Charleston’s Hotel Emeline has vintage vibes with a modern spirit.
by Cathy Martin
There are countless reasons why Charleston, S.C., is a favorite getaway for Charlotteans: The three-hour, all-interstate drive makes getting there a breeze. Once you’ve arrived, it’s a foodie’s paradise — around every corner, you’re bound to discover a great place to eat — and a hot spot for history buffs, shoppers and art lovers. And it’s a city that manages to blend old and new while maintaining the special allure that’s led to inclusion on countless “Best of” lists, claiming the top spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2020 readers’ choice for best small U.S. city.
One enchanting newcomer to the Holy City is Emeline, a 212-room hotel that opened in May in the heart of the historic district. The hotel is steps from the City Market (it’s right across the street) and a short walk to Waterfront Park and King Street, the city’s ultimate shopping district.
In a town built on Southern aristocracy, Emeline — German for “peaceful home” — brings a modern, unpretentious vibe with a design that mixes traditional features like custom millwork with midcentury modern and vintage accents. It’s the newest hotel from the Makeready group, whose other properties include Noelle in Nashville, The Alida in Savannah, Ga., The Adolphus in Dallas and the Cliff House in Cape Neddick, Maine. Developer Rockbridge essentially gutted the former DoubleTree property, designing the interior from the ground up — the front door is the only remaining architectural detail. It’s not easy to “create” nostalgia, but the hotel’s designers come pretty close, with vintage lighting, stacks of art books and other curiosities around every corner.
From the petite welcome cocktails upon arrival to Vivreau water dispensers on every floor, it’s clear that details matter at Emeline. One unique perk is the complimentary in-room coffee service: You won’t find the ubiquitous Keurig and Coffee mate here; simply ring guest services, and they’ll promptly deliver a clever little carafe of fresh-brewed java, cream and sugar to your room. Other thoughtful touches include plush Matouk towels, satin-trimmed linens and Crosley turntables — if the in-room vinyl selection isn’t to your liking, there’s a small library of records (and books) on each floor.
Downstairs, a large outdoor courtyard anchored by a two-sided, oversized fireplace serves the dual purpose of providing seating for Frannie & the Fox, the hotel’s lively restaurant with an Italian-inspired menu, and a spot to relax and unwind after a day of pounding the cobblestone pavement. Inside, you’ll find Clerks, a charming coffee shop with a retro feel serving breakfast and a small lunch menu, and Keep Shop, an elegant gift shop highlighting local and regional makers. No T-shirts and tourist tchotchkes here; instead, the shop boasts a curated collection of jewelry, handmade accessories, soaps and lotions, teas and more.
Probably the toughest decision when spending a few days in Charleston is choosing where to eat among the abundance of great restaurants. From Emeline, it’s an easy walk to local mainstays like FIG (lowcountry cuisine with a neighborhood vibe), Husk (modern plates with traditional Southern ingredients) and Peninsula Grill (fine dining), which is worth a visit if only for its legendary coconut cake. Kinston chef and PBS star Vivian Howard plans to debut her much anticipated new restaurant, Lenoir, in Charleston later this winter.
But if you didn’t eat at least one meal at Frannie & the Fox, you’d be missing one of the best things Emeline has to offer. Frannie is the heartbeat of the hotel and appears to have already attracted a local following. First, the design is stunning: Loads of greenery, curved leather banquettes and comfortable vintage-inspired furnishings give the space a contemporary-but-cozy greenhouse vibe. Second, the food and cocktails on our visit were top-notch. On the menu, you’ll find woodfired vegetables, pizzas, pastas, a few seafood options (it is Charleston, after all) and more. Start with the crab fritters appetizer — a light, lemony pop of flavor with a spicy kick — then try the Taleggio pizza: Imported Taleggio is blended with mozzarella and glazed with a touch of honey on a crispy, slightly chewy crust. Order one of Frannie’s creative craft cocktails like the Top Sail, a tropical concoction of rum, pineapple, madeira and lime.
Also new in Charleston and a two-block stroll from Emeline is Tempest, a seafood-driven spot from the team behind Charlotte’s 5Church and Sophia’s Lounge. In January, Tempest was named best new restaurant in the country by USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice. Appropriately situated in a former boarding house for merchant marines, Tempest is a more intimate spot than its noisier neighbor, 5Church Charleston.
Dine on the front porch surrounded by ferns and hanging plants, in the upstairs dining room, or inside by the bar under a stunning 700-square-foot mural suspended from the ceiling. It’s estimated local artist Honey McCrary used more than 100,000 pieces of glass in creating the vivid mosaic, which depicts a menagerie of sea creatures as a violent tempest is brewing.
Start with a cocktail bearing a seafaring theme such as The Calm Before — a not-too-sweet blend of rum, blueberry, mint and rose water — while noshing on bread and butter whipped with sesame and nori. The chefs adapt the menu to incorporate seasonal ingredients, but no matter when you visit, you can expect almost every type of seafood imaginable, with a raw bar, an extensive selection of small plates and mains. Starters and shareables include local ceviche, Spanish octopus and umami tuna bombs with truffle and avocado. A standout was the crudo, complemented by butternut squash, chive oil, poblano peppers and a blood-orange vinaigrette. Order a main dish — selections might include flounder, confit swordfish, grouper or snapper — or sample a few small plates and build your own Tempest Tower of charcoal-roasted lobster, king crab legs, oysters or shrimp, served with charred lemon and green-garlic scallion butter.
For non-seafood lovers, there are a handful of options including a prime New York strip. Dinner is capped with a complimentary cognac and cigar service, elegantly presented with a red rose to take with you.
No trip to Charleston is complete without a visit to The Battery and a stroll down King Street — among the upscale mall brands and designer boutiques there are a few local gems. But to really see Charleston, it’s best to get off the beaten path: Take a walk down a side street and peek behind the wrought-iron gates of the stately homes and gardens. Drive out to West Ashley and grab a beer from a local brewery or a fried chicken sandwich at the original Boxcar Betty’s. One of the most memorable meals on my recent visit was the breakfast tacos picked up on the way out of town at Juan Luis, a semi-permanent food trailer in the side yard at Lewis Barbecue. Order at the window and dine at one of the picnic tables shaded by a large oak.
No matter how often you visit this charming port city, there’s always something new to discover. SP