The great incongruity of the Charleston dining scene is that you go into any given trendy spot and it’s all locally-grown this and single source that. Everything from the fennel to the flank steak is vegan and ethical and LGBT-friendly and local to the hilt, and then you head to the bar and it’s bottle after bottle of vodka from Poland, whiskey from Ireland, and rum from Jamaica. Most everyone has a Westbrook or Frothy Beard on tap, but it can be a little tougher to find local spirits. On Wednesday night, all the local distilleries from Striped Pig to Virgil Kaine assembled at Cocktail Club’s Slow Sips Fundraiser benefiting Slow Food Charleston to show off their wares and make the case that Carolinian spirits are among America’s finest. We sampled local specialties from bourbon to gin and we’re here to tell you there’s no reason to sacrifice quality — we’ll take that Charleston Distilling Company bourbon barrel gin over Beefeater any day. All the usual suspects were in attendance, and it was fun to see a big group of Charleston’s best food and beverage professionals getting together to celebrate the liquid bounty of the area. At the risk of getting a little tipsy on a school night, we slogged our way through all the offerings — we’re journalists, after all — and ended our night with an icy cold glass of Cathead and soda at the rooftop bar.
Because the early part of the week seemed too straightforward, we volunteered ourselves to go to a secretive PopUp Dinner by Handmade Events on Saturday evening. We were told to bring all our own food, wine, and utensils, to wear all white a la the famous Paris pop-up Dîner en Blanc, and to await further instructions via secret message vis a vis location and time. We’re not in the practice of attending Klan rallies, so we were a little nervous to find out exactly what was going down and where. Around 4 p.m. we were told to get to Ravenel’s Hyde Park Polo Farm sometime in the next two hours and bring garbage bags. We picked up a bottle of vinho verde and some Boxcar Betty takeout and drove 20 miles out of town to see what the fuss was about. After signing our lives away to Bravo and realizing we recognized precisely zero of the 300-ish guests, it became pretty evident that this event was somehow connected to the making of an episode of Southern Charm. We should have known! No actual Southerner would make their post-Labor Day party white-themed. We vowed right then and there never to tell our mothers where we had been that night, even though we had a fun time dancing with Shep & Co. and the staging was as pretty as we’d hoped. Note to self: Never a bad call to decorate a party with horses.
After we departed the white event we headed directly to Hogs for the Cause at Patriots Point. This was Hogs’ first year in Charleston, but a great turnout and fun vibe made it seem like they’ll be coming around again. It’s a rare charity that can make raising money for pediatric brain cancer not feel like a downer, but they pulled it off with help from the Drive-By Truckers and every conceivable iteration of barbecue under the sun. It ran the gamut from fancy folks eating Sean Brock’s take on carnival food in a $200-a-head tent to outlaw country guys thumb-gunning Miller Lights. Still in our white party dresses, we chowed down on Rodney Scott’s slow-cooked whole hog on white bread and swayed to a live rendition of the Drive-By Truckers’ “Zip City” with a couple hundred of our favorite prepnecks until the beer ran out and Patterson Hood told us to go the hell home.
Since the theme of our week seemed to have been “vascilate wildly between fancy and low-key,” we got up Sunday morning to check out a preview of the 10 million dollar renovation at the Mount Pleasant Towne Centre Belk. Salthouse Catering brought biscuits and Bloody Marys, and the good people at Belk trusted us, perhaps unwisely, to wander around the store and try on as many Chanel perfumes and Free People dresses as we wanted. Hint: there are rather a lot of both of these things. Just in time for your holiday shopping needs, that location has upped its luxury offerings and phased out the stuff you didn’t want anyway. If you’re in need of literally anything head over to Belk on Oct. 12 for the official opening for a night of shopping with Lowcountry AIDS Services. Bring a map and provisions; the new place is so capacious and byzantine that we’re still camped out with scones and mimosas over by the Laura Ashley bedding.