South Carolina is a hive of lively dives, hip libation hubs and classy cocktail lounges. A deeper look at bar aesthetics can help distinguish the good from the great. While there’s some truth to the adage that it’s not so much what you drink, but where you drink it, consistently hitting all the marks—appealing atmosphere, creative cocktails, attentive service, top-notch bar snacks—is required to maintain a stellar reputation. 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.
Downtown Greenville is humming with nightlife and that vibe is fueled in large part by a lineup of linger-worthy cocktail bars. Here are five to try when the need to relax, unwind and sip something exceptional begs to be thoroughly addressed.
Vault & Vator
The unmarked basement where this cocktail lounge operates is deliberately clandestine—just right for a Prohibition-style experience. The theme is carried on within with dim lighting, cozy seating and speakeasy-inspired, handcrafted libations. Get in the spirit with a Bonnie & Clyde (guava rum, hibiscus vodka, Pasubio vino amaro, mango, lemon and honey). The whiskey sour is top-notch, too. An abbreviated menu of small plates hits all the right points with charcuterie and cheese, pimento cheese, hummus, smoked trout and other nibbles.
SIP Whiskey & Wine Bar
An easy, but hip energy permeates this lounge where you’ll find an expansive whiskey menu, interesting wine offerings and signature cocktails. Whether you show up solo, with a date or a few friends, you’ll easily settle into the relaxing atmosphere and feel at home. Live music and a rooftop patio with great views of the city seal the deal. Mules of all types are highly recommended. For noshing, the mini pork belly tacos or a custom created charcuterie and cheese board are primo.
Neat Bourbon Bar
Just like a neat glass of bourbon, the experience here should be savored and relished. Bourbon lovers will fall for the impressive cast of bourbon and whiskey, as well as rare bottles and imports. The cocktails are commendable, too. Go retro with a Prohibition Old Fashioned (Old Forester 1920 bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters and sugar) or stay in the moment with a New Fashioned (Basil Hayden’s, Angostura Original & Orange Bitters, Luxardo cherry and sugar). You’ll want an order of smoked bacon popcorn, of course. For a more filling option, choose the bourbon & bacon mac-n-cheese.
Cozy and cosmopolitan, the Cazbah delivers on all fronts: inviting ambiance, stylish libations and distinctive eats. Tucked away in the heart of downtown, this cocktail lounge has a cult following of patrons thanks to an alluring wine selection. When it comes to small plates, you’ll find an equally inspired list. Palate-pleasers include Cazbah’s World Famous Lobster Cigars, tender escargot in a white wine reduction, and the addictive Guatemalan-style chicken enchiladas with a sassy tomatillo sauce.
Swordfish Cocktail Club
Dark elegance defines this cocktail lounge which has been thoughtfully outfitted with appointments handcrafted by the owners. In the speakeasy tradition, the lounge has no conspicuous signage and the atmosphere is on the high end. Among the classic cocktails, try The Commissioner made with Martell V.S. Cognac, Bénédictine, simple syrup, Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters, cherrywood smoke and grapefruit peel. Martinis go down smoothly, too. You can’t go wrong with the charcuterie and cheese, but if you see pork belly steam buns on the menu, snag an order.