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.
On Hilton Head Island, the bars tend to embrace a festive, easy-going island energy—a natural result of catering to the golf, beach and honeymoon crowds. Frozen concoctions and ice-cold drinks befitting the best tropical locales are the specialties of this area. A bonus is the amazing fresh seafood small plates, appetizers and meals offered as drink accompaniments. 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.
Hurricane Bar at the Black Marlin
You don’t need stormy weather to head to the Hurricane Bar located adjacent to Black Marlin Bayside Grill. The indoor/outdoor watering hole draws locals and visitors alike for live music and island-style camaraderie that’s pet-friendly. The round bar outdoors is a hotspot for cold libations and laid-back relaxation with views of Palmetto Bay marina. In cooler weather, warm up inside with hot coffee drinks. When the temps soar, head indoors to cool off with the AC and a daiquiri. But most days, the outdoor option is perfect for lingering over an icy drink. Fall oyster roasts are a huge draw and highly recommended as are the hurricane parties. Drink-wise, try the signature Hurricane with Tropical Jack rum, Cruzan 151 rum, amaretto and fruit juices. Don’t miss the sushi nachos for a noshing treat.
Pool Bar Jim’s
For more than 30 years, Jim Lisenby has been slicing and dicing fresh fruit to whip up his legendary heat-busting, frozen drinks. Indulge in one (or more) of the expertly crafted margaritas, daiquiris or mojitos. Pool and beach views add to the ultra-casual vibe, which could be described as “come one, come all.” While all the libations are luscious, don’t skip the Lava Flow made with Bacardi light rum, pineapple juice, banana, coconut cream and berries. Goes great with a grouper sandwich.
Rooftop Bar at Poseidon
It’s no secret: Even the most delicious cocktail goes down smoother when viewing a breathtaking sunset. That’s the experience you can have when imbibing at the Rooftop Bar at Poseidon. Sunset views aside, there’s a lot to commend this island hotspot, namely live entertainment, dancing and an in-house DJ. A festive note is always in the air here. Enhance it with Poseidon's Rum Punch, a juicy blend of Admiral Nelson's Coconut Rum, Don Q Gold Rum, apricot liquor, pineapple juice, orange juice and house-made sour mix. Order fresh oysters on the half shell or steamed local shrimp for the win.
The Other Sister’s Wine Bar
Not everything is frozen cocktails and sand on Hilton Head Island. For the wine crowd, the Other Sister’s Wine Bar offers a refined tasting room with daily offerings. Located in Shelter Cove Harbour, the wine menu features both domestic and imported wines to appeal to a variety of tastes. There’s a lovely patio, perfect for sipping boutique wines and craft beer, too. Artistically presented charcuterie platters, brimming with cured meats, vegetables, olives, cheeses, nuts, fruits and crackers, make the perfect accompaniment.
Toes in the sand, cold drink in hand and the only sound competing with the live music in the air is the crashing of waves. Welcome to the Tiki Hut, a beachfront gathering place that has perfected the island bar experience. Anytime is the right time for fun and relaxation, with two musical acts appearing daily, volleyball on the sand, and a team of seasoned bartenders serving up cold refreshments guaranteed to please. Special events are a calling card of Tiki Hut, especially the Full Moon Party held monthly. Stake out a spot, settle in and order up the Local’s Jam, a tasty concoction of Wild Turkey bourbon, lemonade and raspberry puree. For tropical noshing, the coconut shrimp with sweet chili aioli hits all the right spots.