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Best of Columbia 2018: Clubs and Bars

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Kathleen Hunter, Bourbon

Kathleen Hunter is voted Best Bartender. Photo by John Carlos

Best New Bar or Club

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at Curtiss-Wright Hangar

Runner-up: The Grand on Main

If you didn’t check it out this spring, make sure you make it out this fall. With a rooftop patio and plenty of other hangout space right by the Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport, Hunter-Gatherer’s new spot is one of the most enjoyable places in town to drink outside. Or you could go by now, sit inside the hangar, and enjoy the expanded beer selection (when available, the refreshing and crushable Zwickel Lager is a must) and truly yummy pizzas.

Honorable mentions: Lula Drake Wine Parlour, Columbia Craft Brewing Company

Best Bar or Club

The Whig

Runner-up: Art Bar

The Whig is great if you want a beer, with a menu that splits the difference nicely between local and regional favorites and tasty brews from elsewhere. It’s great if you want a rock-solid cocktail mixed without muss or fuss. It’s great if you just want a comfortable place to hang out, with character that never becomes overpowering. It’s a bar, and a damn good one.

Honorable mentions: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, The Woody

Best Bartender

Kathleen Hunter, Bourbon

Runner-up: Will Green, The Whig

As executive bartender at Bourbon, Kat Hunter designs smart and delicious craft cocktails. She also ensures excellent bar service for all, managing to create a welcoming, convivial atmosphere while taking absolutely none of your s#!t.

Honorable mentions: Josh Streetman, Motor Supply; Andy Haddock, Terra

Craft and Draft

Craft and Draft is voted Best Bar Service, Best Craft Beer Selection, Best Neighborhood Bar — Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres and runner-up for Best Beer Selection.

Best Bar Service

Craft and Draft

Runner-up: The Whig

Whether you’re an experienced beer drinker, looking to test the limits of your palate, or a novice, needing somebody to help you figure out exactly what you like, the fine folks at Craft and Draft do better than anybody in courteously guiding you on your way. They don’t even care if you end up choosing wine instead.

Honorable mentions: Bar None, Art Bar

Best Bar Trivia

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

Saucer’s trivia is the perfect difficulty (it’s neither insultingly easy nor punishingly hard), and the bar often devotes nights to single themes (Marvel comics, old-school video games, Parks and Recreation) to keep things interesting.

Honorable mentions: Useless Trivia at Art Bar, Nerd Trivia by Erick Johnson at New Brookland Tavern

Best Place to Pick Up Girls

Tin Roof

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

Here’s the secret to meeting women: A lot of them like drinks. Many of them like food. A significant number of women have been known to like music. So they’re pretty much the same as, you know, other humans. Tin Roof has drinks and food and music. Bingo.

Honorable mentions: Art Bar, The Woody

Best Place to Pick Up Guys


Runner-up: Art Bar

You’re not an undergrad anymore; your dating prospects shouldn’t be, either. Jake’s still buzzes with the characteristic energy of Five Points, but its clientele skews older and more professional — and dog-loving, for you ladies with a passion for pooches.

Honorable mentions: PT’s 1109, The Woody

Best College Bar


Runner-up: Taneyhill's Group Therapy Bar and Grill

It feels a little too dad/mom-splain-y for Free Times to lecture the kids in town about what makes for a good college bar. So we’ll just say that between the beautiful, spacious patio, reliably nice beer selection and above-average food, it’s one of few “college bars” in town we’d recommend to students and non-students alike.

Honorable mentions: Art Bar, River Rat Brewery

Best Dance Club

The Woody

Runner-up: Art Bar

When it comes to dancing, whether you’re talking about flossing or shagging, The Woody is the place to go.  

Honorable mentions: Social Bar and Lounge, Cotton Gin

Best Outdoor Deck

Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

The Irmo location of Liberty Taproom has the food and drink options you’ve come to expect — chicken and waffles, angus beef steaks, hearty sandwiches, plenty of cold beer, etc. But that’s just partly why you’d visit this location. The other reason? Those stunning, big water views of Lake Murray that you can take in from the restaurant’s robust deck.

Honorable mentions: Jake’s, Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Best People-Watching Bar

Art Bar

Runner-up: The Woody

Between its rock shows, dance nights, comedy nights and other events, Art Bar brings in a wide cross-section of different crowds — making it a great place to grab a drink and watch some of the city’s colorful characters.

Honorable mentions: River Rat Brewery, Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at Curtiss-Wright Hangar

British Bulldog

British Bulldog is voted Best Sports Bar and Best Neighborhood Bar — Harbison/Irmo.

Best Sports Bar

The British Bulldog Pub

Runner-up: Carolina Ale House

The British Bulldog is not one of those sports bars that has hundreds of TVs stuffed into every possible nook and cranny. But what it does, it does really well: This is the best bar in the city for soccer fans, as evidenced by the passionate crowds that showed up during this year’s World Cup. To be sure, the pub shows other sports on its TVs. But the place comes alive during a big soccer match.

Honorable mentions: Hickory Tavern, Buffalo Wild Wings

Best Neighborhood Bar — Downtown/The Vista

The Whig

Runner-up: Bourbon

A good bar will always go out of its way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. A great bar will make you feel like a regular — and actually want to be a regular. The Whig is a great bar.

Honorable mentions: The War Mouth, Columbia Craft Brewing Company

Best Neighborhood Bar — Five Points


Runner-up: Bar None

Jake’s remains an exceptionally popular spot in Five Points, with more than 30 craft beers on tap and an impressive farm-to-table food menu. But one of the most inviting aspects of Jake’s is its expansive back deck and greenspace, where it has a Yappy Hour — dogs are welcome — on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  

Honorable mentions: Delaney’s Music Pub and Eatery, Goat’s

Best Neighborhood Bar — Harbison/Irmo

The British Bulldog Pub

Runner-up: Hemingway’s

It remains surprising that an authentic British pub, complete with delicious traditional fare, that doubles as one of the Midlands’ best craft beer spots, sits in a Harbison shopping center. It’s even more surprising that The British Bulldog has cultivated the warm community feel of a true neighborhood bar. Believe the hype. This pub is the real deal.

Honorable mentions: Lucky’s Burger Shack, Wild Wing Cafe

Best Neighborhood Bar — Lexington

Old Mill Brewpub

Runner-up: Keg Cowboy Bar & Restaurant

Located inside Lexington’s historic Old Mill on Main Street, this pub has become a favorite in the Midlands. With a host of beers brewed on-site, a deep roster of craft offerings from breweries across the state and region, and a loaded food menu, Old Mill Brewpub is a mainstay for Lexington residents and gives Columbians another reason to keep crossing the river.

Honorable mentions: The Casual Pint, Moonshiners Patio Bar and Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar — Northeast


Runner-up: Random Tap

Good local bars are hard to find in the Northeast, where chain grill-and-grogs have oversaturated the market. Polliwogs, which feels like a storied neighborhood haunt, is a diamond in the rough.

Honorable mentions: Bakers Sports Pub & Grill, Bricktown Bistro & Raw Bar

Best Neighborhood Bar — Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres

Craft and Draft

Runner-up: Rockaway Athletic Club

Beyond being one of the best spots in town to explore the wide frontiers of craft beer, Craft and Draft is also a welcoming and bustling community hangout spot. Even if you’re not a beer nerd, it’s a great place to pop by and relax for an hour or three.

Honorable mentions: Henry’s Restaurant & Bar, Nightcaps

Best Neighborhood Bar — West Columbia/Cayce

New Brookland Tavern

Runner-up: 116 Espresso and Wine Bar

Yes, New Brookland is a pillar of the live music scene in the Midlands. But it’s also a pretty cool place to have a drink, with friendly bartenders, comfy stools and a really weird pool table.

Honorable mentions: Henry’s Restaurant & Bar, State Street Pub

Best Gay Bar

The Capital Club

Runner-up: PT’s 1109

Long-running private bar The Capital Club is a treasure. Though it’s right on Gervais Street in the Vista, it feels tucked away, an excellent place for everything from low-key happy hour conversation to raucous late-night drag shows.

Best Happy Hour

Cantina 76

Runner-up: Bourbon

You don’t have to love margaritas to love Cantina 76’s happy hour; you can grab a Corona or some wine there for cheap after work. But the fact that house margaritas are half price is real darn cool.

Honorable mentions: Jake’s, Tazza Kitchen

Best Adult Entertainment Venue

The Comedy House

Runner-up: Platinum West

If you think The Comedy House just hosts comedians, think again. With its quarterly Black Diamonds All Male Revue appearances, the Comedy House has become a real winner with Free Times readers. Here’s what the venue’s website has to say about Black Diamonds: “Our erotic men are thick and lush, sensuous to the touch. This is the number one all male revue in the South! Often imitated but never duplicated!”

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Best Beer Selection

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Runner-up: Craft and Draft

Flying Saucer’s beer list is hundreds-deep and stocked with beers of every flavor — beers you’ve never heard of or have only heard about in legend. But for those still testing the waters of craft beer, it also offers a great selection of beers known and loved by all.

Honorable mentions: World of Beer, The Whig

Best Craft Beer Selection

Craft and Draft

Runner-up: The Whig

Craft and Draft might not have the most robust selection in town, but its quickly rotating and attentively curating taps offer the opportunity to try a wide and diverse array (including a few of their own special barrel-aging collaborations). And in their expansive coolers you’ll find at least a few examples of pretty much any style you’re after.

Honorable mentions: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, River Rat Brewery

Best Local Brewery

River Rat Brewery

Runner-up: Columbia Craft Brewing Company

New to craft beer in Columbia? River Rat’s classic permanent beers — like the Bohemian Pilsner, the Broad River Red Ale, the American Kölsch Story — will ease you into the broader world of beer. Already a craft beer enthusiast? River Rat’s tap room, which rotates the brewery’s adventurous offerings (see: the Ginger Snap Baltic Porter, the Raspberry Gose), will expand your palate.

Honorable mentions: Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at Curtiss-Wright Hangar, Conquest Brewing Company

Best Brewpub

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

Columbia’s longest-running brewpub is still at the top, turning out both comfort food and near-fine dining specials alike, all of them made to pair with its classic English ales. If you’ve never been, you need to go.

Honorable mentions: Old Mill Brewpub, Twisted Spur Brewing

Coldest Beer

The Whig

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

Look, we haven’t run any rigorous scientific tests or data analysis or anything. All we know is that each and every beer we’ve ever had at The Whig has been nice and frosty.

Honorable mentions: World of Beer, Columbia Craft Brewing Company

Best Cocktail Program


Runner-up: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

There are several restaurants and bars in town with really solid, creative cocktail programs. What sets Bourbon apart is the depth of its house cocktail menu, and the perfect consistency with which each drink is executed. Whether you’re looking for a classic manhattan or something more challenging, it’s just a good place to have a drink.

Honorable mentions: The War Mouth, Terra Restaurant

Best Bloody Mary

Café Strudel

Runner-up: Motor Supply Company Bistro

You don’t cultivate a reputation for brunch like that of Café Strudel without serving up a good Bloody Mary. And whether you’re looking for something as over the top and indulgent as the Smoky Bacon variation or the classic served more traditionally, they’ll do you right.

Honorable mentions: @116 Espresso and Wine Bar, Tazza Kitchen

Best Margarita

Cantina 76

Runner-up: COA Agaveria Y Cocina

Cantina 76, which has locations on Main Street and on Devine Street in the Capital City, has a host of tasty margaritas, available by the glass or by the pitcher. The Jalapeño — tequila, jalapeño peppers and fresh lime juice muddled with agave nectar — is a particular standout.

Honorable mentions: Publico, San Jose Restaurante Mexicano

Best Distillery

Copper Horse Distilling

Runner-up: Crouch Distilling

The first in-town distillery to open in Columbia’s modern era, Copper Horse became a favorite for its Copper Cream liqueur series, as well as its small-batch spirits, notably the flagship vodka.

Honorable mentions: Gorget Distilling Co., Hollow Creek Distillery

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