Proof Charleston 


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Proof is a cocktail throwdown. It’s a low-key entry on King Street into a tiny space with dark wood and sunlight slanting in the front windows until the light fades and the night begins. Small votives are placed on the bar and adjacent tables, while the primary light source comes from the bottom-lit bar itself. A large absinthe fountain stands between diners and bartenders while bottles pack narrow shelves on the bar wall. On a chalkboard, there’s a daily quotation and some daily deals, accentuated by the sound of bartenders hand-cracking ice. Although the days of this location being mostly occupied by regulars are long gone, regulars frequently rub shoulders with the occasional bachelorette party or another cocktail aficionado that visits. 

And indeed, everyone appears to consider the list of combinations, even if they merely choose a beer or wine. Craig Nelson, one of the Charleston cocktail scene’s founding fathers, has been running this serious cocktail business since 2012, and it’s been ground zero for many an official or unofficial Charleston event after-party. Aside from the ambiance, the drink menu is arguably the right balance of innovative and classic. A Sazerac or Scotch-based Penicillin sits next to a Siddhartha Spritz with Mango Shrub; they produce a great Manhattan and something resembling Strawberry Quik. It’s an ancient saying that you must know the rules before breaking them, and the Proof team is an A+ student of the cocktail canon. 

Snacks are provided, but be aware that a few crackers won’t be enough to counteract the spirit-forward flavor of the drinks. Hence, nibbling alongside other supper plans is advisable unless the bar has a pop-up chef on hand serving ramen or tacos. Small foods menu staples include boiled peanuts and pimento cheese, which combine well with Charleston cocktails. The bartenders also work the tables, so you benefit from their spirit and taste knowledge no matter who you chat with. Ticket times can be longer than at a beer and shot bar, which is expected at artisan cocktail places, but it’s clear that the bartenders are working hard to produce lethal concoctions quickly. Because the staff is tiny, most regulars know everyone by name. This is a post-party stop, a date night diversion, a late-night let’s-get-lit happy hour, or an I’m-feeling-like-a-French-75 stop.

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