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

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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

de­sign.

Any­thing else?

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

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