Where to stay? With friends, with cousins or in a room just steps from where some of the South’s best chefs do their thing? When I visit Charleston, S.C., walking proximity to restaurants ranks high on my list of musts. Window shopping en route makes even a multi-block journey a pleasure, and a return stroll past gracious antebellum houses has positive digestive effects.
Luckily for me, the hotel option has not been deemed an insult to home hospitality; an understanding Charlestonian pal on Twitter recommended a charming inn that suited my recent weekend plans. “It’s not fancy, but it’s where we like to put our overflow guests,” she said.
So we landed at the Fulton Lane Inn, one of four properties in the Charming Inns group. All of them are in the Historic District. Gilded Age lodging with an in-house restaurant, a la the Wentworth Mansion, wasn’t necessary, nor were the verandas of the John Rutledge House Inn especially alluring in winter.Kings Courtyard Inn hosts a complimentary wine-and-cheese hour in the afternoon and a proper lobby for socializing, which provides a constant voyeurs’ parade.
Fulton Lane, in contrast, is understated and intimate. No uniformed doorman, no waiters. The entrance is off the main thoroughfare of King Street, midway down a brick passageway that leads to one of the few open-air parking lots downtown. The small lobby is merely functional, which means that there’s a couch to sit on, an afternoon tray of sherries to sample and an entrance to a conference-ready room where a continental breakfast buffet is set.
Part of the 45-room inn dates to 1911 and was owned by a blockade runner-turned-merchant, and accommodations in that section have modest bathrooms and dark, Victorian-style furnishings. We stayed in the section renovated in 1992, which gets continually updated. Its white-painted louvered motifs and sisal carpets can make you forget the January chill. Su-Su Baldwin, the concierge who checked us in and looks very much the part of a historic-house docent, casually mentioned a ghost that’s said to frequent the older hallways. Perhaps we didn’t react to the news with much enthusiasm; whatever the reason, she put us in newer-section Room 217 — the very quarters touted by Southern Living magazine, she said, tucking our oversize metal door keys into a small envelope.
Thank you, Su-Su. Our corner room at the back of Fulton Lane was filled with light from five tall windows, and the king-size canopy bed sported a summery drape of cotton netting. A comfortable wicker chair and ottoman beckoned from beside the gas fireplace. Of all the modern amenities — including comfy robes, a mini-fridge and WiFi — the one my tub-savvy spouse most appreciated was the wide and deep whirlpool bath. Or rather, the strategic placement of its jets (low enough to move water yet keep it from splashing).
By filling out a breakfast order form and hanging it on the door by 11 p.m., we scheduled a room service tray with a basket of warm pastries and muffins, fresh orange juice, decent coffee and a newspaper.
Low-season rates made our stay all the more attractive at checkout, which is handled person-to-person, not charged and slipped under the door. We left with kindly thoughts for the Fulton Lane Inn — and with our Charleston relationships intact.
Fulton Lane Inn
202 King St.
Low-season (winter) rates from $170. High-season rates from $235. Year-round Sunday through Wednesday rates are low-season. Special weekend winter rates in effect through Feb. 9, from $159.