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The Pour: Charleston's (Serious) Cocktail Culture

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Every city, it seems, has its own follow-up question, that line that comes after “How are you?” when meeting someone for the first time. In New York City, it’s “What do you do?”; in Austin, it’s “Who are you listening to?”; in D.C., it’s “Who are you voting for?”; and after only one day of visiting my sister in Charleston, that South Carolina city’s question rang out as loud and as clear as the hourly bells on Church Street: “Welcome to Charleston! Grab a seat! Now…what will you have to drink?”

The answer, alas, does not roll off the tongue as easily as the question, and as my sister quickly discovered, locals need to be prepared—with shaker in hand—for almost any answer.

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At Fig restaurant, my mother, sister, and I sipped 1930’s-inspired Sidecars while tasting James Beard Award-winning chef Mike Lata’s farm-to-table dishes (the tomato tart-tatin, if it makes the chalkboard that day, was a standout). Bourbon drinkers might also want to stop by Carolina’s for the "Exchange Street Cocktail," made with 10-year-old small-batch Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, and chef Jeremiah Bacon’s rich and tasty take on the classic shrimp and grits. Finish (or start) the night off at Hanks Seafood for a martini—very, very cold, very, very dry, with Saffire gin and three olives (my mother's poison of choice) and raw oysters.

But not every drink needs to be high proof. Get up early on Saturdays for the Farmers’ Market in Marion Square, stock up on made-to-order donuts (top them with cinnamon and powered sugar, please), and get in line for a cup of Kudu’s famous joe, made from African beans. If you insist on bubbly in the morning, mimosas at Magnolia’s wraps up a brunch of fried green tomatoes or bananas Foster French toast nicely.

A weekend measured in cocktails may seem decadent, but it is delicious, and if you're anything like me, you'll recover within a week, and have already have booked your next trip.


Stirling Kelso is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.


Photos courtesy of Stirling Kelso

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