The first Best of Charleston celebration 25 years ago was tame compared to this year’s 400+ winners. In February 1998, Charleston City Paper published its first Best Of  list, a compendium of 137 winners in seven categories of the best offered throughout the area. That first list is comparable to the lengthy, diverse and popular list in today’s 136-page newspaper. 

Some 1998 winners remain familiar. The John Ancrum SPCA won Best Public Service Organization. Its successor, the Charleston Animal Society, won Best Local Cause this year. Other winners in 1998 and 2022 include The Gibbes Museum of Art (Best Museum), Bagel Nation (Best Bagel), 82 Queen (Best She-Crab Soup), Fox Music House (Best Musical Instrument Store) and Gene’s Haufbrau (Best West Ashley Bar).

In the 2022 edition, we offered several new categories, such as Best Acai Bowl (Huriyali), Best Grits (Grace + Grit), Best Wine Bar (Avondale Wine & Cheese), Best Local Pharmacy (Dottie’s Pharmacy) and Best Private Chef (Brett McKee).

But things have changed through the years. There’s no need for 1998’s Best Place to Rent Videos (Blockbuster) for obvious reasons. Virtually all of the Eating and Drinking category winners from 1998 morphed as foodie Charleston matured and broadened. The Best Community Activist of 1998, Dana Beach of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, has retired, as has former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who was 1998’s Best Powerbroker and Local Hero. Jestine’s (Best Southern Food and Best Iced Tea) closed, just as several other restaurants have moved on. Southend Brewery, now closed, was Best Brew Pub in a city with few; now there are more than 35 breweries in the area.

Looking back at the old list also suggests we might want to resurrect several snarky and fun 1998 categories, such as Best Local TV Hair (Russ McCaskey, WCBD TV2); Best Thing to Happen in the Lowcountry (revitalization of upper King Street), Best Cheap Thrill When You’re Bored & Broke (the beach); Best Place to Get Snubbed (Saks Fifth Avenue, now closed but scheduled to open May 15 as a Target); and Best Restroom Graffiti (Cumberland’s, closed in 2007). Two still familiar names — 105.5 The Bridge’s The Critic and now-retired WCSC anchor Bill Sharpe — tied in 1998 to win Best Local Personality to Send a One-Way Ticket to Mars!

For 25 years, Charleston City Paper has been proud to offer readers’ insights into the best that the Holy City and neighboring communities have to offer. Let’s celebrate throughout the week. And if you see our billboard on Interstate 26 as you come into downtown, give a honk!

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Winner of top 2021 state journalism honors (best editorial writing and best cartoon), the Charleston City Paper brings you the Best of Charleston every day. Support our “unafraid” journalism with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.