Columbia at Night

Posted On March 4, 2018

Consider this a roadmap to a fun-filled evening that can end after dinner or as the sun begins to creep back up in the morning sky. Welcome to Columbia at night. 

By April Blake     Photographs by Kate Bowie

Once the sun begins to set on Columbia, a cooler, carefree vibe takes over the city. The 9-to-5 workers take their rushing and their cars home with them, and the citizens of the night can come out to play. Consider this a roadmap to a fun-filled evening that can end after dinner or as the sun begins to creep back up in the morning sky. Welcome to Columbia at night. 

Hampton Street Vineyard: Street level seating hasn’t really caught on in Columbia yet – but it should. Hampton Street Vineyard has been the outdoor dining space for street-level people watching and enjoying an amazing wine list since 1995. With over 650 bottles in their cellars, there is a wine for every guest. In fact, their wine list won an award from Wine Spectator, a claim fewer than 400 restaurants worldwide can make. The intimate indoor space is a cozy spot for a date with a significant other, or to catch up with a best friend over a bottle or two of delicious red wine and a few appetizers from their eclectic, but upscale, menu. hamptonstreetvineyard.com; 252-0850

Lula Drake: The sign outside of Lula Drake to signal its presence is nearly imperceptible but the effect that this cozy little wine bar has on the swankiness of Main Street’s evening scene is apparent: sidewalk seating, outdoor musicians, and a view inside of their expansive, softly-lit bar that makes everyone look and feel glamorous. Owner and sommelier Tim Gardner has put together an impressive wine list that gives even the most inexperienced wine drinker the ability to order with confidence and ease, as pronunciations are provided in the menu text. Chef Pierce Bowers creates memorable dishes, with an emphasis on fanciful, hand-shaped pasta dishes, along with other small dishes to nosh on while enjoying the wine. luladrake.com; 606-1968

Soda City Brass Band at Pearlz: It’s true! Columbia’s got a real, spirited, New Orleans-style funky jazz brass band that gets down with the sound on a regular basis around town. They play every Friday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. upstairs at Pearlz in the Vista, as the uplifting sounds from their brass instruments waft on the breeze below. The six-piece band plays everything from traditional to contemporary New Orleans music that will have everyone grooving along. See their Facebook page for other venues where they’ll be tooting music that makes everyone feel alive. facebook.com/sodacitybrassband

Villa Tronco: As South Carolina’s oldest continuously-operating restaurant for 77 years, Villa Tronco remains a family business, with several generations involved in daily operations. The low, red-brick entrance leads to a cozy, romantically lit dining area, where candlelight flickers off walls that feature vintage photos of “the old country.” A menu of antipasti, soups, salads and classic Italian entrees plus a complementing wine list make a great beginning to an evening before strolling over to an exhibit opening at Tapp’s Art Center. villatronco.com; 256-7677

Gervais and Vine: Parking in the Vista isn’t easy to come by, but the wide lot behind Gervais and Vine is extremely appealing. Even better is the indoor and outdoor seating, most of which is oriented for prime traffic and people watching on Gervais Street. A group of friends who aren’t shy around each other would enjoy this tapas-style menu that’s made for sharing. Bottles of wine from their extensive list are made for sharing, too. Hot tapas, cold tapas and heavy hors d'oeuvres make for a make a varied and filling, but not heavy, meal. It’s an easy quarter-mile walk over to Trustus Theatre for an after-dinner show with friends. gervine.com; 799-8463

USC School of Music concerts: A college town provides many cultural offerings, with many at an extremely reduced price or even free. One of the biggest offerings is through the University of South Carolina’s School of Music concerts. Hundreds of concerts and recitals happen throughout the year, and some big-name festivals and performers appear onstage there. The nationally-acclaimed Southeastern Piano Festival and the Southern Exposure New Music series are full of adventurous programming that will delight anyone with an ear for music. Their online calendar lists everything from student recitals to high-end opera performances by future big names in the business. sc.edu/music; 777-4280

Grill Marks: There are burgers, and then there are burger creations, and Grill Marks is the home of the latter in Columbia. The fantastic front porch on Gervais is great for watching people – and it’s both heated and dog-friendly! Choose from a classic American burger with their logo seared into the bun or try some of their adventurous daily specials like a burger with cremini mushroom gravy and onion straws. A basket of crispy fries and one of their signature freak frappés piled high with crushed cookies, candy, hot fudge, crushed nuts and whipped cream will give those brave enough to try one a sugar rush sufficient to keep the party going. grillmarks.com; 661-8932

The GRAND: Columbia’s newest hot spot was several years in the making. The former Army-Navy store is nearly unrecognizable now as a building that seems endlessly long. The front bar and restaurant leads to a lounge area with cushy couches and board games where people can play while waiting their turn on one of the seven high-tech bowling lanes. Thanks to the high-end kitchen putting out a mix of familiar and elevated cuisine, this is the best-smelling bowling alley anyone could ever hope to set foot in. A subterranean basement features a pour-your-own tap station, an enormous TV and plenty of games for a full evening of entertainment. thegrandonmain.com; 726-2323

The Nickelodeon: This arthouse theatre has quite a history as an organization, as does its building. All of that has come together to build a theatre that offers movies that aren’t playing on any other screens in town. Documentaries, film festival releases and independent films all have a home on the two screens that comprise the Nick. Craft beer and wine selections are available to drink during the movie, which makes this a very pleasurable way to spend a few hours after the sun goes down on Cola town. nickelodeon.org; 254-8234; movie-line: 254-3433

The Big Mo: It’s enough of a drive not to be considered in the Columbia metropolitan area, but the only permanent drive-in movie theater in the region is worth a mention. Located 39 miles from downtown Columbia, in the small town of Monetta, the Big Mo has screened movies in the sky since 1999. Couples have headed to the drive-in since the 1950s, and not much has changed except the titles shown and other behind-the-scenes technology. Two screens give movie-goers options every evening during the movie season, which runs from March to November. A concession stand located between the fields serves up drinks, snacks and even pizza and burgers. Admission per person is $9 which includes a double feature of two current movies. thebigmo.com; 685-7949

Studio Cellar: Feeling artsy? Studio Cellar has everything one could need to fulfill a night of personal expression. The full paint-and-pour experience allows painters to grab a glass of their favorite wine or a rotating list of seasonal craft beers and create a personalized canvas. Studio cellar offers paint-your-own sessions almost every evening as well as classes where everyone paints a similar scene following an instructor. Relaxing in front of the canvas is an excellent way to spend time digesting after an indulgent dinner in the Vista. Paint-your-own sessions do not need to be reserved in advance, but instructor-led classes should be reserved. studio-cellar.com; 929-0709

Blue Moon Ballroom: Have a wedding on your calendar but don’t know how to dance? That’s one reason to spend some time at the Blue Moon Ballroom. Learn the difference between the shag and the tango, and how to execute the moves under the twinkling dancefloor lights. Owner James Williamson offers private dance lessons, and also holds monthly dances for lesson-takers as well as for those who are looking to stay in practice and keep their boogie-woogie shoes limber. Yes, dancing the night away counts as exercise! bluemoonballroom.dance; 908-4938

Pedal Parlor: Quite possibly the weirdest looking vehicle roaming the streets of Columbia, the Pedal Parlor is more than a mode of transportation. It’s an all-out experience. This bright yellow bicycle built for a few takes up to 16 guests along a route of breweries and restaurants where patrons stop the motion for a round of pints. Yes, the people drinking actually power the machine to the next stop, combining a night of drinking with a night of light cardio! No need to worry about getting a DUI though – the Pedal Parlor is equipped with a sober steerer to keep everyone on track and moving forward safely. They have various routes that hit different establishments. www.scpedalparlor.com; 302-7750

The Woody: As the clock ticks closer to midnight in the Vista, the things at The Woody begin to heat up. This tucked-away night spot is one of the most hoppin’ dance floors in town – one that offers anyone from sorority girls to their grandpas a place to shake, shag and boot scoot ’til the break of day. A variety of musical styles brings a diverse group of dancers to the floor and lets everyone enjoy the night until they can’t feel their legs anymore. They have dedicated salsa, shag and musical decade nights, too. Not into dancing? There are plenty of places to sit and watch people tear up the dance floor. woodywindham.com; 779-9663

People Watching at The Whig: Columbia’s subterranean bar is a lot of things to different people. It’s a hipster haven, a place with a killer craft beer list, home to one of the best burgers in town and a place to hide from the summer sun. But, best of all, it’s a great place to observe humanity – whether from a perch on the bar or a dark corner booth. An eclectic mix of patrons gathers there nightly, so it’s the perfect place to meet new people or see others doing just that. Students, professors, musicians, beer connoisseurs and those who know to take the trip down the stairs that seemingly go nowhere are rewarded with the cool respite of the Whig. Take a seat, look up from that smartphone and see what’s brewing on the scene. thewhig.org; 931-8852

Liberty on the Lake: One of the Midlands’ biggest assets – in a very literal sense – is Lake Murray, so what better way to celebrate than with dinner and drinks at sunset? There are only a handful of restaurants around the lake’s vast perimeter, and Liberty on the Lake is set up for maximum sunset viewing enjoyment with their wide patio that faces the docks. Boaters can park on the water and land dwellers can approach from the parking lot to sit and soak up the sun’s rays and watch the purple martins swarm in the distance or sailboats glide across the water’s surface. Liberty often features live music on warm weekends for a true lake party experience. libertytaproom.com; 667-9715

Ice Skating at Plex (IRMO): Ice skating isn’t a very South Carolina activity, except when it takes place indoors. Plex has everything that people of all ages could want in a night out — challenges, being able to show off a little, laughing, a little exercise and the chance to hold gloved hands with a special someone during a slow song. The atmosphere is perfect for couples or groups of friends to enjoy a night out gliding or sliding around the ice. The public ice schedule is subject to change, so check the website for availability. plexhiwire.com/irmo; 732-1900

Let’s Cook Culinary Studio: How about another night of going out to dinner? No? How about making your own gourmet dinner under the direction of a professional chef? Yes! Taking a class at Let’s Cook Culinary Studio is a way to learn about new ingredients and techniques that can be taken home and used again and again. You’ll enjoy a fun night out and meet new people who are as into food and wine as you. Classes are themed, such as tapas Fridays, soup night or French cooking for couples. All classes are BYOW (bring your own wine). Check the website for the schedule of upcoming classes. lets-cook.wixsite.com/letscookculinary; 348-5874  

Rooftop Lounge: On the 17th story of the Sheraton on Main Street, a view stretches for miles and miles where you can watch the sun dip down while the city lights begin to glitter below. Cars look like tiny toys as they wind past familiar landmarks. The bar welcomes hotel guests and non-guests alike to take a ride up to see the beauty of Columbia from behind a glass enclosure. Enjoy beer, wine, or cocktails while gazing at the night sky… or into the windows of nearby skyscrapers to see who’s still toiling in the office. Also a great time to stake out a spot above it all for viewing Fourth of July fireworks! starwoodhotels.com; 988-1400

Lite Um Up Cigars: Known as the “Man Cave,” this cigar shop hopes to make people feel like it’s their home away from home. The Northeast Columbia shop is owned by veteran Tom Burns, who welcomes cigar novices and aficionados alike. He gives everyone equal attention no matter their level of cigar expertise. Overstuffed leather chairs and a full-service bar with craft beers on tap make this a perfect place to relax after an evening dinner, or it can suffice as an entire night out. Walk-in humidors offer a large variety of rolled tobacco, including one created and branded by Burns that honors a fallen Iraq comrade. liteumupcigars.net; 708-4877 

Vista Union: Billed as the Capital City’s largest bar, Vista Union features some pretty fancy-looking bar food and three pool tables for a relaxing evening of focusing on an activity with friends without having to work up a sweat. Though it’s large, it’s not the easiest to find — the entrance to the Vista Union is tucked away on the side of the massive 700 Gervais building, which gives it a bit of an in-the-know-to-be-there feel. Drink specials, $9 per hour for billiards and inventive menu options can surely entertain a large group of friends for an entire evening – because sometimes bar-hopping is overrated. citybarfondue.com; 764-6125

Tapp’s Arts Center: Once a premier department store along Main Street, the Tapp’s building was repurposed into apartments and a bustling arts center and artistic laboratory on the main floor. A rotating gallery is accessible to the public during operating hours with even more intriguing and interactive events happening in the evening hours. Tapp’s is especially supportive of art created by minority and experimental artists who may not have the opportunity to showcase their talents anywhere else in the city, which makes for a unique experience for attendees. Some of their class offerings include belly dance improvisation, hula hoop yoga and sun style Tai Chi.; tappsartscenter.com 988-0013

Cigar Box: It can be intimidating to enter the world of cigars, with its smoky interiors, overstuffed leather chairs and dim atmosphere; but, the Cigar Box on Main Street is a welcoming place for everyone. Cigar newbies, learned tobacconists and even those who just like the smell and want to have a drink are able to relax in this richly-scented haven. A walk-in humidor has over 250 types of cigars and their specialists will happily help you select a cigar for your taste. Televisions and pool tables bring in a bit of activity and their selection of over 50 craft beers encourages lingering well into the evening – especially after a movie at the Nick or a dinner on Main Street. thecigarboxsc.com; 252-0084