There's something about drinking at hotel bars that makes you feel like you're on vacation, even if you're just a few miles from home. Whether it's the chlorine smell from the indoor pool or the giddy Buckeyes sitting next to you, the unfamiliar setting adds a fun little flair to tying one on. And if your goal is to go out incognito, taking to tourist turf will usually keep you from running into someone you know. Some hotel bars, like the Rooftop at Vendue and Tristan's lounge in the French Quarter Inn, have gained a following in their own right, so we'll skip the obvious and focus on a few more under-the-radar drinking spots. —Erica Jackson Curran
The First Shot Lounge at Mills House Hotel
115 Meeting St. Downtown
Tucked in the back of the historic Mills House Hotel on Meeting Street, the First Shot Lounge sits between the courtyard and the Barbadoes Room restaurant. The lounge was named for the first shot fired in the Civil War, which, you should know, happened in Charleston (Impress the Ohioans with that little tidbit.) Sit back in one of the comfy chairs with a tumbler of something straight and soak in the history of a building constructed in the 1850s. Stop by on Friday nights or during Sunday brunch to add a little live piano music to your tippling.
Drink: Rum. Because Barbados has been bringing rum to Charleston for centuries.
W XYZ Bar at Aloft Charleston Airport & Convention Center
4875 Tanger Outlet Blvd. North Charleston
The trendy Aloft near Tanger Outlet attracts mostly business travelers from the nearby airport, but the W XYZ Bar is worth a stop if you're in the area. It's open nightly from 5 p.m. to midnight, and you'll find specially priced drinks during "twilight" from 5-8 p.m. Featuring technicolor furniture and an LED-lit bar, the novelty of the place is fun. Post up at the bar or challenge a lonely, attractive traveler to a game of pool on the hot pink table.
Drink: Red Bull and vodka.
Thoroughbred Club at Charleston Place
205 Meeting St.
Located near the grand staircase at the heart of Charleston Place, the stately Thoroughbred Club exudes Southern sophistication. The wooden bar, dim lighting, leather seats, and equestrian artwork give the place a nice drawing-room vibe. They've got a fancy cocktail and wine list to choose from, but a lot of people go for afternoon tea — it was voted best in the South by Southern Living magazine. You'll find live entertainment every evening. They're open from 11 a.m.-midnight.
Drink: Bourbon, mixed into a mint julep, on the rocks or straight up.
Blu at the Tides Folly Beach Hotel
1 Center St.
The Tides at Folly Beach was renovated a few years back, and one of the biggest transformations was to the hotel's bar and restaurant, Blu. You can pull up a stool at the inside bar, but the action is outside overlooking the beach. Blu is the only oceanfront bar on Folly, and one of the only ones in the Charleston area, so think about how lucky you are while sipping a fruity drink and looking out at the Atlantic. Spring for a bite to eat while you're at it, because Blu churns out some pretty tasty fare.
Drink: Mai Tai. Because you're at the beach.
High Spirits Lounge at Holiday Inn
301 Savannah Hwy.
Like it or not, the round Holiday Inn just over the Ashley River is a dominant part of the local skyline, but not many locals have actually been to the top. Take the elevator to the High Spirits Lounge for an unparalleled view of the marina, marshlands, and the city. The drink menu focuses on sugary cocktails like appletinis and cosmopolitans, but we go for something simple and take in the sunset from one of the highest spots in town.
Pavilion Bar at Market Pavilion Hotel
225 East Bay St.
Just walking into the Market Pavilion Hotel will make you feel fancy — clean-cut doormen welcome guests through the brass revolving doors, revealing a high-ceilinged, shiny world of sizzling steaks and tinkling crystal at Grill 225. But bypass the restaurant and its adjoining bar serving Nitrotinis (OK — you can stop for a Nitrotini) and head back to the elevator that will take you to the top floor. The Pavilion Bar is no less luxurious than the downstairs area, and it's got prices and a dress code to match (don't even try to go in there wearing flip-flops after 6 p.m.). A fountain trickles into a sparkling pool, and tables line the perimeter of the area, affording an inspiring view of the city below.
Drink: Champagne, preferably paid for by the mysterious millionaire at the end of the bar.
Aqua Terrace at the Marriott
170 Lockwood Blvd.
The rooftop bars in the historic district get lots of love, but over on Lockwood Drive, the Aqua Terrace at the Marriott boasts arguably the best view without the parking hassle. Overlooking the Ashley River, the outdoor bar is in a prime breeze-catching zone, making it a perfect choice for nicer weather. The sprawling terrace is filled with cushy, conversation-friendly furniture and packed with TVs for game-watching. Local musicians like Duda Lucena and Graham Whorley often stop by to play live acoustic music.
Drink: The TKO — a blend of Bacardi 151, Bacardi Silver, Malibu, and juice — packs a serious punch. The menu claims they'll only serve two per customer.
Reel Bar at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina
20 Patriots Point Road
This nautical-themed spot might make you feel like you're bobbing along in a boat out at sea. The bar itself is made from teak that came from a ship that sank off the coast of Florida, while antique tackle gear and seascapes adorn the walls. Just outside on the terrace, you'll find views of the water and the city skyline beyond.
Swamp Fox at Francis Marion Hotel
387 King St. Downtown
Location is one of the biggest things the Swamp Fox has going for it; after all, it's situated directly across from Marion Square. Named for Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, the cozy, elegant bar is a nice place to duck in for a quick mid-shopping sip and some prime people-watching. There's live jazz piano Friday and Saturday nights, and the food from Executive Chef Simon Andrews is worth sticking around for.
Drink: The Swamp Fox, a blend of vodka, unsweetened tea, lemonade, and mint-infused syrup.