Charleston is becoming more expensive by the day, and with that comes the closing of the city’s best dive bars to make way for fancy bars that want to charge you two months rent for a few drinks. Dive bars in Charleston, SC have become a rarity, but there are, however, still a few gems around town where you can grab a cheap drink in a dark bar alongside the Holy City’s most colorful personalities.
Since we’re on a perpetual dive bar tour here at Extra Chill, we’ve decided to put together a list of our 21 favorite dive bars in Charleston. Hopefully these beloved watering holes will continue to serve Charleston for many years to come. What’s a city without its dive bars?
Cheers to resisting the rise of expensive, pretentious tourist traps. Cheers to being part of the grunge. Cheers to Charleston’s dive bars.
21. Richard’s Bar & Grill – Mt. Pleasant
In a town overrun by sports cars and picture-perfect families, there stands a seedy dive bar known as Richard’s. I’m not sure how this place hasn’t been run out of Mt. Pleasant yet. It’s still there, it all its glory, as a haven for bikers and smokers to come and enjoy their fill of burgers and beer. If the confederate flag flying over the bar doesn’t phase you, stop into Richard’s for a drink. You might enjoy yourself, or you might leave in fear for your life. Either way, they don’t care.
Update 1/16/20: Richards is now closed.
20. The Tattooed Moose – Downtown
|Photo: Makai Kitchel|
Okay, so Tattooed Moose is more of a restaurant than a dive bar these days, but that’s for good reason. Their food is dank, plain and simple. They’ve caught the attention of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it has granted them with a steady influx of business, and a curse because The Moose went from being a laid-back dive with great food to a generally packed tourist destination with great food. Still an awesome place, though, and definitely worth stopping in for a drink and some grub.
19. The Griffon – Downtown
The Griffon is a cool bar that’s notorious for the dollar bills stapled to the walls, ceilings and everything else that will take a staple. They’re also known for having some of the best fish and chips in town (doesn’t beat The Codfather, but that’s for another day). Perhaps the one complaint I have about The Griffon is the location. It’s located near the corner of East Bay and Market, which is a corner that most locals avoid like the plague unless they work up that way. Tourist central. The Griffon is still a chill spot, though.
18. The Sparrow – Park Circle
|Photo: Jack Weigel|
Known for being Park Circle’s music hotspot, The Sparrow is a great little dive bar that encompasses everything you’d want from a neighborhood bar, including pool tables, lots of locals, and strong, affordable drinks. They have plenty of parking, both in front of and behind the building, and the walls are decorated with hand-painted murals featuring such iconic characters as Bill Murray and Gandalf the Grey. In addition to bringing in local talent, The Sparrow also hosts open mic nights, comedy nights, karaoke, and battle of the bands on select nights.
17. Faculty Lounge – Downtown
A confused Yelp reviewer once reported that the Faculty Lounge was closed. That’s just because they were unaware of how to obtain entry to this gem of downtown Charleston. It’s quite simple, really: ring the doorbell, wait for the buzzer, open the door. Once inside you’ll find a hip spot with a DJ (most nights) and affordable drinks to help you dance the night away. It’s located deep in a residential part of Charleston and it’s hard to find, but that’s by design. I guess you wouldn’t really call this a dive bar, but rather a dance club. Couldn’t bring myself to leave it off the list, though.
16. The Purple Buffalo – North Charleston
|Photo: Joshua Brinson|
Located way, way up where King Street turns into 26 is a spacious roadhouse bar called The Purple Buffalo. With an indoor stage and large outdoor seating area and parking lot, The Buffalo is a great spot to grab a beer or see a show. The bar is decorated mostly with the owner’s personal art, which makes for some good vibes. Its location in the industrial part of North Charleston means it’s completely off the grid for tourists and law enforcement alike. Anything can happen at The Purple Buffalo.
15. Planet Follywood – Folly Beach
|Photo: David Crosby|
If there’s something about a smokey beach dive bar that makes you feel at home, then you’ll love Planet Follywood. It’s one of the few places on Folly Beach where locals will dare to hang out, and the atmosphere speaks to that. They serve food well into the late night, and host live music several nights per week, including some karaoke and open mic nights.
14. The Mill – Park Circle
Once known for being a smoking bar, The Mill has since abolished that dirty practice from inside their premises, which is probably for the best. They’ve got a stage that hosts a variety of live music, a jukebox with a big selection of songs, and a sweet outdoor area. If you find yourself in the Park Circle area, you can’t go wrong by stopping through this Charleston dive bar.
13. Big Gun Burger Shop – Downtown
|Photo: Mario Lopez|
Before I get into the dive bar aspect of Big Gun, I want to take a minute to rave about their burgers. Big Gun Burger Shop has low-key some of the best burgers in Charleston, which you wouldn’t exactly expect from a tiny joint like this. Moving on, though, Big Gun is also a great place to hang out, soak up the grunge, shoot some pool, and drink a few tall boy PBRs. They even host live music every now and then, which is mostly local punk/hardcore bands.
12. Cutty’s – Downtown
|Photo: Kyle Barron|
If there’s ever been a place to describe as a “hole in the wall”, it’s Cutty’s. Located on the outskirts of Charleston’s Elliotborough neighborhood, Cutty’s stands across the street from Charleston’s beloved D’Allessandro’s pizzeria, on the corner of Bogard and St Phillips. It’s a tiny bar packed with a ton of character, and plenty of regulars to keep that character blossoming all year round. Try one of their Mystery Beers if you’re feeling frisky, which you should be if you’re hanging out at Cutty’s.
11. Local 616 – Downtown
|Photo: Charleston Eater|
Located on upper Meeting street, Local 616 is another Charleston dive bar that is off the main strip of the city’s nightlife scene (noticing a trend here?). They host live music, comedy, and karaoke several nights per week, and have a few pool tables if that’s your thing. The back patio/smoking area is one of my favorite things about Local 616. Overall this is a really laid-back and spacious bar with a chill crowd. Word on the street is they pull a big crowd for soccer games.
10. Moe’s Crosstown Tavern – Downtown
|Photo: Shannon DiCostanzo|
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Moe’s Crosstown Tavern are the burgers. If you venture down to Moe’s, you can’t leave without eating one of their burgers. Bonus points if you go on Tuesday, which is half price burger night, but be ready to wait, because it’s always packed that night. Moe’s is one of the last straight-up bars in Charleston, and its location keeps away most of the tourist traffic, who would never know that there was an awesome bar hidden way down on Rutledge Ave.
9. Gene’s Haufbrau – West Ashley
|Photo: Keith Parker|
For a dive bar with a huge selection of craft beer, look no further than Gene’s Haufbrau in Avondale. The beer selection isn’t the only reason to check out Gene’s, either. They also have tons of bar games including your conventional pool tables, and some more unconventional bar games like Jenga, Connect Four, Cards Against Humanity, and more. A night spent at Gene’s Haufbrau is pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.
8. The Royal American – Downtown
|Photo: Kyle Kilgo|
In addition to being one of the best bars in Charleston, The Royal American is also a hotspot for Charleston’s musical community. The Royal American is a hip and happening hangout filled with a local crowd of musicians, artists, and 9 to 5 workers, complete with a friendly bar staff who will get to know you rather quickly. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to your discretion. They serve a full menu of delicious food and a punch that will make your head spin. I can’t recommend The Royal American enough. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher on this list is that it’s just a little too hip and clean to be a true dive bar.
7. Salty Mike’s – Downtown
|Photo: Charleston Eater|
Nestled in below the Marina Variety store on the outskirts of Charleston City Marina, Salty Mike’s Deck Bar is a sailor’s haven. This is a popular hangout for liveaboards in the marina, and for maritime employees to grab a post (or during) work drink. With two pool tables, weekly karaoke, and a gorgeous view of the Ashley River, Salty Mikes is a staple in Charleston’s drinking community. My only complaint about Salty Mikes is the fact that they close around 11pm, which is right when the party should be getting started.
6. AC’s Bar & Grill – Downtown
|Photo: Lee Kinser|
Oh, AC’s. Where do I begin? This bar fueled many a hazy college night, dancing on tables until the bar staff rang the closing bell. Eating cheese fries and double-fisting Miller High Lifes (“the Champagne of beers”). There are three pool tables, dirty bathrooms, and an eclectic crowd that trends fratty on weekends. The food is exactly what you need to soak up all the alcohol that you’ll inevitably drink when you step inside this Charleston dive bar. If you happen to get there on a Sunday morning, they serve a delicious brunch menu that is uncharacteristic of a place like AC’s.
5. Palace Hotel – Downtown
There’s something about Palace Hotel that invites you to get rip-roaring drunk. At least that’s been my experience at the Palace. It’s located sort of off-the-grid, which means if you’re not local you might think you’ve taken a wrong turn into a sketchy neighborhood, but you didn’t. It’s right there on Hanover Street. I’m also hesitant to mention that this bar is part-owned by Shep Rose of the Bravo TV reality show Southern Charm. You might even find a few fans of the show in there looking to make a spotting, but once they get past the fact that the bar is owned by a semi-celebrity they’ll be just as drunk as the rest of us.
4. Sand Dollar Social Club – Folly Beach
|Photo: Charles Shoe|
You know that place on Folly Beach with all the motorcycles parked out front? The one where you’ve always been afraid to go inside because you don’t want to get your ass kicked? Well, that’s the Sand Dollar Social Club. Membership is only a dollar, and you better bring cash, because they don’t accept credit cards. Leave your pretense at home and go have yourself a beer or two or three at Sand Dollar. By the way, cigarettes inside.
3. Tin Roof – West Ashley
|Photo: Krystal Kornickey|
With live music most nights, Tin Roof stands as a breeding ground for Charleston’s original music scene. This West Ashley dive bar is absolutely plastered with stickers from every local band and brand imaginable. The sound guy loves to turn up the volume so loud that your ears will be ringing when you leave, so be warned (that has never been a problem for us). They serve food in-house and also bring in some of Charleston’s best food trucks. If you’re looking for a taste of the local scene outside of downtown, Tin Roof is calling your name.
2. Burns Alley – Downtown
|Photo: Will Freeland|
Hidden away from the main strip on King Street, Burns Alley is a true Charleston dive. In addition to cheap drinks and dirty bathrooms, Burn’s Alley also hosts shows on their small corner stage (lots of punk). Their location allows them to filter out the folks who are just strolling the street looking for a bar, resulting in a truly local crowd who are just looking to have a good time. There are pool tables and other bar games (skee-ball, anyone?), and a large collection of confiscated fake IDs pinned to the wall above the bar.
1. Recovery Room – Downtown
Perhaps the only thing that you need to know about The Recovery Room is the fact that they are the number one seller of 12oz Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in the entire world. That little tidbit of knowledge should generate a few images in your mind of the atmosphere at Rec Room, and they would all be spot on. This is a favorite spot for Charleston’s food & bev crowd for a post-work drink, and is located just far enough away from the main strip of King Street to cater to a mostly local crowd. If you can get past the prevalent smell of vomit you might just find yourself a home at Recovery Room.