restored Andrew Pinckney Inn in Charleston, S.C.,
overlooks the City Market in the heart of the
historic district. The hotel incorporates the pale
palette familiar to the British West Indies style
throughout the city
wound through the narrow streets of Charleston, following
our tour guide. Under a canopy of oak trees dripping with
Spanish moss, he paused to explain the sultry, laid-back
vibe of South Carolina’s oldest city.
you meet someone in Greenville, S.C., for the first time,
he or she will ask where you’re from, the guide said.
Meet someone in Columbia, the state capital, and they’ll
ask what you do for a living. But meet someone in
Charleston, and they’ll ask what you’re drinking.
"We do things a little different down here in the
Lowcountry," he said.
That’s exactly what my friend, Rose French, and I came
for — a few days without the pressure of our weekday
jobs as journalists. Rose lives in Atlanta, and we don’t
get to see each other often. Phone calls and emails get
sporadically wedged into our busy schedules. We wanted a
weekend with uninterrupted conversation, spectacular food
and drink, with a bit of history, culture and shopping in
has become a go-to favorite for such girlfriend getaways,
with a well-deserved reputation as a gracious host. The
city embraces the reputation as evidenced by all the
"Girls Gone Wild"-inscribed trinkets, shot
glasses and T-shirts. The motto, however, feels
incongruent for the elegant city of antebellum homes with
their piazzas and fragrant, colorful gardens.
and I didn’t exactly go wild (except when served a few
decadent desserts), but we relished the way the city’s
lazy charm — not to mention its compact and concentrated
size — made it easy to enjoy each other’s company
while dipping into an unknown city, one with a deep and
in 1670 by British settlers, Charleston thrived until the
Civil War with a busy seaport and the farming of rice,
cotton and indigo. In April 1861, the war that changed its
fortunes started in the city when Confederate soldiers
fired on the Union-held Fort Sumter, now a national park
in the city’s harbor — and one of the places Rose and
city recovered slowly after the war, compelling the
restoration, rather than replacement, of homes and
buildings. It’s why it is a unique gem, exuding historic
late great Southern writer Pat Conroy wrote in his novel
"South of Broad" that Charleston is a city
"so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just
to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets" and so
"corniced and filigreed and elaborate that it leaves
strangers awed and natives self-satisfied."
the Holy City, as Charleston is called for its dozens of
church steeples rising to the sky above the low-slung
buildings, drinks are to be savored with dinner — or
lunch or even breakfast — on a hotel rooftop or in a
there is much to explore outside the city and historic
district by car, we parked and mainly explored on foot.
With grid-like streets, much of Charleston is easy to
is also filled with lush, verdant life: palm trees and oak
trees, boxes of flowers hung under storefronts’ and
homeowners’ windows. Beautiful metalwork on benches,
streetlamps and signs highlights the charm. These are
among the city’s slower pleasures.
visited the farmers market in Marion Square, sipped iced
coffee and wandered down more high-end shops on King
Street, window-shopping mostly their higher-end preppy,
country club-style clothing, home goods and antiques.
I’d had enough froufrou, I wandered a couple of blocks
to the Cistern Yard, the quiet, gated square at the center
of the College of Charleston, heavy with massive trees,
Spanish moss and ivy. As is the case throughout much of
the romantic city, there was a wedding party posing for
all the beauty, Charleston’s brutal past is inextricably
present, too. The macadam streets that add such authentic
history were built by African slaves. The city’s port
and Slave Mart were among the busiest and most notorious
in the nation.
weekend included stops at three somber sites. We took a
ferry for the Fort Sumter visit to stand on the historic
windswept ground and trek around the grassy little fort
where I found surprising comfort as I stood next to a
cannon glancing back to the city. The place where I stood
had once been ground zero of the country’s bloody
divide. But no more. Here we were, the happy tourists and
chattering schoolchildren simply enjoying the ferry to the
fort and a brief brush of history.
expected a darker experience on our visit to the Old Slave
Mart Museum on Chalmers Street. We left disappointed.
exhibitions include artifacts such as leg irons and
posters listing the selling price for slaves based on
their ages, gender and health. One stop on the tour —
which takes less than an hour — included oral histories
recorded in the voices of the former slaves themselves.
a native of rural Louisiana, believed the museum lacked a
sense of poignancy, saying it gave short shrift to the
city’s dark legacy. I, too, wanted more of an emotional
connection and tribute to the brutal existence of the
ancestors who had built the stunning city and infused it
with the West African culture and cuisine that remain a
strong part of the regional culture.
deserved homage may be coming. The International
African-American Museum is expected to open in 2019 and
will hopefully bring Gullah history to life. The Gullah
culture sprung from West African slaves who were prized in
the region for their knowledge of rice cultivation. Their
Lowcountry dishes became signatures of the region,
including the long-simmering catfish stews, oyster and
turtle soups, shrimp and grits, gumbo, rice and macaroni
wanted to see another place that had pulled me before our
trip: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Called
"Mother Emanuel" by many locals, the church was
founded in 1816 and is the oldest AME church in the South
and one of the oldest black congregations.
June 2015, Dylann Roof entered the church during prayer
service, killing nine people. He later confessed to the
crime, saying he wanted to start a race war.
walked to the stately white church, where I hoped to pass
on an unspoken message of love.
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carriages passed by. A documentary crew was filming from
the sidewalk. On this Saturday afternoon, the church was
others had been moved to visit, leaving behind flowers
made of sweet grass, rosaries, stones and notes in the
church’s metal gate. On a black notice board in white
letters, the parishioners posted a simple, moving message
for visitors: "We thank you for your many acts of
consider myself a fairly well-traveled foodie. I’ve
dined well from Paris to Rome and Berlin, New York to San
Francisco and Sydney, Australia. Let’s just say more
than a couple of Charleston restaurants rank among my
mental lifetime top 10.
first, a drink.
from our hotel, we found a bar-restaurant on the water
with lovely views and serviceable cocktails. A better
choice — with pricier drinks — would have been one of
the city’s hotel rooftop bars with panoramic views.
weren’t, however, about to make the same mistake with
city’s celebrated restaurants serve Lowcountry standards
in traditional and updated versions, sure. Biscuits,
grits, shrimp, bring it on, I said.
do, however, suggest making reservations before a trip.
Tables can be tough to get in many of the renowned
restaurants — and there are many and they are busy. We
our first night, we wandered the cobblestone streets until
9 p.m., peering into busy dining rooms. We eventually
nabbed the one available white-tablecloth table at S.N.O.B.,
which stands for "Slightly North of Broad," and
calls itself a Lowcountry bistro.
went classic by ordering the region’s signature shrimp
and grits, a house specialty, the server informed me. I’ve
dreamed of it ever since — that deep red roux, buttery
grits and perfectly cooked shrimp.
strong suggestion: Dessert in Charleston is not to be
denied. At S.N.O.B., we tucked into a stupendous house
specialty, warm apple sour cream pie with walnut streusel
and vanilla ice cream.
a single weekend, I couldn’t presume to provide a
definitive guide on where to eat. But on my next stop, I
will return to FIG (Food Is Good), a nationally celebrated
restaurant where we improbably lucked into a table.
clams and ricotta gnocchi in lamb Bolognese sauce,
referred to by the staff as "pillows of love,"
were shared by Rose and me. The finish again was heaven:
sticky sorghum cake with a scoop of walnut/amaretto ice
cream. For another bite of that alone, I would return.
we are no longer late-night revelers, we love breakfast
and the Hominy Grill was a must. It’s yet another very
popular spot where waits can get long. We arrived —
unintentionally — 20 minutes before the place opened,
securing a spot at the head of the line for a table and
the time to savor a coffee or mimosa from the outdoor
garden counter while we waited.
the eating and drinking, coming and going to our hotel, we
detoured often through the adjacent indoor market
featuring local artisans. Sweetgrass bowls aren’t my
style but they’re a signature offering here.
separated and when we reconnected, Rose excitedly told me
about a framed print she had purchased of two young black
women, backs to the painter, their colorful patterned
skirts blowing in the wind as they looked to the sea. We
looped back to see the kiosk.
bought an identical print as well as a second of women in
a church pew. The painter, Jonathan Green, I later
learned, is nationally known for capturing the Southern
reproductions of his famous works now hang in my home,
perfect reminders of a weekend in a most storied city.