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Best Charleston Nightlife

AOL PICK from our Editors
Chalk it up to the hot weather, the history of rum-running pirates, or the laid-back Southern atmosphere, but Charleston's always been a drinking city. Young out-of-towners drink at the wild, slightly cheesy bars and nightclubs around Market Street, where you're always bound to see at least one bachelor or bachelorette party. Those preferring a quieter style of nightlife may want to avoid this area after 11PM or so. Hip locals drink at the lounges of the trendy Upper King neighborhood. Well-heeled older locals and visitors drink at the various hotel bars around the Historic District, some of which have patio seating or rooftops with incredible views. (the Market Pavilion hotel, for example, has the best views in the city from its rooftop bar). Many of the city's best restaurants are equally well-known for their bars. If you're into innovative cocktails, these spots might be one your best bets. Look out for Firefly sweet tea vodka, frothy bourbon cocktails and classic gin and tonics

Pavilion Bar and Cafe

Neighborhood: Historic District
On the rooftop of the Market Pavilion hotel, this swank outdoor bar is a favorite with Charleston's see-and-be-seen crowd. If you come, dress the part—stiletto heels and flirty designer dresses for women, Gucci sunglasses and loafers with no socks for men. Fancy cocktails are the order of the day, as are ritzy appetizers like lobster ceviche and filet mignon kebabs. Call a couple of hours ahead to reserve a private table. Oh, and do try to resist the temptation to jump, fully clothed, into the rooftop pool.

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Chai's

Neighborhood: Upper King
This Upper King tapas lounge sheds Charleston's Southern sweetness in favor of an urban, Asian fusion vibe. Slickly dressed twenty- and thirty-somethings nibble on edamame dip, yellowfish sashimi and other Asian-inspired small plates in the bamboo-shaded outdoor bar area. The specialty cocktails are quirky and fun—try a Cambodian Sex Drive (mango vodka, pear schnapps, OJ, triple sec) or a pineapple mojito. The main dining room, illuminated by dozens of geometric hanging lanterns and decorated with oversized Buddha prints, is crowded until late.

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Chai's  

Social Restaurant & Bar

Neighborhood: Historic District
A hit with a slightly older, professional crowd, this arty wine bar is a lovely place to relax with a glass of Riesling. Or Malbec. Or Sirah. Or Prosecco. Or pretty much any other type of wine you can imagine. The owner, a chef and sommelier, has a better knowledge of wine than just about anyone else in Charleston, and is happy to recommend something new or unusual. The atmosphere is urban-chic, with dramatic high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and oversized paintings.  There's food too—try a wood-fired pizza or a few Asian-influenced small plates.

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Blind Tiger Pub

Neighborhood: Historic District
A classic Charleston dive, the Blind Tiger may not be much to look at from the outside, but it has a lovely back patio and a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. This is a true locals' joint, so you'll be safe from the bachelor partiers rampaging out on Market Street. The crowd is eclectic, as is the bar menu—burgers and fries sit cheek-to-jowl with escargot and fancy pasta dishes. Stop in for a brew, and chat with one of the young musician types hanging out at the bar—you just might find out about a great concert or gallery opening.

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Rooftop at Venue Inn

Neighborhood: French Quarter
With views over Charleston Harbor, this spacious rooftop bar is one of Charleston's most popular. Come early for some brews and late afternoon snacks, and stay to watch the sun set. It's around this time that the bar starts to get crowded, mostly with preppy young Charleston professionals. The crowds get noisier as the night goes on, especially on evenings when there's live blues or jazz. In winter, heaters keep the place toasty. Be aware that the rooftop shuts down at midnight, earlier than most Historic District bars.

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