The charming, colonial seaside city of Charleston has long been a popular weekend getaway with gay and lesbian couples, if not necessarily a major gay nightclub destination. But Charleston does have a couple of exceptional attractive and nicely designed gay nightspots downtown, not to mention several restaurant bars and lounges with a modestly gay following. It's definitely possible to have a great time dancing, watching drag cabaret, and mingling with locals and tourists in this sophisticated city of about 120,000.
The premier downtown gay disco is Club Pantheon, a big and bustling high-energy dance space in Charleston's increasingly gentrified North King Street neighborhood (it's at 28 Ann Street, 843-577-2582) on the ground floor of a modern parking structure across from the Charleston Visitors Center). The club presents a roster of top-DJ dancing all three nights that it's open: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Fridays and Sundays, the "Ladies of Pantheon Cabaret" kicks off at midnight.
Less than a 100 feet away (at 42 Ann Street, 843-577-6779), you'll find a far mellower but just as inviting gay bar that's open nightly and run by the same folks who operate Club Pantheon. Dudley's is a swish little lounge with attractive bar tables and stools and a welcoming bar with video screens above it. And just off the main room is a separate area where you can shoot pool. At both Dudley's and Club Pantheon, the crowd tends to be a catch-all of gay Charleston life: women and men of all ages and races, and quite a few straight customers, too. Dudley's, because it's quieter and more of a conversation bar, tends to draw a slightly older bunch, especially on weekends when the young'uns are next door partying at Pantheon.
It's less popular with tourists, but Patrick's Pub is another gay Charleston nightlife option that's worth checking out. It's a 15-minute drive west of downtown (at 1377 Ashley River Rd., 843-571-3435), which is actually handy if you're staying at one of the many chain motels and hotels out on Hwy. 61 or U.S. 17, to the west of the city. Patrick's draws more of a locals crowd, with its variety of giddy theme nights, from Disco Inferno Wednesdays to Karaoke Thursdays. The club, which has been serving Charleston since 1997, is open nightly.
Another friendly, laid-back neighborhood option for gays and lesbian is North Charleston's Deja Vu II, which located at 4628 Spruill Ave., 843-554-5959.
If you're looking for a cool place for cocktails or chilling with friends before dinner, keep in mind that Charleston has a wealth of urbane restaurants with bars that are rich on charm on history. One of the most gay-popular of the bunch is Vickery's, which has closed its downtown Charleston location but still has a very fun space across the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant at 1313 Shrimp Boat Lane (843-884-4440). This laid-back, casual restaurant serves tasty Cuban and Latin fare has two even more famous branches in Atlanta that are quite popular with the gay community
For sheer elegance, it's hard to top the swish lobby bar adjacent to Grill 225 restaurant, inside the sumptuous and gay-friendly Market Pavilion Hotel. This ornate, high-ceilinged space is the perfect spot for a glass of wine or a martini, perhaps before you dine in the excellent restaurant, or at one of the many other terrific eateries within a short walk. If the weather's nice, consider having cocktails up on the rooftop bar of the Market Pavilion, where you'll enjoy a panoramic view of the historic Charleston skyline.