The ELYSIAN Guide to the Holy City, Charleston

Here’s how to dress and refresh like a local Charlestonian.

Charleston has it all – having been voted the “World’s Best City” by Travel + Leisure and having received a slew of other awards including “World’s Friendliest City” and the No. 1 City in the U.S. and Canada. It’s distinguished by its rich history – an exceptional melding of classic Southern United States charm, French and English influences and West African culture.

ELYSIAN is more than familiar with the glamour and grace of South Carolina’s oldest city, so here’s our guide on where to eat and drink – and more importantly, how to dress.

RISE & SHINE

An east coast city along the water means a breathtaking sunrise. Even if you’re not awake for the 4:30 a.m. phenomenon, the Charleston skies in the early morning are nothing short of gorgeous.

Basic Kitchen

Basic Kitchen, Charleston, SC

 

Start your day by diving headfirst into Charleston’s vibrant and delicious local fare at Basic Kitchen. Launched by husband-and-wife duo, Kate and Ben Towill, Basic Kitchen sits in a historic downtown building and lovingly delivers the kind of health food that you’ll crave on sight.

Basic Kitchen, Charleston, SC

Bringing out the spirit of simply prepared, locally sourced and enchantingly fresh dishes, Basic Kitchen offers Southern-inspired (and infinitely creative) dishes such as cauliflower buffalo wings, peach and fennel salads and coconut rice pudding. As an added bonus, the owners delight in helping locals and tourists alike to find new favorites amongst the illustrious Charleston culinary scene.

82 Wentworth St, Charleston, SC 29401

Basic Kitchen, Charleston, SC

Basic Kitchen, Charleston, SC

The Rise & Shine Wardrobe

Veronica Beard Carito Shorts, $295, neimanmarcus.com ; Veronica Beard Geneva Jacket, $595, neimanmarcus.com ; Karen Walker Northern Lights Cat-eye Sunglasses, $220, modaoperandi.com ; Castañer Carina Canvas Espadrilles, $120, modaoperandi.com

KING STREET SHUFFLE

Old world meets new world on Charleston’s historic King Street. This 300-year-old avenue has evolved – not without its own hiccups in American history – into a bustling thoroughfare that has earned the distinction as one of the hottest shopping destinations in the world. With a host of events, exhibitions and art walks happening all year round, King Street is equipped to satisfy any and all of your desires, whether you’re searching for refined cocktails, antique shops, stunning architectural sights or extremely chic boutique shopping.

King’s Street is the perfect cultural and retail hub to start your embrace of Charlestonian charm. Here are ELYSIAN’s picks for the most delicious, thriving and energetic spots to grab a bite in the Holy City.

Felix

Felix, Charleston, SC

Felix is an eatery and cocktail destination that lovingly alludes to contemporary France; the inspiration for opening the spot came from owner Felix Landrum’s desire to honor his parents’ heritage. Marrying a subtle American vibe with the French classics, Felix’s menu focuses on a snackable, shareable plates and Parisian-aroused cocktails.

Felix, Charleston, SC

Take a seat at the elegant curved marble-topped bar, accentuated by tall windows and huge mirrors to go on a culinary journey unlike any French bistro you’ll find elsewhere. (We suggest the Gnocchi á la Grand-Mére that comes dressed in savory chicken confit and brown-butter roasted veggies, followed by a creamy Cognac milkshake.)

550 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29403

Felix, Charleston, SC

 

Vintage

Vintage, Charleston, SC

While the majority of upper King Street is home to a more touristy nightlife vibe, even the most experienced wine connoisseurs can duck into Vintage and feel right at home at Charleston’s most sophisticated spot for oenophiles.

Vintage, Charleston, SC

With only a limited menu of small plates and shareable fondues, there are enough by-the-glass and by-the-bottle options to drown in – not to mention a dozen cheeses and charcuterie options (with experts nearby to help you pair selections with a professional ease).

545 King St, Charleston, South Carolina 29403

Vintage, Charleston, SC

Vintage, Charleston, SC

 

Rarebit

Rarebit, Charleston, SC

If you’re anything like me, the first incentive to visit Rarebit – the American comfort food joint – is that breakfast is served all the livelong day. With a menu containing more oomf and bulk than some of our earlier selections, Rarebit is the place to gorge yourself on chicken and waffles and fried shrimp po-boys (or you can keep it light with a roasted beet salad).

Rarebit, Charleston, SC

Rarebit, Charleston, SC

They also have a large selection of beer, wine and classic-inspired cocktails – and frequent and generous Happy Hours.

474 King St, Charleston, South Carolina 29403

Rarebit, Charleston, SC

Rarebit, Charleston, SC

 

King Street Style

Leal Daccarett Cuba Bow Strap Dress, $925, modaoperandi.com ; Kate Spade NY Bloom Street Justina, $299, katespade.com ; Katerina Makriyianni Fan Fringe Earrings, $200, net-a-porter.com ; Pell Moda Raine Platform Espadrilles, $159.95-$169.95, nordstrom.com

 

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Venture beyond the hustle and bustle of King Street. The adventurous and curious alike will be dazzled and delighted by expeditions down cobblestone lanes and charming historic neighborhoods – and you might just discover some unexpected gems tucked away. From bakeries moonlighting as James Beard-nominated saloons to a classic French eatery disguised as a beautifully restored home, ELYSIAN has the inside scoop on the quasi-obscure destinations in Charleston.

Chez Nous

Chez Nous, Charleston, SC

No restaurant so beautifully embodies the gorgeous historical home it occupies as Chez Nous. Sheltered in a covert side alley, this antebellum structure now offers Charlestonians an “unapologetically French” culinary destination that’s worth a visit for its old-world atmosphere alone. Pair that with the gourmet, handwritten and daily-formulated menu from Chef Jill Mathias, and this pint-sized eatery is a haven for anyone looking for more than status quo.

6 Payne Ct, Charleston, SC 29403

Chez Nous, Charleston, SC

Chez Nous, Charleston, SC

 

The Bar at Husk

The Bar at Husk, Charleston, SC

Husk is already a recognized symbol of Charleston’s increasingly elegant culinary scene, but not many people have ventured to its lesser-known (and recently renovated) bar next door. It feels almost like a 17th century pirates’ haunt, recalling a bygone era of Charleston nightlife. Tightly arranged and rough-hewn, the free standing bar and century-old exposed brick seeks to emulate and restore Charleston’s lineage of historical mixology. The must-have cocktail to try while there? Charleston Light Dragoon Punch 10, a drink with a real ancestral punch. The recipe is a 1792 original discovered in the archival bowels of the Preservation Society of Charleston.

76 Queen St, Charleston, South Carolina 20401

The Bar at Husk, Charleston, SC

The Bar at Husk, Charleston, SC

 

Bar Normandy

Bar Normandy, Charleston, SC

A bakery by day, Normandy Farms transforms into Bar Normandy at 4 pm, a lively 20-seater alter-ego that serves a tightly curated selection of wines and is punctuated by a playlist of edgy French rap music. Its daily menu changes with the whim of Chef Alex Lira and the available selection of local Charlestonian produce. The leap of faith that allowed Lira and bakery owner Mike Ray to work out the logistics of this quasi-squatting situation would start Bar Normandy on a path of notoriety that would have it named Eater Charleston’s Restaurant of the Year in 2017 AND one of Bon Appetit’s Top 50 New Restaurants.

19 Broad St, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

Bar Normandy, Charleston, SC

Bar Normandy, Charleston, SC

 

Tu

Tu is the Chinese word for “earth” – and that’s the spirit of the menu one should expect when entering the sister restaurant of Xiao Bao (the Asian soul food spot in a 40s era gas station). Well-hidden behind Hot Mustard (another Chinese eatery), Tu opened in November 2017 with a menu “inspired by nostalgia, comfort food and flavors from all over the world.”

Tu, Charleston, SC

The cuisine changes often and incorporates locally sourced ingredients. Some of our favorites to come from the kitchen (before disappearing from the list) include Dr. Pepper and mustard-marinated ribs and beef-and-kimchi perogies topped with horseradish and goat cheese. Top off with a glass of orange wine or a Harlem-inspired cocktail with Mezcal and rose liqueur. Tu is a true culinary carnival.

30 Meeting St, Charleston, South Carolina 29403

Tu, Charleston, SC

Tu, Charleston, SC

 

Side Streets Ensemble

Self Portrait Asymmetric Stripe Midi Dress, $440, modaoperandi.com ; Anabela Chan Gold Vermeil, Garnet and Diamond Ring, $1,380, modaoperandi.com ; Sensi Studio Woven Toquilla Shoulder Bag, $330, modaoperandi.com ; Tory Burch Brannan Studded Sandal, $248, nordstrom.com

 

ROOFTOP SIPPIN’

In a chic city with a historical legacy, it may seem odd that Charleston isn’t overrun by skyscrapers – but we’re not mad about it. (Even the one building with 18 stories is outstripped by more than 50 feet by St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church.) A rooftop bar is the most splendid place to overlook the classic church-spire-dotted skyline and beyond to the harbor, its cargo boats and spanned by the beautiful Ravenel Bridge. Here are our top picks for a place to watch the sunset, cocktail in hand.

Eleve Restaurant & Rooftop

Eleve Restaurant & Rooftop, Charleston, SC

Swing by for lunch, dinner or brunch at the rooftop garden at Eleve Restaurant atop the Grand Bohemian. The wall-to-wall windows offer an unparalleled view of the Charlestonian historic district as the sunset paints the sky a myriad of pastels and golds.

Eleve Restaurant & Rooftop, Charleston, SC

All the while, you dine on French- and gypsy-infused dishes – we suggest the smoked salmon baguette (with créme fraiche and fried capers) or the chilled East Coast oysters (topped with ginger root and lemon mignonette). And don’t worry – there is a formidable wine list from which to pair any plate.

55 Wentworth St, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

Guide to the Holy City, Charleston

Guide to the Holy City, Charleston

 

The Watch

The Watch, Charleston, SC

Perched atop Charleston’s luxury boutique hotel, The Restoration, is the Watch, which celebrates the local area’s bounty of produce. The Watch showcases the panorama of Charleston’s birds-eye beauty and boasts “the soul of the region in a bowl of shrimp and grits.”

The Watch, Charleston, SC

Its cocktail menu features recipes handed down for generations, a selection of craft beers and small-batch wines from local producers. You’ll definitely enjoy your evening out in this naturally relaxed and refined setting next to the rooftop pool.

75 Wentworth St, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

The Watch, Charleston, SC

The Watch, Charleston, SC

 

The Rooftop at the Vendue

The Vendue is Charleston’s first – and only – hotel to be dedicated to art in all its forms. With more than 300 original works of art housed at The Vendue, you’ll enjoy the setting while walking up just as much as you do seated at the sleek Rooftop. With a farm-to-table menu and a slew of handcrafted cocktails, there’s something for everyone at this eat-and-drink destination with a distinctive lowcountry flare.

19 Vendue Range St, Charleston, SC 29401

The Rooftop at the Vendue, Charleston, SC

The Rooftop at the Vendue, Charleston, SC

 

Rooftop Wardrobe

Look #1

Prada Printed Plissé-Satin Midi Skirt, $2,355, modaoperandi.com ; Prada Appliquéd Stretch-Knit Boots, $890, modaoperandi.com ; Johanna Ortiz Ivory Coast Poplin Top, $995, modaoperandi.com ; M2Malletier Mini Half Moon Shoulder Bag, $1,190, modaoperandi.com ; Karma El Khalil Trickling Stardust Pendant, $2,600, modaoperandi.com

Look #2

Self Portrait Embroidered Chiffon Mini Dress, $405, modaoperandi.com ; Cult Gaia Acrylic Luna Bag, $400, modaoperandi.com ; Stuart Weitzman NudistSong Sandals, $430, net-a-porter.com ; Oscar de la Renta Swarovski Crystal Swirl Earrings, $390, saksfifthavenue.com

 

WHERE TO SHOP

Like any city, Charleston has quite a formidable shopping scene – and like any tourist city, it can take an effort to figure out where to start. Luckily for you, ELYSIAN has traversed the whole of the Holy City, and we’ve chosen our favorite shops and boutiques to share, so you can find the best of the best without all the headaches.

Maris DeHart

In an area saturated by tourist sites and up-and-coming restaurants, Maris DeHart is a hidden gem that delights surprised patrons with its boutique inventory, lifestyle and vibe. Her selections not only include high-end women’s fashions and accessories that focus on contemporary, progressive Southern designers but also features artwork from local artists and local handmade jewelry.

32 Vendue Range #100, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401

Worthwhile

Since 1993, Worthwhile has been housed within the nineteenth-century McIntosh Seed House on King Street. The lovely internal architecture is engagingly laid-out to showcase its collection of fashions and objects from some of the world’s most respected designers.

268 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401

Hampden

Hampden delivers a distinctive Southern charm – along with a huge assortment of fashions and items by more than 60 American and European designers. Its industrial and sparking clean 4,000-square-foot floor plan draws attention to the fashions hanging beneath beautiful Edison-bulb chandeliers. As an added bonus, there’s a spacious waiting area with a full-service bar for those of your companions that aren’t ready to browse for hours on end.

314 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401

Gwynn’s

And just off the peninsula, there’s the classic department store, Gwynn’s, a classic fixture of Mount Pleasant since 1967. Equipped with old-school charm (and independently and locally owned), Gwynn’s is an award-winning and nationally recognized shopping spot known for its exclusives and impeccable service. They offer personal shopping services, custom tailoring, private suits and delivery – talk about a luxury store that’s got it all.

916 Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina 29464

Boutique Attire

See by Chloé Ruffled Top, $250, net-a-porter.com ; Alice + Olivia Scarlet Pleated Shorts, $265, net-a-porter.com ; Carolina Santo Domingo Petra Tote w/ Bamboo Handles, $695, modaoperandi.com ; Kenneth Cole Leather T-Strap Sandals, $120, bloomingdales.com ; Rebecca de Ravenel Metal Petal Earrings, $415, modaoperandi.com

Cynthia Rowley

Though Cynthia Rowley is technically a Yankee, her boutique’s 40-year residence on King Street makes her an honorary Charlestonian. Not to mention that Cynthia Rowley’s resort collection is the perfect wardrobe for the sea-scented city. Here are some of the best frocks to traipse around the Holy City:

1. Malibu Ruffle Mini Dress, $395 ; 2. Offshore One-Sleeve Dress, $4953. Bonfire Brocade Dress, $2884. High Tide Tiered Ruffle Dress, $3955. Aurora Printed Silk Maxi Dress, $4956. Lorelei Embroidered Mesh Dress, $425 ; cynthiarowley.com

178 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

 

PORCH LIFE & STROLLING

Charleston’s claim to fame is its scrupulous attention given to the preservation of its historical structures – making it one of the most beautiful cities in which to take a stroll. The timeless, classic homes of Broad Street fill one with an indescribable feeling of time’s fluidity; Meeting Street is considered the most romantic avenue in the world. Whatever route you choose to take, there’s no shortage of beautiful and inspiring sights to take in – and you might even find yourself invited up to a porch party.

Gal Meets Glam 

A stroll is a quintessential symbol of blossoming romance, and it’s only appropriate that you have an equally romantic wardrobe. The debut line of dresses from Julia Engel, Charleston-based influencer, blogger and founder of Gal Meets Glam, is the epitome of a romantic Charlestonian frock. Her first line to be released – which quickly sold out and required a run-off of popular sizes – Engel says, “I approached this collection as a modern woman who never forgets the past.” A celebration of sophistication, feminine elegance and romantic details, Gal Meets Glam provides a suit of confidence and playfulness for any woman. As you can see, the lovingly tailored dresses aren’t meant to only flatter the body – “Wearing dresses isn’t just about the fabric or cut, it’s about the feeling I get when I wear one. From the moment I slip it on, style and sophistication become effortless.”

1. Hillary Clip Dot Chiffon Midi Dress, $1682. Courtney Rio Stripe Lawn Maxi Dress, $168 ; 3. Colleen Polka Dot Dress, $1684. Lauren Botanical Garden Print Dress, $178 ; nordstrom.com

 

HIT THE BEACH

Chico Feo at Folly Beach

Sullivan’s Island

Kiawah Island

Seaside Dress

Lisa Marie Fernandez Arden One-Shoulder Bikini Top & Bottom, $195 each, net-a-porter.com ; Jennifer Behr Silk-Satin Headband, $498, modaoperandi.com ; Antonello Martis Rombi Tote, $439, modaoperandi.com ; Diane von Furstenberg Floral-Print Kimono, $300, net-a-porter.com

 

Happy Exploring!

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