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.
When visiting the Grand Strand, you’ll find a seemingly endless number of establishments where drinks are served up in fun surroundings. A beachy vibe is a given here with a definitive lean toward a laid-back experience. Here is a sampling of the best of the best, a coastal mix of options for creative cocktails, icy cold drinks and environments designed to make you feel festive and relaxed.
Bar 19 Twelve, North Myrtle Beach
This repurposed wedding chapel with upstairs views of Azalea Sands Golf Club is the perfect setting for craft cocktails. If you want to put a little swank into your beach stay, head to this bar, named for its street address—1912 Highway 17 South—not the year. Think sparkly chandeliers, a stunning blue bar and bow-tied mixologists who will wow you with their cocktail wizardry. Drinks here tend to be showy with presentations that sometimes appear to be otherworldly. Feel sexy with a Charred Raspberry Martini, from which a plume of smoke slithers and writhes. Deepen the mood with something from the tapas menu, featuring an exciting, expertly prepared lineup of small plates like Seafood Limoncello Risotto. An inviting outdoor patio has its own bar set-up. Weekly live music rounds out this cosmopolitan-esque escape.
Dirty Don’s, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach
This Key West-style favorite has locations within walking distance of three of the Grand Strand’s most popular areas: Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, a half-block from the ocean at 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach and oceanfront on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. Perfect for the flip-flop crowd, Dirty Don’s has a rustic, nautical atmosphere that is usually hopping, particularly in the warm-weather months when live music is in the air. Known for friendly and fast service, you won’t wait long for your frozen cocktails, cold beer, wine or seafood munchies and meals. Vacationing with friends or family? Bring them along and order a pitcher of something fruity to get a free T-shirt—a Dirty Don’s signature freebie. For a quintessential Grand Strand experience, order Patrick’s Painkiller, a tasty mix of black rum, light rum, orange juice, pineapple juice and grenadine, and chase it with a platter of lobster nachos or steamed oysters.
Pawleys Island Tavern, Pawleys Island
Partake of the nightlife like a Pawleys Island local with a pit stop at what is slangily known as the PIT. A whole lot of moving and shaking goes down at this dive situated beneath a graceful canopy of live oaks. It is the epitome of the island’s famous tagline: “arrogantly shabby.” Come in your beach duds and snag a table inside amidst the dollar-bill festooned walls where a fireplace blazes in cold temps. When the weather is fine, sip your libations beneath the live oaks. Grab your drink, mosey over to the porch and challenge someone to a game of foosball or watch football on the big screen. On weekends, experience one of the PIT’s biggest draws: the Tiki Bar where the mood is permanently set to “party” with dancing and live music. Have a PIT Bull: Stoli vanilla vodka, Kahlua and Coke. Coat your tummy first with some of the house-made pimento cheese.
RipTydz, Myrtle Beach
Towering in a prime oceanfront location, this tri-level, 500-seat establishment on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk will more than satisfy your fantasies of watching the waves while enjoying libations. Everything you want in a bar is contained in one place: sports bar, beach bar, bar and grill, live music venue—heck, it’s even a yoga studio with group sessions offered on the rooftop. What RipTydz is not, however, is dull. The drinks are fun and icy cold, the food is delicious, and the open-air atmosphere makes it possible to imbibe and dine surrounded by the salty ocean breeze but without that pesky sand. Head up to the roof for sweeping views of the shoreline, settle into a chair on the outdoor deck or sit inside—really, there’s not a bad seat in the house. When the South Carolina sun is biting your back, there’s nothing that breaks the sweat like a fruity frozen drink served up in a pineapple. If you have room afterward, order an oyster po’ boy or one of their other “Sunburn Sammies.”
Strong Waters, Myrtle Beach
Farm-to-shaker cocktails are the specialty of the house at Strong Waters, a welcoming space that’s part industrial/part speakeasy. Chuck the swimsuit and flip-flops, grab your sweetie or some friends and come have a night of memorable tippling and tasting. The drink menu is inspired, but feel free to be adventurous with the Bartender’s Choice. Select from a list of adjectives (herbal, fruity, smoky, etc.) and watch the mixologists execute their skills. The house drink, the Smokin’ Oldie, is a solid bourbon concoction with smoke effects. Pair it with the Wagyu Sliders topped with goat cheese, arugula, candied bacon and tomato jam.