12 STEP PLANET: CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Having received accolades such as “America’s Friendliest City” and “World’s Best City” in recent years, Charleston – once at the centre of America’s bloody Civil War – has morphed into the living, beating heart of the Deep South. BY PETER MCGORAN
Where is it?
The oldest and second largest city in South Carolina, Charleston sits at the eastern edge of the United States and looks out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Why should I go there?
Charleston’s populace are cut from the finest cloth that the Deep a has to offer. Have a problem?
Ask someone on the street, they’ll be happy to help you. Stuck for somewhere to have lunch? The locals have the answer. Everything about this city is perfectly designed for visitors to feel comfortable, safe, well fed, and taken care of. Trust me, the best part about this city is knowing that the Tourist Guide in your hand will only get you so far – the Charlestonians will take you the rest of the way.
How do I get there?
A number of airlines operate flights from Dublin to Charleston with stopovers along the way. Pricewise, however, the best option is to book a flight to JFK and get on a connecting flight. Delta, Jet Blue and American Airlines all operate flights from JFK and they take just over two hours. To get the best price, you might need to spend a day or two hanging about in New York, but we doubt you’ll be too worried about that…
What language do they speak?
Southern American English. A dialect that has been immortalised in films like Forrest Gump and TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, very few accents out there compare to a slow Southern drawl.
Where can I get a drink?
There’s enough great bars in this city to make sure that a large part of your time will be spent sampling all the beverages that Charleston has to offer. Upscale, it’s worth going to one of Charleston’s older, more established venues. Henry’s Bar, located on North Market in the heart of the city’s French Quarter, is a Depression-era tavern which retains its old-time character with a bohemian brick façade; the cocktails aren’t too bad either. Then if you’re on a budget and looking to find somewhere cheap to pre-drink before a night out (or “pre-game”, to use an Americanism), head over to Wet Willie’s for some eyewateringly sweet yet subtly strong alcoholic slushies. Operating as a chain across several south-eastern states, you’ll want to try everything on offer and end up leaving a little bit more tipsy than you’d planned.
What’s the nightlife like?
Likely to leave you with a hazy memory of the night before. Charleston’s nightlife scene is localised along Kings Street, where some of the best clubs that the city has to offer are only a matter of steps away from each other. The top pick for a raucous good night out is Calhoun Street’s famed ‘Trio’. Pay no heed to the off-putting décor of the place – paint peeling off the walls, chairs that look that look like they belong in a ’70s porno flic – and you’ll be satisfied with the thumping music, friendly people, extended opening hours, and bar staff who’ve collectively thrown the rulebook for pouring normal alcoholic measures out the window.
As well as this, it’s worth noting that the old stereotype about southerners being regressive and intolerant doesn’t really apply in Charleston. The city has a friendly outlook to LGBTQ people, with Dudley’s Bar being a welcoming environment to people from every community.
What’s the food like?
One especially renowned facet of Charleston’s cuisine is its delectable, locally-sourced seafood. Located inconspicuously in a converted suburban house just north of the city centre and offering a garlic shrimp dish that is incomparable to anything you’re likely to have had before, Nana’s Seafood and Soul consistently ranks as one of the city’s best niche eateries. Snobs beware, this is not a place that takes pains over interior decorating or modern veneer – it just does really good food.
Where should I stay?
For a high-end hotel, the Vendue takes the biscuit. A Revolutionary Era building that has come through thick and thin over centuries, it wears its history well, with a 300-piece art exhibition located on site. Its centrality and lively rooftop bar are also an added bonus. If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the Charleston Downtown Holiday Inn, centrally located between the Ashley River and the city’s vibrant historic district. As always, however, it’s worth seeing if there are any good options by ways of hostels or AirBnbs.
What are the touristy things to do?
Charleston’s City Market stretches across the main streets, offering itself as the central point of the city. Even a brief ramble through this market on any given day will reveal a wonder of crafts, local food, metal-work, home décor, hand-crafted trinkets, stoneware and woodwork. Part of the beauty is the market itself; it tunnels its way for four blocks through the main thoroughfare of the city and is recognised for its highly ornate architectural
Set a day aside to visit Fort Sumter. Accessed by boat and set out with ruins, gun emplacements and a museum, this fort is an eerie and important location which saw the Civil War’s first shots fired. Tours around the fort are a revelatory experience, showing the true human cost of America’s bloodiest war and explaining the complexities between the North and the South, as well as their efforts at reconciliation. For further historical inquiry, it’s worth checking the Charleston Museum. Another gem that was built in the Revolutionary Era, just before America gained its independence, this museum tells the sometimes bitter, sometimes shocking tales of slavery in the South, crimes against Native Americans, and local history.
What’s my challenge?
Drink a Bacon Bloody Mary on a bleary-eyed morning after the night before. Most restaurants in town will serve them and their resounding ability to cure hangovers have given them a particular infamy in the city of Charleston…
Sweet Carolina: the Hotel Vendue and (below) one of the city’s main thoroughfares