Happy hour is a joyous occasion for lots of reasons.
There's the inevitable flurry of e-mails and text messages during the workday, arranging reunions among friends, a casual date, or a reason to de-stress. The drinks are usually the focal point, especially when they're cheap and cold. The accompanying menus at many happy hours are usually just an afterthought, a way to stave off the munchies until heading off to dinner at home or beyond. But longtime fans—as well as newcomers—to Charleston's beloved High Cotton should check out its bar menu, which offers reasonably-priced Southern and New American tastes in an upscale setting.
The Lowcountry-focused restaurant has always had modern twists on Southern classics, and its bar menu, offered daily from 4:00pm-6:00pm, offers diners affordable yet refined bites, starting at just $5 for the truffled popcorn. Among the must-try dishes are the portobello fries ($8), which are mildly spicy, battered portobello mushrooms cut thick like steak fries and served with a creamy bearnaise sauce.
Portobello fries and bearnaise sauce ($8)
There's also a buttery sliced speck ham, which, on the day I visited, came with sliced, in-season fresh peaches over a lightly-tossed salad of arugula and spiced pecans,all drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The dish is a fresh alternative to standard mixed nuts and french fries usually found at on bar menus. The peaches—firm and sweet—blended nicely with the sticky tang of the balsamic reduction.
Sliced speck ham, seasonal fruit, spiced pecans, balsamic reduction ($8)
Of course, the cornerstone of a good happy hour is the drinks, and High Cotton's cocktails don't disappoint. One standout is the Top Shelf Manhattan made with High Cotton's house bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, and a delightful boozy, brandy-soaked cherry, all of which make for an interesting, fruitier riff of the classic Manhattan.
High Cotton's popular World Famous Espresso martini made with house vodka, Kahlua, and espresso, and rimmed with cocoa, is another good choice, with a satisfying jolt of caffeine in each rich sip.
The Top Shelf Manhattan ($10; left) and the World Famous Espresso Martini ($9; right)
Heartier fare is also available on High Cotton's bar menu, including a Lowcountry Roll ($18) topped with shrimp salad and served with crispy fries. The roll, an homage to the lobster rolls from up north, is light on mayo, while the shrimp are hefty and flavorful. The fries are fairly standard issue—thick cut and salted nicely. For true carnivores, there's also a burger ($14), which can be topped with pimiento cheese for a Southern twist.
Lowcountry Roll, shrimp salad on a toasted garlic roll with fries ($18)
The most appealing aspect of High Cotton's bar menu is being able to enjoy the warm, cozy atmosphere of the bar before the restaurant fills up for dinner service. Plus, the refined bar food makes an after-work stop seem like a special occasion.
For me, I'm adding High Cotton to my list of not-so-secret watering holes where I'll stop when I'm on my way home. I see nothing wrong with a little pre-dinner dinner. I mean, portobello fries are still vegetables, which means they're totally healthy, right?