Where to Drink in Columbia, SC: Bourbon
A recent work trip took me to Columbia, SC. When I’m away from the comforts of home, a key question is, ‘Where will I unwind at the end of the day?’ I had some hope that the answer would be the hotel bar. At some point, someone put quite a bit of creative energy into my hotel’s food and dining options. On the roof, there was a roof deck lounge. On the mezzanine, an attractive looking restaurant overlooking the hotel lobby. In the lobby itself, there was Vault, a cocktail den inside the giant safe left over from the lobby’s previous life as a bank. The Vault contained an inviting little bar and several comfortable-looking conversation nooks. It seemed promising, but it turned out that they were severely overreaching. The roof deck, understandably, was closed for the winter. Less understandably, the restaurant and the cocktail den shared a menu, by which I mean not that the items were the same on both menus (which also could be understandable) but that there was only one physical copy of the menu available, passed around among the patrons of the two venues–more than half of the items were crossed out with a pen. The two also shared a single staff person who was host, bartender, and server–as well as being the room service delivery person. This poor, overwhelmed person was not a trained bartender. Thinking to keep things simple, I ordered a martini; what I got was straight gin, shaken, and served on the rocks in a martini glass. It became clear that I’d have to take to the streets.
Columbia has one of those downtowns where people work, not live. The streets were empty, as were the restaurants, which all had closed shortly after the business crowd left work for the day and long before I went in search of a nightcap. After a few blocks of wandering, I did find one warm, bright welcoming spot. Bourbon’s crowd was lively but not crazy; my rough guess is that it was one half Univ. of South Carolina students and one half other business travelers. The two groups shared a bar more harmoniously than you might guess. The bottles looked like ones I’d like to drink from. I took a seat.
What We Ordered
Vieux Carre: rye whiskey; brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters
Penicillin: blended Scotch whiskey, honey, ginger, lemon, single malt Scotch
Sazerac: rye whiskey, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe
What We Thought
The original recipes on the menu didn’t really catch my eye, but novelty isn’t what I was after anyway. What I wanted was comfort, and that’s exactly what I got from the classics that formed the other half of the menu. These classics were well-made, with care and attention. The ingredients weren’t flashy choices and not the least surprising, being instead entirely conventional. There’s a lot to be said for a simple drink made well. These drinks were solid and dependable. They made me feel like I could relax in the bartender’s safe hands. Bourbon was the perfect place to unwind at the end of each of my days in Columbia. I hope I can do as well on my next business trip.