The Bar at Husk76 Queen St., (843) 577-2500
The bar at Husk gets its own building — a two-story, splendidly remodeled structure next to the main restaurant — and nowhere in the city are they more passionate about bourbon. Husk's list of more than 50 small-batch bourbons, grouped by their city of origin, is the deepest in town, and there's a handsome selection of ryes, too. Julian Van Winkle himself has been known to mix up a cocktail or two behind the bar on occasion, including a variant of the Old Fashioned that's been dubbed "The Julian."
Thoroughbred ClubCharleston Place Hotel 205 Meeting St., (843) 722-4900
The bourbon list at the Thoroughbred Club may not be as deep as some of the other spots downtown, but there's no better atmosphere for sipping a bourbon on the rocks. Though it's the lobby bar of the Charleston Place Hotel, its dark-paneled walls, deep leather couches, and framed pictures of thoroughbreds and racing memorabilia might lull you into thinking you're in the Bluegrass State. Head bartender Mouzon Taylor has developed a reputation for pairing bourbons with food, and he mixes up some splendid bourbon cocktails. Try a Thoroughbred Martini, which cuts Gentleman Jack with Southern Comfort and cherry, or Mouzon's Mash, a silky blend of bourbon, fresh peaches, mint, lemon, and simple syrup created by Mouzon's peach-farmer grandfather.
Cocktail Club479 King St.
The Cocktail Club has a stylish old-meets-new setting, with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and leather club chairs and couches. Its bourbon list boasts more than 20 top-shelf labels, available in 1.5 and 2.5 ounce pours, and the selection makes its way into some creative cocktails. Bourbon gets shaken into a Maple Meringue with maple syrup and egg whites, while in the Trace of Chocolate, Buffalo Trace joins creme de cacao, St. Germain, and Aztec chocolate bitters. For a slow-sipping deal, check out the Wednesday night Bourbon Happy Hour, where all selections are just $5 a dose from 5 to 7 p.m.
The Gin Joint182 East Bay St., (843) 577-6111
With a dazzling lineup of punches, slings, sours, and daisies, the Gin Joint is dedicated to the art of the pre-Prohibition cocktail. Their mint julep — served in a silver cup with a bouquet of mint leaves for garnish — is as classic as they come, and even the bourbon-and-coke gets a handmade twist: housemade cola syrup with a splash of soda water. Owner and chief mixologist Joe Raya is a huge fan of sippin' spirits, too, and the Gin Joint's shelves are stocked with more than 30 varieties of bourbon, including a Jefferson 17 Year, Parker's Heritage, and the full line of Van Winkles. They offer their bourbons in mix-and-match flights, a perfect way for sampling an array of long-aged reserve editions.
FIG232 Meeting St., (843) 805-5900
Executive Chef Mike Lata has won much acclaim for FIG's innovative farm-to-table cuisine, and the bar's spirits and cocktail program is every bit as serious as the food. There's a dozen small-batch selections on the "Sippin' Liquor" list, and the Negroni menu's nine varieties include the bourbon-based Boulevardier with Buffalo Trace, campari, and carpano antica vermouth. The real winner is the Make-Your-Own-Manhattan offering. First, choose among 15 bourbons and ryes, then pair it with one of nine vermouths and, if you can believe it, 13 different varieties of bitters. If you like bourbon in your Manhattan, try Elmer T. Lee with sweet Carpano Punt e Mes vermouth and a blend of angostura and Fee Brothers cherry bitters: It's smooth, bittersweet, and utterly enchanting.
Boone's Bar345 King St., (843) 577-6665
If you want a glass of Van Winkle without taking out a second mortgage on your house, Boone's is the spot for you. It's a low-key bar and grill, complete with $2 shot specials and half-priced wings on Wednesday nights. But, way up on the highest shelf behind the bar is a row of almost 20 small-batch bourbons with prices several dollars less per glass than what you'll spend at the tonier restaurants. A 10-year-old Rip Van Winkle costs just a buck a year, and not too long ago it was flanked by bottles of 15-year and a 20-year Pappy, too.
Halls Chophouse434 King St., (843) 727-0090
No classic steakhouse would be complete without a deep bourbon selection, and Halls Chophouse doesn't disappoint. Their collection includes almost three dozen brands, ranging from the usual super-premium suspects like Booker's and Baker's along with some rarer varieties from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers like Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, and Willet Pot Still Reserves.