Charleston, By Night and Day
This was not my first brush with the Caribbean in Charleston. The Thursday I arrived, I visited the now-defunct place called Zanzibar for Latin dance night. Despite being 6 foot 3 and as graceful as a wildebeest, I persuaded several kind, forgiving women to dance with me before last call.
Although I find Charleston a better city for drinking than dancing, it offers several other options for getting close and sweaty. The most popular is probably City Bar, a large bump-and-grind spot with a bartender in a hot tub and an enormous aquarium at the edge of the dance floor. I prefer Trio Club, where live bands play everything from Latin music to Motown to 1970s dance tunes -- all near an outdoor patio where you can cool down between sets.
Of course, no amount of effort or alcohol can alter the fact that dancing (read: rhythm) is not in my blood. But I do have a great deal of Irish ancestry.
For several nights, I bellied up to just about every decent bar I could find. One afternoon, I sipped beer and watched dolphins from the two-level deck at Red's Ice House, along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, just across the Cooper River from Charleston. Another night, I hit the King Street Grille, whose horde of flat-screen TVs would lead me to call it a sports bar if the sleek, narrow, two-tier layout didn't transform it into more of a club.
Charleston's best bars share a common denominator: They feel slightly hidden, offering more than what first meets the eye. The Blind Tiger Pub's unassuming Broad Street storefront, for example, gives no hint that its smallish indoor area opens into a large, secluded courtyard lined with brick walls and decorated with a koi pond. When the weather's nice, there's no better place in Charleston.
Still, the atmosphere prize has to go to Charlie's Little Bar, in a second-floor room at the back of the Saracen Restaurant on tourist-packed East Bay Street.
If you can find the bar's entrance (off a parking lot, through a gate, up some stairs), entering Charlie's will make you feel cooler than, in all likelihood, you actually are. With small candles, low tables and a view onto the dining area below, Charlie's exudes an intimate, shadowy vibe that renders everything slightly mysterious.
"Are you ready to hurt yourself now?" Ben sniggered as I followed Yani up the beach. Because I had eventually mastered my trainer kite, Yani had moved quickly through the safety and self-rescue portions of the lesson. Moments earlier, I'd also completed the "body drag," a sinister-sounding exercise in which the kite sent me skimming along the ocean on my thighs.
Now it was time to strap on a board.
I clambered into the water, the kite clipped to my harness like an umbilical cord, and struggled to slip my feet into the bindings without losing control of the kite. This accomplished, I dived the kite through the wind, immediately feeling a surge of energy that pulled me onto my feet and then, seconds later, sent me torpedoing headfirst through the water. On other attempts, I simply stalled and sank.
Eventually, Yani decided to bump me up to a bigger kite for more propulsion. The added power made me nervous; my first run down the beach, I crashed the new kite repeatedly.
Exhausted and tired of swallowing salt water, I walked back up the beach for a last run.
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