An Artful Charleston Experience

South Carolina stone crab at 167 Raw
South Carolina stone crab at 167 Raw

This article was first published at Food Republic on February 9, 2016. All photos and article by Virginia Miller. 

In Hungry Concierge, we travel the world to spot hotels that operate with their guests’ food and drink needs squarely in mind — hotels, both big and small, that are located in neighborhoods rich with bar and restaurant options. Because there’s nothing worse than having your trip derailed by crummy room service.

Complimentary sherry in a decanter in some rooms at The Vendue
Complimentary sherry in a decanter in some rooms at The Vendue

Walking the streets of Charleston is like stepping back in time to a romantic slice of American history that feels brightly Colonial yet also evokes the Gothic moodiness of Savannah and New Orleans. Brick and grey intermingle with homes in vivid pink, yellow and blue. Downtown is small, intimate and well preserved with many a block where buildings date back to the 1700s.

One such street is Vendue Range, a short, palmetto-lined street that dead-ends at the Cooper River. In Charleston’s historic French Quarter Art District, The Vendue is named after the vendue masters/merchants/auctioneers) who worked in the area pre-Civil War, when it was known as Prioleau’s Wharf. Re-opening in 2014, the hotel underwent a $5.5 million renovation with revamped rooms in two historic warehouse buildings and a strong arts focus, housing the city’s one and only hotel arts program. The Vendue’s Artist in Residence program features rotating artists in a few exhibits a year, hosts weekly meet-and-greets with artists, houses an artist’s studio and a full-time art docent offering daily gallery tours.

Charleston is such a small, walkable city (there is Uber if you want jaunt a mile or so north), that The Vendue makes a prime home base. There is wifi on the Rooftop bar, making it one of the more pleasant places to work or catch up on email (with a drink, if you so desire). And after a day of exploration, evening milk and cookies are waiting in your room as you climb into your big poster bed.

The Rooms: There are two groupings of rooms at the Vendue. There are 45 rooms at the main house, 19 Vendue Range, which is five warehouse buildings dating back to the 1780’s. This address also houses the gem of a restaurant Drawing Room downstairs. Upstairs is The Rooftop bar, with sweeping views of Charleston, where smoking is allowed and there is a typical spirits selection (expect the obvious, nothing craft, obscure or niche). Down the block, 26 Vendue is another 39 guest rooms and The Vendue’s Artist in Residence gallery.

The homes of Charleston
The homes of Charleston

The Look: The Vendue’s brick-walled buildings date back to 1785. The Premier Gallery rooms showcase original artwork and — along with a few other levels of rooms — feature fireplaces, large feather beds you climb into via stepladder, Egyptian cotton bed linens, evening milk and cookies and in a classy touch, complimentary sherry in a glass decanter.

The Neighborhood: Downstairs in The Vendue, Drawing Room, open since mid-2014, is an underrated Charleston restaurant. Executive chef Jon Cropf creates fine dining-quality dishes with new tasting menus offered in 2016. Cropf’s beets-three-ways is a dish as delicious as it is visually striking. Talented pastry chef Meagan Tighe’s desserts also wow: think rum cider sorbet and oat streusel surrounding by smoking hay. For another upscale option, world-class Charleston Grill is a 10 minute walk away with live jazz, a deep wine list, GM Mickey Bakst’s impeccable service and chef Michelle Weaver’s global, east-meets-west flavors married to Low Country cuisine.

Drawing Room's smoked hay dessert
Drawing Room’s smoked hay dessert

167 Raw is the best of Charleston right now, uniting a Nantucket fish market with South Carolina seafood bar, paired with thoughtful wines and beers, they serve some of the best tuna poke and stone crab you’ll ever have and have the coolest staff that make you feel like locals.

Edmund’s Oast is one of Charleston’s treasures on the food and drink front — about a 10 minute drive north from The Vendue (catch an Uber). The massive space and outdoor patio evoke a sophisticated, modern beer hall and tavern, serving excellent house charcuterie, a wall of unique, changing draft beers (roughly 15 of them house brewed), sherry and punch cocktails on draft and creative cocktails from head bartender Jayce McConnell.

In the massive, restored Cigar Factory, Mercantile and Mash offers the best coffee in town — alongside Black Tap Coffee on the opposite/west side of Charleston — including off-menu treats like frothy, cold, shaken Vietnamese coffees. The Mercantile sells gourmet groceries and foods, serving gratifying dishes in the spacious market, like a juicy fried boudin and egg on a biscuit at breakfast. At night, head next door to play tunes on the vintage jukebox and drink from over 100 American whiskies at the new Bar Mash.

Xiao Bao Biscuit's okonomiyaki
Xiao Bao Biscuit’s okonomiyaki
Charleston Grill's smoked mackerel unagi (eel) with compressed pineapple
Charleston Grill’s smoked mackerel unagi (eel) with
compressed pineapple

Upper King Street is where it’s at these days: hip restaurants, bars and shops intermingling with rapidly disappearing pawn shops and vacant storefronts. The Ordinary is one of the greats in the area, serving impeccable crudo, seafood and rum cocktails. Indaco offers Italian food and wood-fired pizzas paired with bar manager Jared Chafin’s amaro and rum-laced cocktails (don’t miss house lime or limoncello).

FIG remains a top Charleston restaurant for years for its thoughtful service, wines and dishes from a gifted team, further invigorated by executive chef Jason Stanhope’s recent win as James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast 2015. Housed in a converted gas station, Xiao Bao Biscuit delights locals being one of the rare Asian eateries around — of the hipster, fusion kind with a unique, light twist on Japanese okonomiyaki. On the go, grab quality meats, pastrami sandwiches and kimchi at Artisan Meat Share. Get your Stumptown coffee fix or cold press vegetable juice nutrients at The Daily from neighboring Butcher & Bee.

Just a block from The Vendue, The Gin Joint should be your cocktail hangout, serving some of Charleston’s most inspired and well-balanced cocktails, like Continental Army beautifully mixing Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, caraway orgeat, lime, Seville orange, falernum and muddled apple. On the wine side, just three blocks from the hotel is a slice of Napa in Charleston. Housed in a historic building, Mira’s wine tasting room offers wine flights and by-the-glass pours from the Napa winery, along with educational tastings and session led by a range of experts.

Gin Joint
Gin Joint

Also just a block from The Vendue, Minero is chef Sean Brock’s (of Husk fame) Mexican restaurant, just moved upstairs to striking new digs in a historic 1700’s building. There is mole and queso fundido but for those of us schooled on the best Mexican food, where Minero shines is in Southern twists: fried catfish tacos, shrimp and chorizo masa grits or the Minero burrito filled with Hoppin’ John (a traditional Southern rice and beans dish) and baked in queso de Oaxaca. In fact, skip the ever-hyped Husk and opt for Brock alternatives: Minero, the delicious burger and cocktails in the tavern-like Bar at Husk, or next to Minero is Brock’s original restaurant McCrady’s, housed in a stately 1778 building with a dramatic history. There are tasting menus and dishes like poached oysters with ‘nduja (a spicy, spreadable, Italian pork sausage) and Jimmy Red Corn, or pull up to the bar for a pour from the extensive Madeira collection, a fortified wine deeply rooted in Charleston history.

The Vendue

19 Vendue Range, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

Rooms start at $119

Romantic architecture and intimate streets in Charleston
Romantic architecture and intimate streets in Charleston