You have permission to edit this article.

Best of Columbia 2019: Clubs and Bars

  • Updated

The Whig is voted Best Bar or Club, Best Bar Service, and Best Neighborhood Bar — Downtown/The Vista.


Best Bar or Club

The Whig

Runner-up: Tin Roof

We honestly don’t have the knowledge base to comment on the veracity of The Whig’s long-held claim that it’s “North America’s Greatest Dive Bar.” But we do know how nice it feels to slide down those stairs across from the State House and into the institution’s cool underground recesses and orange glow, grabbing a fine craft beer or affordable cocktail, and queuing up a song on that always great jukebox (we recommend The Reigning Sound’s “We Repel (Each Other)”). This much we can verify: The Whig is great. Honorable mentions: Art Bar, Steel Hands Brewing

Best New Bar or Club

Steel Hands Brewing

Runner-up: Hendrix

The beer is remarkably solid for such a young brewery — from the pep-in-your-step Coffee Lager to the crushable Punch Clock Pilsner — but we’re guessing Steel Hands took home a win in this category based on how comfortable it is to kill a pint or three in its slick taproom or beautifully set-up outdoor space, perhaps catching a band playing in that cool converted-container stage. Honorable mentions: The Aristocrat, The White Mule

Best Bartender

Shawn Dell Corley, Art Bar

Runner-up: Mandy Covington, Cola’s

Last week, Shawn “Dell” Corley posted a video of himself on Facebook, back behind the counter at Art Bar mixing up a drink. And while this might not seem like a big deal at first, it definitely is. When Corley suffered a stroke in April, his loving friends in the Art Bar community rallied to support him. An all-day benefit concert was held. We know his regulars will be glad to have him back. We will be, too. Honorable mentions: Erick Johnson, New Brookland Tavern; Jason Davis, Bone-In Barbeque

Best Bar Service

The Whig

Runner-up: Hendrix

When the space is tight, the bar service has to be especially on point, and the folks behind the bartop at The Whig are highly adept at getting your beers and cocktails to you with efficient ease. There’s no need to let a long line at the bar stop you from getting a refill when it’ll go quickly and with non-cheesy friendliness. Honorable mentions: Art Bar, Tin Roof

Best Bar Trivia

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Runner-up: Art Bar

Flying Saucer’s clever and engaging trivia nights are mighty popular, frequently touching on zeitgeist-piquing topics like Marvel superheroes and Star Trek. To bastardize that old claim about the quality of Bon Jovi, a trivia night with a crowd that spills out from the bar onto the front porch can’t be bad. Honorable mention: Tin Roof


Jake’s is voted Best Outdoor Deck, Best College Bar and Best Neighborhood Bar-Five Points. 

Best College Bar


Runner-up: Taneyhill’s Group Therapy

Setting aside the ambitious beer selection and elevated bar eats that attract us older folk, Jake’s is also flush with college bar appeal: It’s a great place to play darts or pool or shuffle board. It’s home to the best outdoor drinking area in Five Points. And it’s ground zero for those beloved Yappy Hours, opportunities to mix and mingle with potential paramours while they have the warm-and-fuzzies from cute puppies. Party on, Jake’s. Honorable mentions: Moosehead Saloon, The Bird Dog

Best Dance Club

The Woody

Runner-up: Tin Roof

The Woody closed its Vista location this summer, but promises that a new spot is forthcoming. The many devotees to the old-school dance club vibes of the house that legendary DJ Woody Windham built eagerly anticipate its return. Honorable mentions: Art Bar, Social Bar and Lounge

Best Outdoor Deck


Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

There’s a yin-yang quality to Jake’s Bar & Grill. On the inside, it’s a fairly typical Five Points bar with decent grub, but just behind the bar is one of the great outdoor drinking spots in the city. With a generous deck and wrap-around seating that slides almost to the sidewalk, it’s pet-friendly Yappy Hour sends things into pure, unadulterated outdoor bliss. Honorable mention: Hendrix, Steel Hands Brewing

Best People-Watching Bar

Art Bar

Runner-up: The Woody

Unnatural hair color is the tamest thing you’ll see at Art Bar, where the people-watching is prime, indoors and out. Just sit a spell and listen in on some eavesdrop-worthy conversations while observing Art Bar regulars and irregulars, and you’ll see what we mean. Honorable mentions: The Whig, Tin Roof

Best Sports Bar

The British Bulldog Pub

Runner-up: Carolina Ale House

Since people in the United States seem to really love soccer now, places like the British Bulldog are becoming the go-to sports bars, with tellies tuned into the world’s most beloved sport. Grab some fish and chips and a cold one and settle in for a day of shouting at the screen with your friends. Honorable mentions: Hickory Tavern, Wild Wing Cafe

Best Gay Bar

The Capital Club

Runner-up: PT’s 1109

As the longest continuously operating gay bar in the Southeast, the cheekily named The Capital Club sits just a block off the State House grounds and has long maintained its reputation as a cultural institution in the city, watering hole or not. While it still operates as a “private club,” it’s friendly to guests and new members who want to hang among like-minded compatriots. Honorable mention: Vice Bar

Best Happy Hour

Cantina 76

Runner-up: Pearlz Oyster Bar

With two Midlands locations — one right in the heart of Main Street, the other in a neighborhood not too far from downtown — Cantina 76 is the place to be after quittin’ time. With their wide selection of margaritas and chips and delicious dip platters, this is where Columbia prefers to drown its nine-to-five problems. Honorable mentions: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Hendrix

Best Neighborhood Bar — Downtown/The Vista

The Whig

Runner-up: Columbia Craft Brewing Company

All it takes is a short descent into the darkness and opening the door — releasing the sound of good tunes blaring into the air and the warm glow of the bar — to realize that The Whig is a special place. Ice cold local beer, crispy beer-battered fries and huge plates of smoked gouda mac and cheese help seal the deal. Honorable mentions: Art Bar, Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Best Neighborhood Bar — Five Points


Runner-up: Bar None

We all know about Five Points’ struggling bar scene, but Jake’s remains one of the places that college students and young professionals alike prefer to frequent, with their dog-friendly patio and inventive kitchen offerings. Located away from the main bar scene, Jake’s is a low-key oasis for people who just want to knock back a few beers. Honorable mention: Goat’s, Publico

Best Neighborhood Bar – Harbison/Irmo

The British Bulldog Pub

Runner-up: Hemingway’s

If you were looking for the most unlikely place to find an outstanding British pub, a strip mall out in Harbison would probably be high on the list. But let there be no doubt: The British Bulldog Pub continues to shine. With a deep menu of British favorites (the beef and cheddar pasty is amazing), an expansive beer menu and multiple TVs often showing soccer from around the world, the Bulldog is a standout in the suburbs. Honorable mention: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Lucky’s Burger Shack


Keg Cowboy wins Best Neighborhood Bar-Lexington.


Best Neighborhood Bar — Lexington

Keg Cowboy

Runner-up: O’Hara’s Public House

Keg Cowboy has a slogan: “No crap on tap.” And it goes beyond just clever wordplay. An anchor of Lexington’s Main Street, the Keg keeps a steady rotation of craft beer offerings flowing from its taps, including a host of local brews. Chef Brian Nelson also keeps delicious options churning out of the kitchen, including the best beef on weck you’ll find in the Midlands. Honorable mention: Krafty Draft Brew Pub, Moonshiners Patio Bar and Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar — Northeast


Runner-up: Random Tap

Like everything else in Northeast Columbia, Polliwog’s is sprawling, with a large indoor area and a big patio to spread out on while enjoying a few beers or cocktails. For those who live, work, or get lost in the northeastern reaches of town, Polliwog’s is the best neighborhood bar around. Honorable mentions: Top Dawg Tavern, Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar

Best Neighborhood Bar — Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres

Craft and Draft

Runner-up: Henry’s Restaurant & Bar

It’s only been around for five years, but Craft and Draft is truly the Cheers of Shandon, where someone there will know your name — or your beer preference at the very least. This cozy bottle shop turned hangout is always coming up with events and new reasons to keep you coming back for more craft beer. Honorable mentions: Tazza Kitchen Trenholm Plaza, The Cock N’ Bull Pub

Best Neighborhood Bar — West Columbia/Cayce

Steel Hands Brewing

Runner-up: New Brookland Tavern

From the outset, Steel Hands has done opening a brewery the right way. It opened on time. It started out with plenty of space. And the owners are always adjusting and improving. A solid selection of flagship beers and variations keeps the tap list interesting, and comfortable amenities make it the hip new neighborhood hangout in Cayce/West Columbia. Honorable mentions: Henry’s Restaurant & Bar, State Street Pub

Best Beer Selection

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Runner-up: Craft and Draft

It’s hard not to think that the Flying Saucer has the best beer selection when it has a literal wall of taps. With a wide variety that ranges from old-school classics to the newest suds to hit the craft beer scene, everyone should be able to find a few beers to suit their taste. Honorable mentions: The Whig, World of Beer

Best Craft Beer Selection

Craft and Draft

Runner-up: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

It would be one thing if Craft and Draft just had its 12 adventurously curated and rapidly rotating taps. But then there’s the wall lined with coolers, each filled with a daunting but well-organized selection that covers pretty much any style you could want. Top all that off with the friendly and knowledgeable staff that will guide you toward your perfect beverage no matter how much you know or don’t know about beer, and you’ll understand why this bar and bottle shop wins this category. Honorable mentions: Steel Hands Brewing, The Whig

Best Local Brewery

River Rat Brewery

Runner-up: Steel Hands Brewing

River Rat nails the balance of accessibility and quality that allows such a craft brewery to thrive. Consistently rolling out familiar styles along with also producing more ambitious varieties and flavorful infusions, it pairs never less than pretty good beer with Columbia’s most Instagram-worthy spot to knock back a cold one, especially with the view of Williams-Brice Stadium from the comfy rooftop bar. Honorable mentions: Columbia Craft Brewing Company, Cottontown Brew Lab

Best Brewpub

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse

Runner-up: River Rat Brewery

There are a handful of brewpubs (not to mention a growing cadre of full-on production breweries) now operating in the Midlands, but Hunter-Gatherer will always be the OG. Open since October 1995, the alehouse has provided students, professors, State House employees and more with great beers like the ESB and great — possibly iconic — food like the Goldfish-topped mac and cheese and delicious lamb gyro. Honorable mentions: Old Mill Brewpub, Steel Hands Brewing

Coldest Beer

Thirsty Fellow

Runner-up: The Whig

The coldness of a beer only really matters if you’re drinking crappy domestic beer, but they serve ‘em up icy at Thirsty Fellow. We just hope that if you’re going for craft beer that you’re enjoying it at a more reasonable temperature. Honorable mentions: Columbia Craft Brewing Company, Steel Hands Brewing


Bourbon is voted Best Cocktail Program, Best Charcuterie Board and Honorable Mention for Best Restaurant.

Best Cocktail Program


Runner-up: The War Mouth

With a name like Bourbon, how could they not have a stellar cocktail program? Yes, there’s a heavy emphasis on whiskey, but the bartenders have a creative flair with the clear booze, too, making a well-rounded list of drinks that’ll keep you at the bar far longer than you intended. Honorable mentions: Motor Supply Company Bistro, Bistro Tazza Kitchen

Best Bloody Mary

Cafe Strudel

Runner-up: Motor Supply Company Bistro

Bloody Marys have entered a new, Instagrammable phase with whole meals served atop a glass of tomato juice and vodka. Cafe Strudel keeps theirs under control but still interesting with a bacon swizzle stick and a selection of fruit and vegetable accompaniments on the rim for a satisfying brunch bevvie. Honorable mentions: Liberty Tap Room, Publico

Best Margarita

Cantina 76

Runner-up: COA Agaveria Y Cocina

What sets Cantina apart from many others is that they don’t just have one margarita, but rather a whole host to choose from daily. From a spicy jalapeno and agave nectar version to a freshly muddled strawberry basil variety, there’s a margarita at Cantina to suit your every need. Honorable mentions: Publico, Tin Roof

Best Distillery

Crouch Distilling

Runner-up: Hollow Creek Distillery

This unassuming little distillery and tasting room is tucked away in a warehouse off Bluff Road. It cranks out spirits like the Young Carolina Bourbon, Carolina Sour Mash Whiskey, and more extra-craft things like the Jimmy Red Corn Whiskey and sorghum rum made from historic and local grains. Honorable mentions: Gorget Distilling Co., Southern Essence Distilling

Best DJ

Kevin Snow

Runner-up: Preach Jacobs

What makes a good DJ is a little different for everyone, but ultimately versatility and professionalism are going to be where most folks agree. That’s what makes Kevin Snow a reliable top pick in this category and, more importantly, a trusty option for hard-partying weddings and other fab events throughout the Midlands. Honorable mentions: DJ Apollo, DJ Payne

Best Karaoke

DJ Kevin Snow

Runner-up: Linda Carr — CarraRock Entertainment

Everything that matters when it comes to DJing weddings and other events — professionalism, keeping the party rolling, a dynamic variety of tunes — goes double when it comes to running karaoke. Again, it’s Snow contest. Honorable mentions: Blake Arambula, Tsubaki

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

Free Times Breaking News