Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783. It moved to its present location on Oyster Point in 1680 from a location on the west bank of the Ashley River known as Albemarle Point. Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades including last weeks announcement by Conde Naste declaring Charleston the “Top City” in the U.S. for the third consecutive year. Two days in the city was better than any U.S. History, Architecture or Design class and just as gastronomically adventurous as two days in Paris or Rome. My second day had the added pleasure of a personal guide by one of the cities most celebrated artists.
The day began at Studio Michael Gray.
Michael Gray is recognized nationally as one of America’s finest Romantic Impressionistic artists. His use of light, color and brushstroke have come to be compared to turn-of-the-century Impressionist masters such as Daniel Garber, Granville Redmond and Camille Pissaro. He hangs in private homes and corporate collections from coast-to-coast.
A light lunch at Amen Street followed our stroll down Gallery Row (Broad Street)…Spicy Bloody Mary, Fresh Shucked Oysters, Shrimp “Corn Dogs”, Tuna Tacos and Oyster Po-Boy. This was Coastal Cuisine at it’s finest in a setting appointed with stunning fixtures reflecting the environment just outside the front door.
Our after lunch stroll was the history lesson that universities can’t offer…there’s nothing like seeing it and hearing about it from someone who grew up there.
The Battery and White Point Garden offer images of both times past and present. One of the fountains was celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness while across the way Sweet Grass gave a foundation to the view of Fort Sumter in the distance. The “Pineapple Fountain” celebrates the hospitality that gives Charleston a unique charm where everyone offers a warm hello or how do you do.
Just like you could eat in Charleston for a year and never go to the same restaurant you could study art, architecture and design and get an education like no college offers.
There are images with such vast history that it truly boggles the mind to stand in the midst. Charleston is home to America’s first theatre; Dock Street Theatre, home of Charleston Stage Company. You get to see homes that are in pristine condition that were built before there was a reason to celebrate Independence Day. You could study steeples and ornamentation for months on end. You can see homes that have glass work by a New York Interior Designer that actually created the glass and installed it himself…before that designer became known as artist Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Favrile Glass became world-renowned. While the homes have signs letting tourist know they are private homes there are certainly signs that prove these homes are used for the finest cocktail parties, sit down dinners and lovely cotillons in the world.
All this walking and history worked up a powerful thirst and Planter’s Punch at The Mill House was the perfect refreshment.
After a brief rest it was time for dinner and something other than oysters. While one can find the finest seafood in the country…and more of it than one should eat…there are other options; lots of them!!!
House-made Country Pate with Onion Marmalade
Pappardelle Pasta with Ragu of Beef, Veal and Pork…SPECTACULAR!!!
Mussels with Garlic, Parsley and White Wine
Pomme Frites with Garlic Aioli
Pot au Creme with Creme Fraiche
Lana offers a Mediterranean menu with the best of both French and Italian cuisines. I was a very happy boy. I sat at the bar between one of Charleston’s famous citizens and a lady with her gay friend. I think I’m going to pen a stage play called “Bar Talk”. Two hours gave me the politics of Charleston, the pros and cons of AA (clearly the A doesn’t include wine), stories from Woodstock, how a gay man would raise a grandchild, how a gay man would accessorize evening wear, how a gay man attempts to prove his knowledge of viticulture and enology…I’ll stop there so I don’t give away the end of the play. Nevertheless, the food was some of the best if not the best I’ve enjoyed outside of Europe…simple, perfectly prepared and incredibly delicious.
My two days offered more lovely houses than one can imagine and a good time will be remembered for many days to come. I’ve been invited back and am already looking forward to next October.