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Lift Your Spirits: Five Bars That Set the Bar in Columbia

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Man handing patron a cocktail
Finding a great bar with great cocktails is no mean feat in Columbia.

South Carolina is a hive of lively dives, hip libation hubs and classy cocktail lounges. Savvy bar managers will attest to the fact that elevating a good bar program to greatness is no small feat and never, ever accidental. Landing in a great bar shouldn’t be accidental either.

In the capital city, you’ll find a seemingly endless number of establishments where amazing cocktails are served up in unforgettable surroundings. Many of them are housed in historic buildings just a stone’s throw away from the State House. Some of them cater to the college crowd.

Here is a sampling of the best of the best, where the drinks are inventive, the vibe is inspired and the little touches are designed to make you feel festive, relaxed and oh-so-special.

Art Bar

Inside of the Art Bar with robot and funky art decor
Cold drinks and funky nightlife are hallmarks of the Art Bar.

No list of Soda City bars would be complete without the legendary Art Bar, a favorite of the college crowd. Funky, weird, hip, artsy and just plain fun are all fitting adjectives for this experience. Live music sets the stage for a memorable, vibrant nightlife. The casual camaraderie draws a free-spirited crowd looking for conversation, hearty eats and cold drinks to wash it all down. You won’t find bow-tied bartenders adorning dainty glasses with curls of orange peel and pretty sprigs of herbs. But you will find all your favorites from cold craft beer to wine to mixed drinks. Grab a cold one, toast old friends, make some new ones and chow down on a Psycho Burger, piled with pepper jack, bacon, egg, onion rings, lettuce, mayo and mustard. Crazy.

Bourbon

Select bourbon and glass on table at Bourbon
Treat yourself to your favorite whiskey and Creole/Cajun dishes at Bourbon.

Bourbon meets Bourbon Street at this whiskey bar with a New Orleans-inspired menu. Tucked inside the circa 1869 Brennen Building, Bourbon is where the capital crowd goes for neat sips or classic cocktails created from an extensive list of whiskeys and bourbons. Intimate surroundings invite conversation and relaxation—perfect for unwinding after work. Pair your bourbon with crispy boudin balls or a gumbo bowl to complete the experience. Feel free to wear your beads.

Coa

Inside of Coa bar and bar stools
Coa is invitingly exotic – just like the menu of superb cocktails and tapas.

This Vista tapas-style bar is not only exotic and warm but a wellspring of some of the most delicious craft cocktails around. Mezcal is the name of the game at Coa—snag a cozy seat and indulge yourself. Fine Mexican appointments help create a beautiful space with a Cantera stone bar, chandeliers made from replicas of Mezcal vessels, and Oaxaca art from local artists. The cocktails are gorgeous to look at and just as exciting to sip, with several “spicy” offerings on the menu. Try the Pepino Endamentado for a cool cocktail with a cucumber-jalapeño twist. Pair it with a delicious order of taquitos de tinga with chipotle pulled chicken, crema and queso fresco. Wow.

Hendrix Rooftop Bar

Rooftop bar with tables and chairs at Hendrix
Have an elevated cocktail experience at the Hendrix Rooftop Bar.

Discerning diners love the elevated vibe at Hendrix but the penultimate elevated experience here is definitely the rootop bar. Head all the way to the top of this historic Main Street building for house-made cocktails, live music and sweeping views that are Instagram-worthy. It's first-come, first-served, so be an early bird. A daily selection of small bites is offered to complement your cocktail.

The Joint @1710 Main

Bar inside the Joint at 1710 Main
Enjoy a throwback night of classic jazz and drinks at The Joint @1710 Main.

If you love the tradition of jazz bars, just follow the saxophone to The Joint. This Main Street darling, operating in the historic Walker Building, offers a slow, relaxing night out. Dim lighting and dark wood invite patrons to cozy up for cocktails and more. Live musicians routinely grace the small stage to create an ambiance that is easy to settle into. Cocktails are largely classic, and the kitchen doesn’t slouch with a menu that answers to the seasons. Pair a Dirty Main Martini (Stoli, slices of fresh orange, pineapple and lime, and sparkling water) with a beautiful dish of house-made hummus topped with feta, Kalamatas, roasted red peppers, tomato, fresh herbs and pistachio dust. Oh, yeah …

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.