Little Palm at The Ryder Hotel offers poolside craft cocktails in a chic setting. | Photos provided

Hotels in Charleston are not just for tourists. Some of the city’s most frequented places to stay are flush with bars, restaurants and cool shops. You might be surprised that Charleston’s hotels even house some of the top bars in the area. 

From quaint boutique hotels to nine-story luxury stays, Charleston’s hotel scene has greatly expanded in recent years — not always to the delight of locals. But many hotels offer great experiences for residents as well as tourists.

Like your fun aunt’s home

The Palmetto Hotel creates familiar cocktails for everyone to enjoy. | Photo provided

One of the most recent additions is the Palmetto Hotel, which opened March 1 on East Bay Street in the space formerly located by The Saint Hotel. Guests enter through an elegantly eclectic lobby with  an impressive gold palmetto leaf chandelier and couches outfitted in fabric of old Charleston maps. The setup and availability of games encourage people to spend time in the lobby, which opens into the hotel’s bar.

Bar manager Koky Lopez said the hotel wanted to capture a very specific vibe — that of your slightly eccentric but fun, booze-loving, single aunt’s house.

“To me that was really funny because then when the bar was done, I was like ‘Oh, I get it’ after all the elements were in,” she said.

Lopez developed the bar menu from this starting inspiration, creating seven cocktails designed for easy sipping. But she plans to keep adding to the menu.

“To me, I wanted to have a little bit of everything for everyone, but putting it in terms people are familiar with,” she said. “Each cocktail is like a marriage between a couple classics. So the Old City Wall is a happy marriage between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.”

Lopez wanted to include illustrations of each cocktail to set people’s expectations. Some may gravitate towards a boozy drink in a rocks glass or a bubbly drink in a coupe glass. 

The food menu is also designed to feel familiar and be shareable, with items such as spiced nuts made in-house, pimento cheese from Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and a charcuterie board paired with local cucumbers, watermelon radishes, pecan crackers and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit crackers. Step it up a notch and order the $60 caviar service for a fancy treat and Champagne.

“[The hotel and menu] inspire conversation,” Lopez said. “You’re not over there with a fork and a knife going through it, because you have your hands free for drinking or gesturing or talking to your friend, maybe playing cards.” 

Updated take

Even some of the oldest hotels in the city are still keeping things new and fresh. The Mills House on Meeting Street, which will celebrate its 170th anniversary in August, recently renovated its pool and added the Terrace Bar. 

The new Palmetto Hotel on East Bay Street incorporates local details, such as Charleston maps on couch fabric, into its sophisticated and eclectic design. | Photos provided

General manager Michael Linder described the new outdoor bar as“a little urban oasis” which serves frozen drinks, summer classics and more traditional bar offerings. It is currently open Wednesdays through Sundays. 

For locals who want to take a dip in the pool while sipping their cocktails, cabanas are available to book. Linder said people tend to reserve cabanas for special occasions like birthdays or when family is visiting. 

“People can come, catch some rays, have a drink,” he said. “The Terrace Bar is open to the public. I think a lot of times people don’t think hotels are open to the public, but we’re not just for the hotel guests, we’re for locals too.”

The Mills House recently renovated its pool and added a new Terrace Bar. | Photo provided

Starting in August, the hotel will also host a month of celebratory events in honor of its 170th anniversary — including twists on food and drink items that harken back to the hotel’s early days. 

Endless summer

Standing eight stories high, The Dewberry hotel is home to two bars — the first-floor Living Room bar and the rooftop Citrus Club, which was voted Best Rooftop by City Paper readers in Best of Charleston 2023.

The Living Room serves classic cocktails made through traditional methods, said bar manager Kate Proudy, while the Citrus Club focuses on bright, summery drinks year-round.

“We’re always a bit more summer-based up there because of the vibes and just being in Charleston,” she said. “But two absolute runaways this summer have been the garden Mojito … and the spicy coconut margarita.”

The garden Mojito cocktail in one of the Citrus Club’s most popular drinks. | Provided

The hotel’s mojito is a slight twist on the refreshing cocktail incorporating both mint and basil with St. George basil brandy, Italicus bergamot liqueur and Tito’s Vodka, while the spicy coconut margarita features Espolon, coconut milk and cointreau with local brands Daysie vanilla syrup and Red Clay spicy margarita salt.

And the view from the roof is unbeatable.

“To have that view of the city that you live in and seeing everything from a different point of view I think is super important. Also just come and taste what’s trendy right now in the area instead of going to the typical college bars,” Proudy said.

Locals can also visit the Living Room bar Mondays through Wednesdays to receive 15% off their tab. 

Old-school Miami chic

Little Palm at The Ryder Hotel on Meeting Street also nails the summer vibes with interior decor best described as old school Miami-chic — and an outdoor second-story pool. Enough said. 

Locals can stop by to enjoy boozy, fruity or refreshing cocktails at the indoor-outdoor bar as well as a menu of snacks including oysters, peel and eat shrimp, ceviche, crab hushpuppies and popcorn. For larger plates, the bar offers refreshing summer salads, a fish po’boy and a shrimp roll, a smash burger and more. 

And if the pool is tempting you, anyone can reserve a sun lounger spot through Resy. 

Bar manager Eric Goodman said Little Palm’s most popular cocktail right now is the Paid Vacation, a tropical margarita with reposado tequila, cinnamon, guava, lime juice, a splash of sauvignon blanc and a tahini salt rim. 

However, Goodman pointed to Seven Day Weekend, a vodka-based drink with green chili and cilantro notes, and Extra Leg Room, a Gin cocktail with pineapple and oolong tea soda, as other popular choices.

“We like to keep it nice and playful even with the names — whisking you away, so even if you’re not on vacation, even if you’re a local, you’re thinking about being on vacation while you’re with us,” Goodman said, “which is kind of the ethos of the bars back in the tiki era where it’s just an escape from reality.”

Other Charleston hotel bars to check out

Luxury hotel The Charleston Place is home to the Thoroughbred Club, an elegant but comfortable living room lounge, and Meeting on Market, an upscale sports pub. 

Hotel Bennett boasts possibly one of the most Instagrammable bars in the city — Camellia’s. This Champagne room on the hotel’s first floor is decked out in shades of pink complemented by sections of wallpaper with blooming flowers, and the star of the bar — the oblong crystal chandelier. The hotel’s lobby bar also offers space to grab a drink and relax, but many people gravitate toward Fiat Lux, the rooftop bar with indoor-outdoor setting a view overlooking Marion Square and the city beyond.

Known for its speakeasy vibe, The Spectator’s bar plays into its 1920s era theme, but its cocktail menu is anything but traditional, incorporating unique ingredients like shishito peppers in the Holy Shishito mezcal-based drink and pepperoni-washed pepper gin in the Pepperoni Negroni.

The Grand Bohemian takes a page out of Alice in Wonderland’s book with fantastical-looking furniture, turf carpeting and neon pink lights at its rooftop bar Élevé. The bar’s inside space is more toned-down with an elegant finish.

The Vendue and its rooftop bar are classic go-tos for locals and visitors alike. Head to the roof to sip on your favorite cocktail and take in the scenic view.

The Watch Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits at The Restoration offers yet another stunning view of the city and is an excellent place to enjoy a drink during sunset. 

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