History, God, saltwater, and alcohol make up Charleston’s four core pillars of society, and at least two of them fit together nicely. Hot July afternoons find countless day-trippers strolling from the sand into one of the area’s beach bars, and then stumbling back out into the dunes in the evening. Here are a few saltwatering holes you’ve got to try.
The Windjammer, Isle of Palms
1008 Ocean Blvd.
Even the most Folly-centric beachgoers have likely ventured to the ‘Jammer for a concert — it’s one of Charleston’s best stages and sound systems — but they may have never set foot there on a Saturday afternoon when the deck fills with folks looking to get a legal drink on IOP in sight of the waves; there’s no booze on the beach on IOP. Cozy up to a picnic table and watch the volleyball games below the deck or find a partner and challenge the sand court yourself. The bar’s annual Bikini Bash always draws a crowd, but it’s regular touring groups like Sons of Bill, Cowboy Mouth, and Robert Earl Keen that really pack the joint. Open since 1972, the ‘Jammer might be the best oceanfront music venue south of … well, anywhere.
Surf Bar, Folly Beach
103 East Cooper Ave.
What was once a cozy local secret is now a destination for travelers, but the summertime crowds haven’t diminished the everyone’s-family atmosphere or the wood-fired, tongue-pleasing culinary offerings at Surf Bar. Wooden and rustic from porch to bar, Surf Bar’s view of City Hall across the street might not rival its oceanfront competitors, but it more than makes up for that with its array of surf- and Americana-themed décor and attention-grabbing surf films playing on the unobtrusive flat screens. Order a Painkiller, inhale the scent of fresh nutmeg, and let the Gosling’s dark rum relax you.
High Thyme, Sullivan’s Island
2213-C Middle St.
There’s not really a waterfront spot for a cocktail on residential Sullivan’s, but Middle Street offers a fair share of drinking options. Among the best is the quaint High Thyme, with its wide porch and window-backed bar allowing views of everyone coming on and off the island. High Thyme is first a restaurant (a “bistro” perhaps if we’re going to be exact), taking pride in creative dishes like Duck Confit Serpentini and Cheese with BBQ Sauce and their Tapas Tuesday offerings, ranging from tenderloins to rare tuna. But it’s the lively bar that provides its character, particularly on Sunday evenings in the summertime, when they clear out the dining room for intimate concerts. It’s an unlikely hangout for Sullivan’s remaining tie-dyed set, providing a fun intermingling of sailors, Deadheads, and moneyed second-homers.
The Drop In, Folly Beach
32B Center St.
It’s easy to espouse the virtues of a bar that shamelessly promotes their Honky Tonk Tuesdays with a close-up shot of American-flag-bedecked breasts on Facebook. The Drop In brings in the locals with constant specials: $1 beers for fellow F&Bers after their shifts and $2 PBR deals all the time. But don’t let the drink deals fool you into skipping the food. The tiny joint dishes out enviable soups and sandwiches, and they’ll deliver to you on your beach towel while you sunbathe — just tell them which beach access you’re at. For the Drop In at its finest, go by around 1 a.m., when whatever live music they’ve hired for the night turns up the volume for the end-of-night rush of patrons.
Acme Lowcountry Cantina, Isle of Palms
31 J.C. Long Blvd.
This IOP classic underwent an image facelift this spring, adding Lowcountry to their name and reworking the menu to incorporate a host of local seafood and produce. It’s a worthy brunch destination with the usual gritty and shrimpy suspects, plus a $15 make-your-own mimosa bottle-and-carafe deal. You can also hit it up for Lobster Night on Thursdays and gobble five tails for $28.99. On weekends, the covered patio becomes one of IOP’s liveliest spots for music and dancing, and a great place to experience the island’s still-thriving, heavy-drinking underbelly.
Dockside Restaurant & Lounge,
3730 Docksite Road
The Dockside Restaurant & Lounge doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but it’s a popular gathering spot for old-school islanders and vacationers on the tip. Owned by celebrated local George “Boochie” Fontaine, the splendidly rustic Dockside overlooks the unspoiled marshes of Big Bay Creek. The restaurant upstairs is an old-school eatery specializing in fried and affordable seafood, while downstairs, the low-ceiling lounge slings suds and booze from a cozy bar decorated with old Edisto relics. A curious collection of coconuts hangs from the bar ceiling, each one sculpted to look like a tipsy drinker’s face. Regulars order cold cans of beer, whiskey and rum drinks, and a variety of shooters. Bartenders know their stuff and serve with a laid-back style. The weekend nights in the Dockside lounge can get lively when live rock, reggae, and funk bands and solo performers set up and jam on the main stage. Regional acts come back every summer to get down with the fun-loving barflies and visiting party animals. It’s always a wild mix.
Spoiled Secret of the Year
Although the VFW on Isle of Palms, located at 1004 Ocean Blvd., is normally only open to veterans and service members, on Fridays they invite the public in for a $12 rib-eye steak, salad, and potato dinner. Chow down with a cold Bud and watch the waves from the deck of the only beachfront VFW in the country, then head next door to the Windjammer for a night of music.