Imbibing salty, sweet, briny bites for brunch ain’t nothing to shuck with, particularly in Charleston, South Carolina where oysters and the bars within which to eat them are part of a treasured centuries-old cultural landscape. This week’s bunch bucket list is rightfully owned by The Darling Oyster Bar, an effervescent spot housed in a 115-year-old building overlooking King St., arguably one of the most beloved and recognizable thoroughfares in the country, certainly in Charleston. Nestle into the welcoming embrace of a minty, seafoam green banquette, squeeze bright lemon juice over a series of freshly shucked oysters and clink glasses of light, yet complex spirits, so quintessentially Southern and certainly more than worthy of a sweet Sunday brunch.
Photography: Erica Aulds
If the pearl is an oyster’s autobiography, then the story of Charleston’s The Darling Oyster Bar is certainly written on the bones of the building in which it inhabits. Located in a lovingly restored 115-year-old storefront that once housed Union Provisions, the interior is worthy of both sailors and yachtsmen, gypsies and jet setters, fancy brunch-goers and salt-of-the-earth folks looking for good food, bowing to influences both highbrow and homegrown. “It’s a fanciful take on a Southern seafood place,” says designer Smith Hanes. “With architectural references to oyster bars from another era and banquettes inspired by Dad’s favorite motorboat, the place inspires guests to dream of being on the water or the beach.”
Classical pairings of white and black tiled floors mixed with hand-blown light fixtures, a smooth, zinc bar, antique market finds and mint green banquettes and barstools gives the interior a distinctly polished yet vintage feel, meant to evoke long-ago feelings of being in the ocean, on a boat or the beach. It’s a supremely stylish yet utterly unpretentious spot, where the freshest seafood you can imagine is the star of the show.
Photography: Sara Mueller | Andrew Cebulka | Christina Lau
The Darling is certainly a place to linger. The steadfast oyster shucking becomes a soft thrum of background noise, blending with the bustle of King St. and setting a lively scene for a sweet Sunday brunch. While the Darling is certainly serious about seafood, “celebrating the bounty of the sea and the rhythm of the seasons,” they’re also staunch supporters of brunch, devoting an entire menu to relishing this treasured weekend pastime. Alongside perennial seafood favorites like oyster shooters, lobster rolls and shrimp and grits you’ll find distinctly Southern fare like a fried chicken biscuit slathered with house made honey hot sauce and traditional fish fry with your choice of shrimp, flounder or oysters alongside the saltiest, crispiest fries you can imagine.
The Darling prides itself on satisfying every palate at each meal and for those who prefer more traditional breakfast fare, you’ll devour perfect plates laden with fluffy french toast smothered in maple whipped cream and house made biscuits and gravy.
Photography: Josie Derrick | Shanley Cox
Sipping on a sparkling glass of Fish House Punch on draft is worth a trip of its own, combining Gosling’s Gold Rum, cognac, créme de péche and lemon – a recipe adapted from “The Fish House” fishing club from 1732. Both the Fish House Punch and the Paloma – made with tequila, fresh squeezed grapefruit, lime, agave and créme de pamplemousse rose – are light and refreshing, perfect to pair with a dozen of The Darling’s sweet and briny oysters. For those looking for more traditional spirits, you’ll find a variety of beer & wine as well as beautiful and dramatic Bloody Marys accented with shrimp, hush puppies, king crab legs and lobster claws.
Whether you’re seeking the sweetest seafood in town, a lively nook overlooking King St., or a salty, stylish, Sunday brunch spot, The Darling is the pearl in Charleston’s oyster bar scene.