Charleston has always been a place of quintessential Southern hospitality. Over the decades, this venerable port city has continued to be a favorite destination with tourists from all over the world who wish to experience the South as they’ve always imagined it. The center of attention—downtown Charleston—pays regard to its history but has reinvented itself just enough to stay chic and relevant.
At the heart of the downtown district is the iconic Charleston Place Hotel. Considered relatively new by Charleston standards, the 28-year-old property is perfectly suited to the history of its surroundings. Elegant grandeur and a sense of sophisticated restraint pervade the hotel’s dazzling lobby, restaurants and lounges. A part of the well-appointed Orient-Express collection of hotels, Charleston Place occupies almost a full city block at the epicenter of downtown activity. Its grand staircase and bustling lobby are flanked by retail shopping concourses—stretching all the way from Meeting to King Streets—that accommodate luxe boutiques such as Gucci, St. John and Louis Vuitton along with the hotel’s restaurants, Palmetto Cafe and Charleston Grill.
The sunny Palmetto Cafe is a favorite garden-style breakfast and lunch spot, where cheerful service—guided by vigilant general manager Michael Barto—and American Lowcountry culinary traditions rule. Regional dishes take on an international twist, such as Shrimp Poke with avocado, a light caper vinaigrette and crisp wontons. To present the regularly changing menu in a really interesting and fun way, chef de cuisine Andrew Coins has classified his appetizers, entrées and desserts into four distinct categories: Cafe Classics, Ocean, Range and Farm.
Long considered a big-name restaurant, Charleston Grill seamlessly blends ambience, cuisine and service that have earned the establishment its many awards (Forbes Four-Star Dining Award, AAA Four-Diamond Award, two Wine Spectator Best Of Awards and Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame, just to name a few). In the kitchen, the talented triumvirate of chefs—executive chef Michelle Weaver, executive sous chef Andy Champion and pastry chef Emily Cookson—have created a menu that explores a breadth of influences and, like sister restaurant Palmetto Cafe, they have also grouped dishes into four concise categories: Pure, Lush, Southern and Cosmopolitan. Each section expresses distinctive flavors and ingredients. Says Chef Weaver of her style, “I’m Southern-grown with a global palate,” and her gutsy yet sensible menus reflect someone who’s traveled well—and taken good notes.
Charleston Grill’s longtime manager, Mickey Bakst (whose popularity in Charleston could easily win him the mayoral election), is proud of his team and delivers an overall guest experience worthy of the restaurant’s accolades. Bakst is equally proud of the meaty 45-page wine list with more than 1,600 brilliantly organized selections that is surprisingly easy to navigate. With so many choices, wine director and sommelier Rick Rubel, one of the few sommeliers of his level in the city, along with assistant wine director Andrew Marshall, are at the ready to help with the perfect pairing. To accompany our light appetizers of yellow tomato gazpacho with poached shrimp and avocado and Charleston Grille crab cake with shrimp, Rubel chose a J.S. Dauvissant, Saint-Pierre, 2008 Chablis—crisp and flinty and perfect with both dishes. Entrées of rabbit with pork belly and Brunswick stew and a plate of grilled wild Salmon, English peas and horseradish-lime butter matched well with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2008 Alexana—earthy, dense and again flawless with each.
Charleston Place is the type of hotel that, once you check into your magnificent guest room, you will never want to leave. Room interiors are elegant and richly decorated without being fussy and overdone. Understated tapestries, chintz and damasks provide a sense of history amidst a soft, earth tone-based color palette. Works by local artists enliven walls, and a star-medallion stenciled on each room’s entry foyer by local artisan Karl Beckwith Smith III boldly greets you.
You’ll also want to stay a long time to experience as many treatments as you possibly can in the European-style Spa at Charleston Place. Spa Director Annette Sandford-Lopez greets everyone with such enthusiasm and pride, it’s as though she is welcoming you into her own home. A 10-page menu of services ensures something for everyone, from forward-thinking skin treatments to lavish scrubs and wraps, healing massages and even special Spa Kids services. Spa amenities include hydro-kinetic Vichy water treatments, a 50-foot heated horizon-edge saltwater pool with retractable roof, Jacuzzi, dry sauna, a full-service weight and fitness room and a full range of toiletries.
And, if (on the off chance) you decide to venture outside your Charleston Place sanctuary, let the city continue to wrap you in ultimate Southern hospitality like nowhere else on earth.