Not so many years ago, it was said Columbia’s Main Street would roll up the sidewalks after dark. These days, the downtown hub is rolling out the red carpet for visitors and residents looking for a fun night on the town.
Along with The Vista and Five Points, Main Street has undergone a revival in recent years that has made it a go-to destination for evening entertainment. From art house and first-run movies at The Nickelodeon to shopping at Mast General Store to an evening of boutique bowling at The Grand or video golf at The Venue on Main, there are options to suit every interest.
With so much to do, why not make a weekend out of it? Main Street has a selection of four-star hotels, including the Sheraton and the Marriott, each with its own entertainment spots, along with the trendy Hotel Trundle. Check out these options for a fun date night or a stay-and-play getaway:
Opened in fall 2018 behind (and in the same building as) Michael’s Café & Catering, this indoor entertainment center will appeal to the kid in any adult. The Venue has five hitting bays, including a private bay/lounge for groups, with large video screens for TopGolf (a target game), regular golf on most of the world’s great courses, as well as hockey, baseball and other sports games like dodgeball and darts. Clubs, bats, hockey sticks and baseballs are provided, or you're welcome to bring your own. Play alone or with a group; billing for bays is by the hour. This being kid fun for adults, The Venue also features two bars: the larger 19th Hole, with 17 local beers on tap plus other beverages, and The Turn, just steps from the hitting bays. Both offer food from Michael’s Café with seating at large and small tables as well as an outside sitting area, and if you just want to watch a game with a drink, there are plenty of TVs on the walls.
Located directly across the street from The Venue, The Grand is more of a standard large bar with two very prominent exceptions. The big draw is the well-lit, seven-lane bowling alley at the rear of the building with seating and beverage service for groups. The second big attraction is the Tap Room downstairs. It features a wall of self-service taps of local craft beer as well as wine—customers can pick by-the-ounce servings up to full pints. Along with the brews, you'll find a generous selection of old-school video and arcade games, a pool table and—for the high-brow—a chess board. Food service is upscale casual. As the venue's motto puts it, “Show up and have a good time. Be Grand.”
Founded in 1979 by University of South Carolina students, this is THE gathering place for lovers of movies, both old and new, mainstream and avant-garde. The original “Nick” was jammed into a tiny space on South Main Street. In 2012, the theater was moved to the spacious and newly renovated location in the former Fox Theatre and now features two screens and a concession stand selling popcorn, snacks, wine and craft beer. Besides an eclectic selection of films, The Nickelodeon hosts media education programs, a curated film series and the annual Indie Grits Film Festival, showcasing both professional and amateur Southern filmmakers. For the more casual fan, though, The Nick is mostly a cool place to enjoy good movies, sip a beer and relax in an intimate environment.
Located just off Main on Lady Street, Studio Cellar offers both reserved class events (check its Classes & Calendar tab) and daily "freestyle" painting for walk-in traffic. Relax with a glass of wine and channel your inner Picasso at the paint bar or to take one of a variety of instructional classes. Paint Parties with friends are also an enjoyable way to spend an evening in the urban studio. Alcoholic (to summon your muse) and non-alcoholic beverages are for sale, and patrons are welcome to bring their own snacks. At the end of the evening, visitors have their own “masterpieces” to take home and enjoy forever. Check the website for special events and group gatherings.
If you're thinking, “Enough with the craft beers; give me a good glass of wine,” Lula Drake might be your destination of choice. Tucked into a small, intimate location with tall glass windows overlooking the street, the parlor features an impressive selection of wines in many price ranges. Its Certified Sommelier, Tim Gardner, has blended Spanish wines for a U.S. import company, and—true story—once chose wines for President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. So, come and drink wines hand-picked by a man who helped keep the Cold War from turning hot. That can’t be bad.
Okay, so it’s just a hotel bar—but talk about your views! Located atop Columbia’s oldest high-rise, the lounge offers fabulous sunsets to the west, as well as a relaxed vibe and a full-service bar. Dress code for dinner—yes, there’s a full menu available, too—is casual. When the weather’s nice, what better way to take in the best visuals in Columbia?
Looking for Gamecock or Tiger T-shirts and sweatshirts? How about the perfect slogan tee, casual wear, running shoes, hiking boots and name-brand outdoor gear? Mast General Store has all that, but the draw for many is the relaxed, low-key, “just looking” atmosphere that permeates the two-level (street and basement) shopping experience. There are also all sorts of books, cookware and knickknacks, along with a nostalgic candy section featuring bins of old-fashioned treats. Think Mary Janes, Goo Goo bars, chocolate Ice Cubes and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Buy your favorites by the pound, take them home (or back to your hotel room) and reminisce about youthful trips to the corner store to buy such goodies. Sweet memories, indeed.
South Carolina’s premier international art museum houses rotating collections of European and American art, from classical to modern, from the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque period to the Samuel H. Kress (of five-and-dime-store fame) Collection. Paintings, sculptures, works by furniture and silver makers, and plenty of contemporary pieces are also on display. For those who love art, the lure of Sandro Botticelli’s "Nativity," Claude Monet’s “The Seine at Giverny” and the art glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany is hard to resist. It’s not a typical night-on-the-town experience, but even casual art fans will enjoy the quiet contemplation of these magnificent works. The museum also offers special programs for young artists and a gift shop with affordable souvenirs, especially for kids.
The ultimate Saturday (9 a.m-1 p.m.) strolling activity occupies the 1500 block of Main Street, and occasionally adjacent blocks are needed to host between 150 and 400 vendors each weekend. Inspired by traditional European street markets and the United Kingdom’s High Street displays, this Columbia institution draws large walking crowds who come to select meats, fresh vegetables and other produce, nosh on a variety of international street foods, breads and more, and just enjoy a relaxed, see-and-be-seen time. Dozens of craftsmen sell their handcrafted wares, from clothing to specialty items to bric-a-brac.
If all or none of the above intrigues, there’s always this: Main Street has blossomed into a foodie destination with unique local restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. Here are a few to sample:
Drip Coffee, is one of two locations in Columbia with an array of coffee drinks and sweets. Sweet Cream Co. has unique ice cream and other delights. The Whig is the city’s underground hipster bar and hangout. Main Street Public House is also a place for a drink and contemplations.For info on Michael’s Café & Catering , see The Venue on Main (above). Go to Al-Amir for Mediterranean food, Albert’s Deli for sandwiches, Blue Flour Bakery for baked goods, and East Bay Deli for lunch or dinner.
Finally, man does not live by bread (or beer, wine and coffee) alone. Eventually, you’re ready to stop and sleep for a bit. Main Street has two high-rise hotels—the Sheraton Downtown and the Marriott. For a boutique experience, look into Hotel Trundle, offering old-world charm, a happening bar (with free craft beer at check-in) and an easy walk to everything.