Charleston is a city of immense history, but its reputation as food and drink destination is a relatively recent phenomenon. And with that notoriety, refined eating and drinking options have added to what was already a considerable set of upscale options throughout Charleston. But as always, hidden behind some of these glossy offerings lie the city’s dive bars that offer a counterpoint to some of King Street’s decadence.
Oldest among Charleston dive bars is Gene’s Haufbrau
in the city’s Avondale neighborhood, an unassuming double storefront that happens to hold one of the biggest beer offerings in Charleston. Over 170 varieties across draft, bottle and can options pair with an impressive food menu and bar decorations that include an extensive set of vintage serving trays.
Its fortunes riding much of Charleston’s boom as a destination city, Burns Alley Tavern
opened in 2006 just before the wave of exposure hit the city. The dive bar is satisfyingly difficult to find, one of its entrance down a small alley and the other through the back of an adjoining Mexican restaurant. Inside, an explosion of stickers, signs and even a collage of confiscated fake IDs awaits.
Not to be outdone in being hard to find, Cutty’s
just north of downtown Charleston in the city’s Elliotsborough district has a Phillips Street address but a single-door, no-window entrance on neighboring Bogard Street. The draw is drinking in perhaps the darkest dive bar in Charleston as well as the selection of handwritten, self-proclaimed “sassy” signs dispensing dive bar wisdom.
Charleston is a beautiful city with a well-earned reputation for all things food and drink, but a set of dive bars just under the surface offers an alternative view of one of the great Southern cities in America.