reference to the idea of having all one needs for a full night of joy), the weekly series finds Brother Jake D'Arcangelo on guitar, alongside other staffers and guests players on the corner stage, jamming on original tunes and riffs, improvising on the mics, and bouncing through loose renditions of rock classics. —T. Ballard Lesemann


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