There’s a bar for everyone in South Carolina’s capital city, whether someone’s looking for a handcrafted cocktail, a sommelier-chosen bottle of wine, great locally-produced craft beer, or even just a place for some great people watching.
Bar, Craft Ale Bar, Pub, Restaurant, American, $$$
A cool respite under the historic former bank building and WOLO news—across from the State House—the self-described “Best Dive Bar in North America” has all the elements a dive bar enthusiast would want. The beer list is phenomenal, with rare kegs from regional breweries on tap, cocktails that inspire people to rush down and an elevated menu that should never simply be called “bar food.” Cozily dark and with a zoo of taxidermied animals hanging out on the walls, having an evening at The Whig is to experience the best of Columbia’s relaxed nightlife with a burger in hand.
A gathering spot for Columbia’s quirkiest since the early ‘90s, the long-running Art Bar attracts a range of folks from college students to people who could be your grandparents—if your grandparents were cool enough. Adorned with Christmas lights both inside and out and covered with marker scrawls in the bathrooms and the back rooms, everyone is welcome at Art Bar. Local shows, video game tournaments, and goth nights are frequent occasions here, and the costumes at Halloween are not to be missed, as weirdness and acceptance of said quirks are the order of the night.
Formerly a hat shop on Main Street owned by Ms. Lula Drake in the 1920s, this gorgeous wine bar is more than just grape juice pours. A small but eclectic menu pairs perfectly with the bottles on offer each night, and the chef specializes in handmade pasta creations that are more than your average noodle, like chitarra cut pasta strands and purple potato gnocchi. Sommelier and proprietor Tim Gardner has created an upscale-downtown cool bar that brings people on both special occasions and just-because Wednesdays.
A craft beer store with a bar, people are out at Craft and Draft from the late morning to early evening each day, sipping on the latest on tap. Tap takeover nights, rare kegs, and themed charity nights bring everyone to C&D’s yard on Devine Street because, even if you go in alone, it’s such a friendly atmosphere that you’ll come out with someone new knowing your name. Their retail game is still strong too, with bombers, bottles, and cans on the shelves that no one else can get their hands on.
While Random Tap is a bit on the fringes of what could be called Columbia, an impressive tap list and cozy-casual feel make this destination worth the drive. Situated in a strip mall near the town of Elgin, this husband-and-wife-owned bar has a curation of his random tap list and her decorating prowess that make you want to hang out all day—first on a barstool, then lounging on a comfy couch, and soaking up some sun on the back deck. Come often enough and it can quickly become a Cheers situation, where they’ll know your name and even have it hanging up on the wall as one of their Board Members, aka frequent customers.
Towering in the Columbia skyline, the 17th story Sheraton Hotel on Main Street offers one of the best views in the city, perched atop the stone giant. The Rooftop Bar and Lounge has glassed-in walls and a modern vibe where tourists and locals mingle, pressing their faces against the highly-coveted seats around the edge of the roof and trying to find landmarks in the distance. The bar is well stocked with domestic beers and mixed drinks, but watching the sun sink into the horizon is the real reason to take the elevator skywards.
One of the newer bars to hit the scene, the Grand, well, really is grand. The former Army/Navy store is nearly a block long from front to back door, and its swanky interior has a lot of sections for different activities that can keep any group of friends busy all night. The front has elegant dining and a classy bar, and the midsection has a lounge area with games like Jenga, which are great while waiting on a lane for the boutique bowling alley in the back. Outside, there’s a cozy deck to enjoy a little stillness in the middle of a busy city block, and finally, the downstairs area with a RFID enabled taproom is the ultimate hangout spot of your dreams, complete with video games, leather couches, and big screen TVs galore.