I can't even remember the last time I was this hungover. I spent a few hours last night at Club Havana, just about Charleston's only legal smoking bar. Because Club Havana was a cigar store first that later added a bar they were able to get around the city's 2007 smoking ban. With all the warm weather—it's been in the mid-60s all week—Charleston is a cocktail city: cordials, mixed drinks, shots of liquors I didn't think anyone actually took shots of. Grand Marnier, or Old Grandmom as I've heard it called, a French liquor that tastes like thick syrupy orange pulp, is incredibly popular here. Since I can barely put a sentence together, just a few quick observations:
Charleston is easily the most upscale small city I've ever been to. Ten or fifteen blocks of King Street, the main drag in Charleston's downtown shopping district, is lined with high-priced boutiques and salons, and on nearly every street corner you'll find an art gallery or an antique shop offering tons of old things that someone who actually had money might buy. That explains why so many celebrities have houses in or around the city—apparently Bill Murray keeps a house somewhere on Sullivan's Island and even owns a local minor league baseball team, The Riverdogs.
Because so many of the buildings here are historic, there are very strict regulations on architectural modifications as well as city zoning and land permits. According to everyone I've talked to, for a developer to convince legislators to actually let him knock one of those old buildings down would take pretty much an act of God. Much like Boston, there are museums and statues and little historic plaques honoring some such person or "On this day..." all over downtown. And yet for a city so concerned with history, there are college kids everywhere. Between the College of Charleston, the Citadel, the Charleston School of Law and the Art Institute of Charleston, there's somewhere around 20,000 students in this city (that's not even counting the other schools located nearby). The nightlife can get pretty wild.
Unlike NYC or Chicago or Baltimore or Pittsburgh, etc. etc. Charleston is not a city of neighborhoods. You can't really say, "Oh, you want upscale restaurants? Go down here. You want trendy clothes and record stores? Go up here. You want clubs and dancing? Probably should go over there." It's all just a clusterfuck of shopping and entertainment. Which makes walking around a little more interesting. You could buy a 300-year-old rug at one store, walk across the street to the local version of Hot Topic, and then next door for cheap micro-brews.