Best of Columbia 2021: Clubs and Bars | Free Times

Best Bar or Club — The Whig

Second Place: Jake’s

Life without The Whig was weird. The subterranean Main Street haunt with the great beer and liquor prices; cozy, dimly lit vibe; and top-notch bar food was where many Columbians wandered in to see their friends, whether after work or after midnight. The value of such wonderful local bars was made plain and clear by their absence for much of last year. And The Whig is one of the very best.

Honorable Mention: Art Bar, Tin Roof

Best Bar Service — WECO Bottle and Biergarten

Second Place: Steel Hands Brewing

A relatively young business, WECO Bottle and Biergarten has exploded on the scene. At first, it seemed like it was a hit for its expansive outdoor seating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Over time, it became clear a friendly and knowledgeable staff was as much of a factor. It helps they pour beers speedily, too, minimizing waits despite how busy it can be.

Honorable Mention: Hendrix, Jake’s

Best Bar Trivia — Craft and Draft

Second Place: Palmetto Trivia at River Rat Brewery

Bar trivia is an ever-popular phenomenon that attracts a wide-ranging clientele with its variety of topics — from popular TV shows to fun-fact-focused offerings. Nowhere in town does it as well as Craft and Draft, where the bottle shop and bar pairs a snug environment with one of the best beer selections in town.

Honorable Mention: The Grand on Main, New Brookland Tavern

Best Bartender — Jake Smith (Motor Supply Co. Bistro)

Second Place: Gabe King (Hendrix)

What do you do when you lose perhaps the city’s most influential bartender in Josh Streetman? You replace him with another bartender whose name starts with J, Jake Smith. Smith has filled those shoes admirably, quickly developing a penchant and reputation for complex, tasty cocktails that seldom feel overdone.

Honorable Mention: Kelsey Riordan (Market on Main/Group Therapy), Shawn Dell Corley (Art Bar)

Best Beer Selection — WECO Bottle and Biergarten

Second Place: Craft and Draft

For many beer lovers, WECO is a best of both worlds situation. An expansive and quickly rotating selection of American craft beer, with plenty of trendy hazy IPAs and sours and seltzers, is matched by something you see less often: a thoughtful assembly of crushable European imports, many of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town. No matter your beer mood, WECO can provide.

Honorable Mention: Steel Hands Brewing, Jake’s

Best Bloody Mary — Cafe Strudel

Second Place: The War Mouth

Matching the creativity of its popular brunch offerings, Cafe Strudel gets inventive with its bloodies. Offerings we’ve found there include the Smokey Bacon Bloody Mary and the Bloody Pickles, with house-infused pickle vodka and housemade bloody mix. Cure what ails you, and have a little fun while you’re at it.

Honorable Mention: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, The Gourmet Shop

Best Brewpub — Hunter-Gatherer Brewery/Taproom

Second Place: Steel Hands Brewing

Welcome back, old friend. After a long closure amid the pandemic, the oldest brewpub in the city reopened. All the reasons it was well loved were still there — a beautiful space for a bite, date or beer and strong bar fare — but owner Kevin Varner also announced plans to improve on that in the coming months.

Honorable Mention: Columbia Craft Brewing Company, Old Mill Brewpub

Bourbon Kat Hunter making drink.jpg

Bourbon is voted Best Cocktail Program.

Best Cocktail Program — Bourbon

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Bourbon isn’t just one of the city’s best cocktail bars, it has racked up accolades on a regional level and in bartender competitions. So it should come as no surprise that the Main Street spot took this award. Led by head bartender Kat Hunter, the bar hasn’t grown complacent and continues to impress with its seasonal offerings, attentive service and a recent, lush expansion next door.

Honorable Mention: Coa Agaveria Y Cocina, Hendrix

Best College Bar — Jake’s

Second Place: Pavlov’s Bar

The proof of college students’ love for Jake’s is apparent when the line to get in starts while the sun is still up, and snakes down Devine Street. College students love Jake’s for their expansive indoor/outdoor space, their elevated bar food offerings, and, of course, their drink specials that go on deep into the nighttime hours.

Honorable Mention: The Cotton Gin, Breaker’s Live

Best Craft Beer Selection — Craft and Draft

Second Place: WECO Bottle and Biergarten

The bottle shop and bar has two locations in the Columbia area and both have the most eclectic and wide-ranging craft beer offerings available in the city. From barrel-aged stouts to trendy IPAs or sours, Craft and Draft is certain to have something to scratch your beer itch.

Honorable Mention: Steel Hands Brewing, The Main Course

Best Dance Club — The Woody on Main

Second Place: Tin Roof

Since its early days in the Vista, The Woody has always promised a dance experience everybody can get behind. Now on Main Street and offering dinner and weekend brunch options, The Woody still provides something for everyone, with Wednesday salsa nights, Thursday beach and boogie tunes for shagging, and their signature brand of dance party nights on the weekends.

Honorable Mention: Skyline Club, Cotton Gin

Best Distillery — Hollow Creek Distillery

Second Place: Southern Essence Distilling

The distillery wave in Columbia has seemingly peaked, but Hollow Creek Distillery in Leesville keeps cranking out their distinct brand of moonshine, along with High Cotton Bourgon and White Hot cinnamon whiskey. It offers tours and scenic views in western Lexington County.

Honorable Mention: Gorget Distilling Co.

Best Gay Bar — The Capital Club

Second Place: PT’s 1109

“South Carolina’s longest standing and most dignified private gay bar” has been a fixture in the Vista since before the Vista was the Vista, standing as a beacon of inclusivity — as well as good drink, good conversations and good times — since 1980.

Best Happy Hour – Cantina 76

Second Place: Publico

Margaritas are pretty much synonymous with happy hour, which is why when it’s time to punch the clock, Columbia fills up the seats at Cantina 76 for happy hour to unwind. Whether you want to stay downtown, or head a little closer to home with their Devine Street location, there’s plenty of space for groups to gather for drinks, chips, and queso of course.

Honorable Mention: Steel Hands Brewing, Art Bar

Steel Hands.jpg

Steel Hands Brewing is voted Best Local Brewery and Best Bar to See Live Music.

Best Local Brewery — Steel Hands Brewing

Second Place: Columbia Craft Brewing Company

It’s a hip space. It’s got good beer. It’s Cayce’s Steel Hands Brewing. Anchored by solid year-round offerings, like the popular Coffee Lager, and an ambitious new release program, Steel Hands has earned its strong reputation among the city’s drinkers. They pair that with frequent events that range from beer unveilings to concerts.

Honorable Mention: River Rat Brewery, Savage Craft Ale Works

Best Margarita — Cantina 76

Second Place: Coa Agaveria Y Cocina

At Cantina, the impressive variety of tacos is nearly matched by the variety of margaritas. The eight regularly available blends include The Jalapeño (with jalapeño peppers, fresh lime juice and agave nectar), The Devine (with Peach Schnapps and cranberry) and the Prickly Pear (with Bacardi Dragonberry rum, orange juice and grenadine). If you can’t find a marg that suits you here, you might want to try another drink.

Honorable Mention: San Jose Mexican Restaurant, Publico

Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown — The Whig

Second Place: Tin Roof

Long The Whig sat dormant as its subterranean, small space was a poor fit for the COVID-19 pandemic. When it reopened it came in a trickle, with reservations only and limited seating. Then the safety net was removed and the bar reopened fully. Columbia’s signature bar finally resembled its old, beloved self: a great beer selection, top notch bar food and relaxing, dim atmosphere.

Honorable Mention: Art Bar, Di Vino Rosso

Best Neighborhood Bar, Five Points — Jake’s

Second Place: Bar None

Columbia’s college neighborhood bars may be under siege, depending on who you ask anyway, but Jake’s is proof there’s worthiness there. It offers a welcome interior, surprisingly good bites and, the main draw, a stellar patio that is dog-friendly.

Honorable Mention: Goat’s, Publico

Best Neighborhood Bar, Harbison — Craft and Draft Irmo

Second Place: The British Bulldog Pub

The second location of bottle shop Craft and Draft has managed to make itself into its own distinct spot from its sister in Columbia. It’s bigger, offers up an equally strong selection of beer and features former Lula Drake chef Ros Graverson serving up a creative bar bites menu.

Honorable Mention: Hemingway’s

Best Neighborhood Bar, Lexington — O’Hara’s Public House

Second Place: Keg Cowboy Bar & Restaurant

With a huge back porch area, serving windows facing the Main Street sidewalk, and a spacious indoor dining room, O’Hara’s Public House quickly became a Lexington favorite. Their renditions of classic Irish bar fare, plus regional classics like Cincinnati Chili make it a unique spot on the Lexington landscape.

Honorable Mention: Krafty Draft Brew Pub, Twisted Roots Bar & Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar, Northeast — Random Tap

Second Place: Ratio Restaurant

Random Tap captures the lively independent bottle shop vibe as good as any in the Columbia area and has no rivals in its neighborhood. Located in a house-like structure, it’s a warm space and has a great beer selection. Adding to that is Catherine Cosby’s food, which punches above its weight.

Honorable Mention: Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, Top Dawg Tavern

Best Neighborhood Bar, Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres — Craft And Draft

Second Place: Tazza Kitchen

Since it opened in 2014, the original Devine Street location of Craft and Draft has been a homey home not just for craft beer obsessives and bottle share buds, but also the neighborhood, with folks strolling in for a brew or two or a nice hang on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons. It’s a home base for the local beer scene, and a public living room for Shandon.

Honorable Mention: Rockaway Athletic Club, Cock N’ Bull Pub

Best Neighborhood Bar, West Columbia/Cayce — WECO Bottle and Biergarten

Second Place: Steel Hands Brewing

Between finally giving people across the river a true casual hangout bar to enjoy and the great beer selection, WECO has become a fast favorite in the Meeting Street corridor. Food trucks are parked in the spacious back lot almost every day of the week, making each experience a little different for those who crave variety in their social outings.

Honorable Mention: New Brookland Tavern, State Street Pub

WECO outdoors

WECO Bottle and Biergarten is voted Best Bar Service, Best Beer Selection, Best New Bar or Club, Best Neighborhood Bar — West Columbia/Cayce and Coldest Beer.

Best New Bar or Club — WECO Bottle and Biergarten

Second Place: Savage Craft Ale Works

Whig co-owner Phill Blair started his latest bar joint in West Columbia. This one traded in underground, counterculture vibes for an expansive outdoor space tailor made for Columbia’s hot summers. There’s daily food trucks, an outdoor and indoor bar and a heck of a lot of seating. It’s exactly what the city needed and couldn’t have come at a better time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honorable Mention: Transmission Arcade, The Woody on Main

Best Outdoor Deck — Savage Craft Ale Works

Second Place: WECO Bottle and Biergarten

It’s big, it’s new and it’s beautiful. That’s Savage Craft Ale Works in a nutshell. The city’s newest brewery brings those three things together throughout its entire estate-like building, but it is no better represented than on its rooftop deck. Better yet, you get to try out an emerging brewery’s new beers and upscale bar bites, too.

Honorable Mention: Hendrix, Jake’s

Best People-Watching Bar — Art Bar

Second Place: The Woody on Main

Ah Art Bar. Whether you’re there early with longtime locals or late night with the quirky youth that happen to find a home here, Art Bar is always a place to grab a cold beer and watch the city unwind. And if no one is quite there yet, the robots will always keep you company.

Honorable Mention: Tin Roof, Bar None

Best Place to See Live Comedy — The Comedy House

Second Place: New Brookland Tavern

Since getting back to business after COVID-19 shut things down, The Comedy House has continued to bring the same steady stream of known and up-and-coming comics to its spot in Northeast Columbia. It remains the most consistent force pushing live comedy in the Midlands.

Honorable mention: Art Bar, The Joint @ 1710 Main

Best Sports Bar — Hickory Tavern

Second Place: Hemingway’s

Want a bunch of TVs with a bunch of different sports playing on them at the same time for maximum sports-watching ability? Hickory Taven’s got it, plus a huge selection of beers, elevated bar food favorites, and an air of camaraderie. There’s always someone nearby to high five when the sports team does a splendidly favorable sports action.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Wild Wings, Twin Peaks Restaurant

Coldest Beer — WECO Bottle and Biergarten

Second Place: Thirsty Fellow Pizzeria and Pub

The attentive and knowledgeable staff at WECO can explain to you why not every beer needs to be served frosty cold, and how that actually harms the flavors of some styles. They can also serve you some fantastic, and well-chilled, lagers to enjoy out in that spacious biergarten.

Honorable Mention: Steel Hands Brewing, Hemingway’s

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