Wild Dunes Resort's Magazine 5757 Palm Reveals Charleston SC's Trendiest New Neighborhood
Learn why foodies, art lovers, and fashion-forward designers are hunkering down in the quiet buildings along Charleston's Upper King, the new heir to the throne.
The following story written by Caroline Nuttall is featured in the 2013 Edition of 5757 Palm, The Official Magazine of Wild Dunes Resort published by Hawthorn Publications. Photos by Andrew Cebulka Photography.
Charleston is known for historic King Street – shopping on the quaint, cobblestone main street of one of the most popular cities in America. What is referred to as “Upper King” is an entirely different story. In the past, few ventured beyond Calhoun Street to this area as it was dubbed dangerous, believed to be a place riddled with muggings. But in the last few years, it has transformed from a quiet, almost-never-visited area to a progressive neighborhood. With the recent restoration of eighteenth-century buildings-turned-shops and through gaining the attention of many Charlestonians, it has become the to-build place in town.
“[Upper King] is edgier than Lower King,” says Beth Thomas, who brought her Charleston Power Yoga business, the city’s only Baptiste power yoga studio, to the neighborhood. “It has got a younger, hipper vibe, and while there are a lot of chains on Lower King, Upper is fueled with an excitement of local people taking the risk of entrepreneurship.”
One of those people is Jamie Lin Snider, a Las Vegas gal with a knack for avant garde. She made her debut several years ago at Charleston Fashion Week and has been a local icon since, now showing her work at her King Street boutique, JLinsnider. In a fashion community largely hinged on classic, wearable attire, Snider has carved a market for those who would rather sport bone and metal but still crave the delicate and feminine. She’s the type who pairs billowy vintage tops with heavy metal chains. Her shop is a perfect stop for the contemporary woman with a bit of an edge.
Just a five-minute walk south on King Street, Blue Bicycle Books is another local favorite with the most complete collection of used, rare, and new Charleston books. It’s cozy, vintage, has a precious children’s book nook, and its shop cat welcomes any and all attention. Local author and owner Jonathan Sanchez is something of a local celebrity himself. He runs children’s writing programs, introduced a big literary festival called Y’all Fest to the city, and has an unbelievably smart and sarcastic wit. He was even on Jeopardy, for goodness’ sakes.
“With all the old storefronts on Upper King that had been untouched for a while, it was inevitable folks would move in,” he says. “It’s a little ironic, because Upper King used to be the design district back when Magar Hatworks and Dwell and other design-oriented busi-nesses were there, but it’s clearly mostly a bar and restaurant district now. The bars and restaurants are very haute design here, a sign that a high standard of design rubbed off.”
The bar and restaurant scene clearly reflects that and is obviously growing, with people regularly going out on any night of the week. For local business owners, having things skew more late night isn’t ideal, but the crowd is what some, like Sanchez, would call “a higher class of late-night folks.” While there are some college watering holes sprinkled throughout the street, the focus is on elegant bars, craft cocktails, and local beer.
The Cocktail Club was the biggie to hit the scene in June 2011, serving up its signature cocktail, the Double Standard, a perfect blend of opposing flavors that include cucumber infused vodka and serrano-infused gin. The staff dons classic black-and-white attire while serving up their specialized “farm-to-shaker” cocktails. It’s their way of turning a caprese salad into a libation – cocktails made with fresh fruits and vegetables. The bar itself is also dark, beautiful, and historic – 95 percent of the interior is the original structure that dates back to 1881. It’s a big space, but with a cozy, intimate feel, thanks to oversized leather chairs and open-beam rooms.
The Belmont, at the northern end of King Street, has acquired a hipster crowd. Locals go early and suggest asking for bartender and owner Mickey Moran, known to create some great cocktails (don’t forget to order a homemade banana Nutella Pop-Tart). Beer lovers should head to Closed for Business, a casual, rustic bar with more than 40 taps that feature an expansive selection of unusual, rare, and one-of-a-kind local and regional beers.
More and more, Upper King is becoming known for its remarkable dining scene. In a city nationally applauded for its incredible cuisine and dining options, Upper King now packs more must-experience restaurants per square block than any other area in all of Charleston. Mike Lata, largely regarded as one of the best chefs in the city, recently opened The Ordinary restaurant, a classic oyster bar and seafood hall.
“We waited a long time to find the right spot,” says Lata. “When I came to Charleston in 1998, Upper King was basically off limits at night. 39 Rue de Jean [a local and popular French café] seemed to be the first reason to head past Calhoun after dark. The amount of restaurants and bars is a little concerning for such a small area, but the reality is, most older restaurants in Charleston are not closing. So, if you are looking to open a space, you have to go where the development is...and right now, Upper King is as good a bet as any.”
Just three blocks down from Lata’s newest endeavor is The Macintosh. Sporting the city’s only pork-centric happy hour on weekdays, this American dining establishment shares a rotating bacon-themed appetizer, like bacon egg salad or pork confit with kimchi and bibb lettuce. It has also gained notice in the area for its local sourcing for Southern staples. Two must-try Macintosh staples are the crab gnudi, a beautifully light ricotta gnudi with chunks of delicious grab; and the bone marrow bread pudding, which most people are afraid of until they realize it tastes like decadent French toast.
While this area has become a dining and bar mecca, there are others holding on tight to Upper King as a daytime shopping district – people like art gallery owners Rebekah Jacob and Michael Mitchell.
“Progressive art requires a progressive neighborhood,” explains Jacob, owner of Rebekah Jacob Gallery, about why she moved her gallery from Lower King to the creative, energetic area of Upper King.
Some of the best contemporary art in the city can be found on the stark white walls of Jacob’s gallery, which emphasizes modern art and photography of the American South. It’s a perfect mix of carefully selected, established artists and rising stars, where benches carved from Lowcountry wood sit next to sketches of bird-women intended to evoke the idea that man is indistinguishable from nature.
“Mixing what keeps Charleston such a classic arts destination with a contemporary perspective will allow the Upper King Design District to move into the future, and the arts along with it,” says Jacob.
The other gallery in the neighborhood not to be missed is Michael Mitchell Gallery. The vaulted ceilings and loft make the space vast but welcoming, and it’s chock-full of whimsical art from more than 20 regional artists. When you head home with a giant, bizarre, fantastic clock sculpture, don’t say you weren’t warned.
So, why Upper King? Plain and simple, it’s the heart of the city and home to young, creative artisans, vibrant, forward-thinking chefs and mixologists, and charming yet witty shop owners. Time to toss out the tourist map. The road less traveled is always so much more fun – and, of course, authentically Charleston.
For more on what's hot and happening in Charleston, check out the complete digital edition of 5757 Palm.