Cullen’s Guide to Late Night on Upper King

Cullen Murray Kemp

You can say what you want about me, but one thing I’ve always been able to do is have a good time. What can I say? I’m a “fun promoter," so without further ado, here is my good-time guide to downtown Charleston. 


To me, late night life here basically comes down to three bar scenes: King Street, Market Street, and hole-in-the-wall local places like Cutty’s on St. Philip Street where spirits are high and locals carouse about in tank tops smelling like fresh fish tacos and Natural Bohemian beer.


For the sake of this blog, I will focus on the King Street bars between Spring and Calhoun Streets. For college kids and early 20-somethings like me, this means places like The Silver Dollar, Mercury, and Midtown. In some, the “bouncers” are college kids (or of college age) themselves, and are, with a kiss on the cheek, easily persuaded that 19-year-old Emily from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is actually 26-year-old Erika from Anchorage, Alaska.


At most Upper King bars, inexperienced drinking should be expected. Add alcohol naivety to dollar drinks and you get a few things: (very) dirty dancing, drink spillage that makes the BP oil spill seem inconsequential, unprovoked arguments often leading to now-provoked fist fights, and best of all, involuntary vomiting.


Speaking of involuntary vomiting…


The other night my roommate and I were drinking on the back patio at Midtown. The bar was busy, and drunken college theatrics were everywhere you looked: Girls danced to no music, while rugby players head-butted one another there, you know, the regular stuff. Our attention was suddenly drawn to a chubby redhead kid who was yelling “chug” at his Asian friend (who was about half the redhead guy’s height and a third of his weight). The Asian guy finished the beer in astonishing time and instantaneously I saw a very recognizable look, rather glaze, come over his face. It was the over-the-limit-face that is followed by the “salivas” (or mouth watering), and then well, the inevitable happened. I yelled out, “Oh no!” But it was too late. The Asian guy turned his head and spewed all over his redhead friend, and in the process turned the surrounding faces of drunken glee into sober horror. Not a second later, the Asian guy scooted out of the back gate and into the night leaving his friend covered in half-priced (and half-digested) hot wings.


Don’t get me wrong: just because at 22, I’m almost too old for Upper King bars, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a spectacle to enjoy every so often.


I mean, what’s better than cheap drinks and I-just-want-to-party freshmen chicks with blond hair and low self-esteem running around in skimpy clothing? For me, I usually just sit back and enjoy the show.


If you move further down King toward Calhoun, you will run into late-night party places like the Cocktail Club and O-Ku. Both of these restaurants/bars attract more of a mature crowd, and instead of dirty dancing and vomit, you may run into a group of gelled-hair single men in their late 20s wearing button-down shirts with one too many buttons undone. I always get the feeling that everyone at these places has a prior agenda, judging from the number of people who are texting on their phones and staring off into space, rather than engaging conversation and well, dirty dancing. 


My After-Midnight Must-Dos on Upper King Street:

1. Find the dealsUpper King is always fun; not grandiose, elegant, high-browed fun by any means, but none-the-less fun. Save the big bucks for rooftop bars on Market and East Bay Streets.


2. Stay on your toes, especially if you don’t want to be the second coming of the chubby redheaded involuntary vomiting victim.


3. Make friends with the bouncers. This has a lot of perks, let's leave it at that. 


4. Be sure to pregame. Pregaming means, in this case, shots before the bars. Reason being, Upper King bars aren’t like regular bars. Everyone there will be John Daly-drunk, and you don’t want to show up to that scene Tim Tebow-sober. From experience, soberness and late night Upper King don’t meld very well.


5. Go talk to her. For novice males, the masses of attractive women at Upper King bars may be a bit intimidating at first. Yet, I’m always astonished when the bars let out and I see white versions of Steve Urkel linked arms with Scarlet Johansson look-alikes. The women, in addition to being beautiful, are usually single (if just for the night), and well, drunk. This provides the perfect cocktail (no pun intended) for you to make acquaintances with women who are way out of your league.


6. Eat at Dell’z Deli. If must-do #5 fails and getting lucky is out of the question, the Jamaican-themed wrap shop has the next best thing to sex that will satisfy late-night cravings. 


Photo credit: Discovery