For those seeking something distinctive, eclectic and authentically local, North Charleston offers a unique mix of venues. The range runs from plush bistros and taverns in hip neighborhoods to more rustic facilities along warehouse rows.
No matter the decor or location, each of the local spots listed here offers fine wines, craft beers, creatively composed cocktails or small-batch spirits with an enthusiastic sense of independence.
Many of standout, independently run hot spots in North Charleston’s current scene are in the Park Circle neighborhood, especially along the increasingly bustling strip of East Montague Avenue between Spruill and Virginia avenues.
Nestled in the middle of the East Montague scene, Madra Rua Irish Pub — run by co-owners Julie and Stephen O’Connor since 2003 — is a great place to sample Irish whiskies, ales, lagers and carefully poured stouts that pair well with crispy fish and chips or traditional shepherd’s pie. For years, locals have celebrated this cozy tavern as the “only authentically Irish pub in the North Area.” The Celtic folk and rock music playing over the stereo and the jumble of memorabilia and pub art on the walls only enhance the reputation.
The long-stretched bar offers mostly Irish and U.K.-made beers and ciders on 18 taps. They’ve recently added Crabbie’s Ginger Beer and Coney Island Hard Root Beer to the menu, along with a few Irish-inspired “mules” mixed with Jameson or Powers whiskies and house-made pecan-infused vodkas.
Across the street, the hip pizza eatery EVO (“Extra Virgin Oven”) has expanded its craft beer options with same enthusiasm it’s had for wood-fired pies. Most loyal customers crowd the dining room tables on busy nights, but many opt to sit at the U-shaped bar near the entrance.
EVO’s Italian-heavy wine list rotates six reds and six whites, and the extensive beer menu boasts more than 30 crafts and imports (in bottles or cans), categorized as either Lighter, Medium, Darker or Hoppy — many of which nicely pair with their famous Snack Plate (cured meats, pickled vegetables, brittle, cheeses and crostini). The EVO bar staff frequently rotates four draft beers with an emphasis on local microbrews. Patrons can enjoy an ale, lager or cider on in 11-ounce or 16-ounce pours or snag a flight or four 5-ounce samples.
Tucked away just around the corner of East Montague and Chateau avenues, the Sparrow is a spacious tavern and live music venue with a hip/punky/bohemian atmosphere, a small food menu and sizable craft beer list with a lotta love for Holy City Brewing’s latest releases.
A favorite haunt of local musicians, artists, and blue-collar neighbors, the Sparrow recently celebrated it’s fourth anniversary, thanks to the dedicated efforts of owner Cami Kind and her team. The venue’s sturdy, L-shaped concrete bar is a great place to settle in for a shot or one of the 27 bottled or canned beers on the menu. Cold cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon run for $1 during happy hour. Six taps offer a rotation of local craft brews and imports.
At the far end of East Montague, the Mill has a long-running history in Park Circle dating back to the 1950s when the “Mill & Social Club” opened as a local haunt down the block near Virginia Avenue. The Mill ran as a blue-collar ship-builder’s bar until proprietor Sean “Wally” Walter opened it as a tavern and live music club in 2007. Since then, the Mill has maintained it’s dimly lit vibe, the likes of which are increasingly hard to find in the Lowcountry.
Regulars inhabit the U-shaped bar for happy hour and late-night sessions. Beer enthusiasts can choose from nearly 100 bottled and canned crafts and imports listed on menus assembled from old automobile license plates. Seasonal beers frequently pop up, too. Pabst cans are regularly $2 (and only $1 during happy hour). There’s never a cover for the live shows, most of which tend to feature local and traveling Americana, rockabilly, punk and indie country acts.
Things tend to get quite busy during lunch and dinner hours at the cozy Sesame Burgers & Beer, located on Spruill Avenue just south of Park Circle. Sesame was something of a pioneer in the neighborhood, opening more than 10 years ago with a welcoming atmosphere.
Either from Sesame’s 10-seat bar or from the nearby dining room, patrons can order from a lengthy list of bottled and canned beers (usually between 35 and 40) or from the six-tap system. The menu lists everything by style and emphasizes locally brewed specialties and regional micros. The surprisingly affordable cocktail/martini menu includes creative concoctions for $6 or $7, including spicy twists on old classics like mules, margaritas, mojitos and punches. The basil-accented Gin Morrison is a spicy-but-light drink for the warm months ahead. For those with a sweet tooth, there are 12 alcoholic, malt shop styled “adult milkshakes” on hand as well, including the Cookies ‘n’ Cream (vanilla vodka and Oreo cookies) and the Buttercup (butterscotch schnapps and Heath bar).
Located just southwest of Park Circle at Durant Avenue and McCarthy Street, adjacent to the Mixson Bath and Racquet Club, Básico is an elegant restaurant and bar with an impressive menu of cocktails, craft beers, and wines that pair very well with its Mexican-inspired fare. They refer to themselves as “a modern take on a traditional taqueria.” The bright colors and spacious dining room and patio areas enhance that progressive approach.
The Básico happy hour buzzes with specials on house-crafted margaritas made from an array of herbs, fresh-squeezed citrus, exotic bitters, organic agave syrups and gourmet sodas from Charleston’s Cannonborough Beverage Co. On Wednesdays, bottles of wine run at half-price all day. It’s laid-back enough to visit for a quick beer or bottle of wine, and it’s spiffy enough for a formal group outing or fancy date night.
Over the last year, wine lovers have enjoyed new options as several wine-heavy venues have opened along East Montague.
Plush and upscale, Lotus Vietnamese Cuisine has already established itself for fine Asian cuisine, but locals dig the scene at the 10-seat, L-shaped bar as well. Lotus’ mixologists offer a decent beer list. There’s a rotating selection of six sakes. They boast an inspired cocktail list, too. Each house specialty runs for $9, and each has a spicy/herbal kick. The Lotus Mule made with Bombay Sapphire gin, lime juice, sugar, fresh basil, and a pinch of salt is a winner, as is the spicy Guavanero Margarita made with Lunazul Blanco tequila, mango, guava, fresh cilantro and haneñero.
Lotus’s evenly balanced menu of wines stands out with 13 varieties by the glass and more than 40 wines by the bottle. The service, style, and fare add up to a refined “wine bar” feel within the restaurant.
Nearby on East Montague, Accent on Wine Park Circle — the sister bar to the previously established Accent on Wine location in Summerville — is a fun new wine spot with an unexpectedly easygoing feel and impressively vast selection of fine wines, craft beers, cheeses, charcuterie and artisan bites.
Run by partners Stephane Peltier and John Schaefer, Accent on Wine regularly offers more than 30 wines by the glass (either a 2.5-ounce pour or a full five-ounce pour) and by the bottle. Knowledgeable staffers easily guide you to the right wines in a friendly manner. Accent on Wine accentuates craft and imported beers, too, hosting very affordable weekly “Beer Flight” nights on Thursdays.
The recently opened Stems & Skins (the name refers to a cluster of wine grapes) is one of the newest drink spots in the Park Circle neighborhood, and co-owners Matt Tunstall (previously a sommelier at the acclaimed Husk restaurant) and Justin Croxall have already established the place as a supreme destination for wine lovers, foodies and vinyl (the turntable type) enthusiasts. As the sign over the doors states, Stems & Skins specializes in “fresh and freaky ferments,” and six days a week, they serve an international array of wines in 3-ounce or 5-ounce pours or by bottle. It’s an impressive list, categorized by varietal, producer, elevage and fermentation style. They embrace craft brewing too, with seven selections in rotation on tap. The high-end cocktails are carefully adorned with luxurious garnishes like anchovy-stuffed olives, flamed twists and brandied cherries.
You know you’re in a uniquely hip wine bar when you can land a seat at the L-shaped bar and order off of a thoroughly composed menu assembled from the original LP cover of a vintage Kenny Loggins album while nibbling on cured ham, gazing at framed prints of Commie leaders designed by Charleston-born artist Shepard Fairey and listening to Herbie Hancock’s jazz combo reworking a Nirvana hit.
North Charleston is home to four distinctive, independent microbreweries — and more are on the way. Each of the established breweries — COAST Brewing Co., Holy City Brewing, Frothy Beard Brewing Co. and Freehouse Brewery — offer a handful of standards and a wild rotation of seasonals and specialties. Each has its own handsomely designed tasting rooms that open to the public.
Located in a cool warehouse in the old Navy Yard neighborhood, COAST is the second oldest brewery in the Lowcountry after downtown’s Palmetto Brewing. COAST is highly revered as one of the pioneering forces in the Carolina beer world. For 10 years, co-owners and co-brewers David Merritt and Jaime Tenny have successfully pushed for legal reforms for the craft brewing industry in the state and led by example in general, producing classic styles and ales and lagers with new twists from the freshest ingredients they could source.
COAST’s casual, kids-and-dogs-friendly tasting room is within its production house with a half-dozen styles available on draft by the sample full pint or growler fill (their newly redesigned cans are available off-premise). Tasting room hours are 4-7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Housed in a warehouse off of Dorchester Road (behind the Honda motorcycle shop), Holy City Brewing started out in 2011 as a project by pals/homebrewers Joel Carl, Chris Brown, Mac Minaudo and Sean Nemitz. Within a couple of years, they’d transformed a generic industrial space into a welcoming hangout and busy production facility. Loyal fans swing by the lengthy taproom bar to check out the latest year-round, seasonal and specialty beers on tap. There’s plenty of seating in the taproom and partially covered open-air patio.
Holy City keeps 20 of its own beers on the mighty draft list. The malty Pluff Mud Porter and Follicle Brown Ale are faves among sweet-toothed fans, while hop heads prefer the floral Holy City Pilsner and the citrusy Overly Friendly IPA. Beers are available by full pint, as four-glass flights (4 ounces each) or by growler fill. They’ve recently expanded the in-house kitchen and currently feature burgers, sandwiches, salads and a fish-and-chips plate during taproom hours, which are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Kids and pets are welcome anytime. Special events include weekly yoga, live music shows and team trivia nights.
Just a few blocks down Dorchester Road, off of the warehouse district of Industrial and Azalea avenues, the quaint Freehouse Brewery is a true gem in the North Area’s beer scene. Two years ago, proprietor and brewer Arthur Lucas installed a small tasting room and deck area overlooking the marshes of the Ashley River. The beers lean toward the artisanal/experimental side, utilizing as many certified-organic ingredients as possible, and ranging from traditional pale ales and stouts to more exotic saisons, farmhouse ales and other Belgian-inspired styles.
The Freehouse Brewery regularly hosts live music events, food truck gatherings, and special tasting sessions. The tasting room is open to the public 3-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1-8 p.m. Saturdays.
Another celebrated microbrewery in the North Charleston scene is Frothy Beard Brewing, a small-scale facility with its own handsome tasting room and extensive beer menu. Located just south of Ashley Phosphate Road along the Peppermill Parkway (just past Stokes Volkswagen), it’s easily accessible from the airport and north area neighborhoods.
Frothy Beard specializes in small-batch ales and lagers brewed by the original founding threesome of Michael Biondi, Steve McCauley, and Joey Siconolfi. The tasting room offers six yearlong and seasonal varieties from hand-carved tap handles in pints, flights or growlers. It’s not unusual to find unusual ingredients like hot peppers, cocoa nibs, cucumbers, tea and even squash in some of their offerings. Check it out while you can; the brewery recently announced that it’s looking to expand and relocate this year.
For something a bit stronger than beer, the recently established Striped Pig Distillery — the first full-sized operational distillery in North Charleston since Prohibition — offers samples of house-made spirits during tasting room hours from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Casual tours conducted by one of the owners/distillers — Johnny Pieper, Jim Craig and Todd Weiss — explain in detail how each spirit is produced.
Striped Pig is in a nicely designed warehouse just down the drive from Duvall Catering on the corner of Azalea and Old School drives. It’s a cozy, comfortable setting in the tasting room, with a few bar stools and tables set up just outside the main production room. The distillers can only pour three small samples of a spirit during a tour (no cocktails), but it’s a great chance to sample and enjoy a butterscotchy white rum, a clove-accented spiced rum, a floral gin, a mildly corn-sweet vodka or an alcohol-hot sip of ‘shine.