Charleston is fortunate to have a multitude of rooftop bars around the city. One of the best things about all of them is that they offer different views of the city. I decided to pay a visit to a few of what I have deemed “the best rooftop bars in Charleston” and soon discovered that these rooftops have nothing short of great and refreshing summer cocktails, as well as delectable food to pair them with.
Fiat Lux, on top of the Hotel Bennett, is brand new and offers a plethora of dining options, including a gorgeous rooftop bar. Fiat Lux has a small inside-dining area that offers bar seating, as well as limited seating around the bar and on the outdoor rooftop deck. The bar offers views of Marion Square, surrounding church steeples and you can even see as far as the Battery and the ocean beyond. It’s truly a stunning view. Fiat Lux has a cocktail on their menu called Ancho Want More that is sure to help break that summer sweat. It’s made with Milagro Silver tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur, strawberry puree, agave syrup and fresh lime juice.
What I love about this cocktail is that you get the perfect fusion of sweet, tart and spicy all in one cocktail. I also feel that strawberry is a great summer flavor, and mixing spicy liquor with it gives it some extra flavor flare. If there’s one thing on Fiat Lux’s food menu to pair with this cocktail, it is most definitely the spicy tuna poke. This dish has avocado on the bottom and ahi tuna on the top and is topped with ponzu sauce. It is light, refreshing and has a great combination of sweet and spicy flavors. Another great, light and refreshing dish on the menu is the Greekstyle lamb kofta. This dish has a large slather of tzatziki on the bottom of the dish and has a beautiful arrangement of olives, lamb kofta, red peppers and pico de gallo. It is served with roasted rosemary bread. The lamb has a slight spicy flavor and is cooked to perfection. The tzatziki provides the right amount of tart and tangy flavor to balance out the spicy flavor of the lamb.
The Watch is located on top of The Restoration Hotel. What I love about this rooftop bar is that there are two separate outdoor-seating areas which showcase two different views. One provides views of more central areas of the city, and the other offers gorgeous views of the Ravenel Bridge and Charleston Harbor. The Watch also has a beautiful indoor-seating area, which features a fullzbar and community tables. It has an assortment of fruity and refreshing cocktails, such as the Cant-aloupe With Me cocktail made with vodka, cantaloupe, red pepper jam, orgeat and lime. This cocktail is unique with its strong, sweet cantaloupe flavor. Summer is the perfect season for ripe melons, so this cocktail couldn’t be a better match for a hot summer day on the rooftop. The Watch has two standout food options that would pair quite well with this cocktail. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is made with buttermilk-battered chicken, pickles, Alabama white sauce and shredded lettuce and is served with french fries. The burrata salad consists of greens topped with a sweet compote and is smothered in creamy burrata cheese. The dish comes with soft and chewy French bread. This salad is perfect if you’re looking for something on the lighter side and pairs well with the Cant-aloupe With Me cocktail, as its just as refreshing and provides even more sweet flavor to your palate. The spicy fried chicken sandwich is more on the heavy side and is still just as delicious. It’s fried to crispy perfection, and the white sauce adds a delectable tangy flavor, offering a slightly spicy and more savory flavor to balance out the strong, sweet flavor of the Cantaloupe With Me cocktail.
Like The Watch, The Vendue offers two different types of views. They have a lower level and an upper level of rooftop seating areas. The upper level provides close-up views of the tops of buildings on East Bay Street, as well as the Battery and church steeples on Broad Street. The lower level provides views of the tops of buildings on King Street, as well as views of the Ravenel Bridge. There are full bars on both levels. It’s worth noting that the lower level is a bit more closed-off, so if you want the full rooftop bar feel, the upper level is definitely the place to be. The Vendue has a great selection of cocktails ranging from classic to more exotic. They also have a large wine selection and craft beers. The Strawberry Basil Lemonade and the Red Moon Margarita are great for summer weather. The Strawberry Basil Lemonade is made with Cathead honeysuckle vodka, house-made strawberry lemonade and fresh basil leaves. It’s served in a tall glass over ice. I can’t think of a more perfect summer cocktail than this one — I mean, really, what could be better than spiked strawberry lemonade on a hot summer day? It’s perfectly sweet and tangy all at the same time, making for a great summer sipper. When it comes to exotic, the Red Moon Margarita really hits a home run. This cocktail is made with Belle Isle honey habanero moonshine, Cointreau, blood orange puree, lime juice, simple syrup and sparkling wine. This unique twist on a margarita provides a very pungent citrus flavor, and the spice from the habanero moonshine seems to creep up on you as you swallow your sip. If you’re a fan of spicy drinks, this cocktail is for you! It has the perfect flavor balance of sweet, spicy and tangy.
The Vendue has a variety of options on on their food menu ranging from small-plate items to tacos and burgers. Two items that would pair well with the Red Moon Margarita and the Strawberry Basil Lemonade are the vegetable spring rolls and the crab fritters. The vegetable spring rolls are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and make for a great summertime snack. The crab fritters are fried and crunchy on the outside and filled with soft, fresh crab. They are similar in texture to hush puppies.
Stars is different from many rooftop bars in Charleston in that it stretches from one end of the building to the other. In fact, it’s the only rooftop bar that offers a full 360-degree view. You really get the full rooftop experience at Stars. Your view is slightly obstructed due to a wall and plants surrounding the perimeter of the rooftop, but you still are able to get views of the historic district, as well as the upper and lower ends of King Street. The rooftop has a full bar and seating throughout. Another thing that makes this bar unique is that they offer wine on tap. They also have a large variety of unique cocktails, including frozen cocktails. Some great summer cocktails on their menu consist of the frozen Bellini, the El Matador and the Cool Bathtub Grin. The frozen Bellini is made with champagne, Bacardi rum and peach puree. It’s sweet and refreshing and is the ultimate summertime spiked slushy.
The Cool Bathtub Grin is made with Hendrick’s gin, creme de pamplemousse rose, Southern Twist lemongrass and basil, lemon juice and prosecco. It’s slightly tart, has a strong citrus flavor and the prosecco provides a refreshing bubbly finish. The El Matador is made with Lunazul blanco tequila, elderflower liqueur, Southern Twist ginger and jalapeno, and fresh grapefruit juice. This cocktail also provides a strong citrus flavor from the grapefruit juice but is well balanced with sweet flavor from the elderflower liqueur and then offers a spicy finish from the ginger and jalapeno. It’s comparable to a margarita, though more tart than sweet. The Stars rooftop does not offer food, but there is a full restaurant with some great options on the lower level. I would definitely suggest checking it out after sipping a few cocktails on the rooftop.
Élevé is located on top of the Grand Bohemian Hotel. The rooftop is much smaller than most downtown rooftop bars, but the views and ambiance do not disappoint. From this rooftop, you can see the tops of beautiful historic buildings and neighborhoods nearby, as well as church steeples in the distance. The rooftop itself gives off a very chic and contemporary feel in the unique design of the chairs and tables.
Élevé offers more sophisticated cocktails, but if you’re looking for simple and refreshing, the perfect go-to cocktail is their Kessler margarita. It is made with Exotico Reposado, Grand Marnier orange liqueur and fresh lime and orange juice. It’s sweet — but not overbearingly sweet — and full of citrus flavor from the orange and lime. The Pepper Mule is another great refreshing summer cocktail, but any consumer should be warned that the taste of this cocktail stays true to its name. The Pepper Mule is made with local Dixie pepper vodka, cranberry bitters, Fever Tree ginger beer, grapefruit and lime juice. It’s got very slight notes of ginger and very strong notes of pepper. It is essentially a very spicy Moscow Mule.
Élevé’s food menu consists of shared plates, soups and salads, full dinner options, and a selection of desserts. Two great items on their menu that pair quite well with the Kessler margarita and the Pepper Mule are the charcuterie and the roasted pear salad. The charcuterie consists of speck, salami, truffle chicken pate, cambozola cheese, naked goat cheese, cornichons, olives, jam and a baguette. It has the perfect ratio of meat to cheese, making the dish not too heavy. The roasted pear salad is made with field greens, pecans, St. Pete’s blue cheese, raspberries, cornbread croutons and is topped with a fig and sherry vinaigrette. This salad is a true medley of summertime flavors.
Rooftop bars are part of what makes Charleston such a fun and exciting city, especially during the summer months. Though the city has such a wide variety of rooftop bars to choose from, each offers different views of the city, and it’s hard to get tired of them. From a happy-hour hangout after work to a late-night weekend on the town, you can’t go wrong with any rooftop bar in Charleston.
Written By Charleston Foodies on a Budget is a local food blog run by two best friends, Ashley Hargrove and Laura Donnellon. We focus on the best ways to eat your way through the Lowcountry, while staying within your budget. We started our blog almost two years ago and since have been nominated for “Best Local Interest Blog” twice in the Best of Charleston Awards. We thoroughly enjoy being able to share the beauty of the Charleston culinary scene with the Charleston community. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org