Be My Guest: Charleston
"Charleston has a ghostly aura—it's a city
with an old soul. I love the closeness of
the sea and the fact that you can walk
and bike everywhere." —Leigh Magar
South Carolina native Leigh Magar presides over Magar Hatworks, where she also hosts the occasional tea party.
I always advise visitors to stay at The Battery Carriage House Inn, right by White Point Gardens. Behind the front house—where people still live—there's a carriage house with 11 guest rooms (20 S. Battery, 843/727-3100, batterycarriagehouse.com). It's very Charleston, and from there you can walk around anywhere downtown or rent a bike to ride in the park. White Point Gardens is alongside the water and some of Charleston's most elegant houses. O'Hara & Flynn, a wine and cheese shop and bar that also has live music, is an easy walk away. Heddy Rae, a classic-jazz singer who sounds sort of like Blossom Dearie, performs every other Friday. My husband and I go to see her a lot (225 Meeting St., 843/534-1916).
One of the most hauntingly beautiful spots for a stroll is the Unitarian Church graveyard. I like the natural, wild vegetation—it's overgrown and unkempt. The paths are draped with oak trees, camellias, lilies, and roses (4 Archdale St.).
I cook a lot of Southern food, and every Saturday I go to the farmers market at Marion Square for fresh and local organic food. I stock up on beets, greens, radishes, onions, and strawberries from Rita's Roots. And the grits that Celeste Albers sells at her stand are a terrific gift idea. They're made from corn grown on her family's farm and milled by Anson Mills. She also has these orangish-yellow grits made from sustainably raised and field-ripened sweet John Haulk corn. I can't wait for shrimp season to make shrimp and grits with them (Marion Sq. bet. King and Meeting Sts., Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m., early April to late December).
Pane e Vino is a fun restaurant to go to with friends, especially when musicians are playing. It has a nice outdoor garden area and serves food that's in season. The last time I was there, I had yummy asparagus soup and couscous with local mahimahi (17 Warren St., 843/853-5955). Lana is another restaurant I love that serves seasonal food. The beet salad with local greens and goat cheese is a must! (210 Rutledge Ave., 843/720-8899, lanarestaurant.com).
For Southern food, I'll stop for lunch at Hominy Grill and get the veggie plate: lima beans, collard greens, mac and cheese, fried okra, and cornbread with honey. And don't forget the sweet tea and buttermilk pie! (207 Rutledge Ave., 843/937-0930, hominygrill.com).
Sugar Bakeshop makes the most delicious red-velvet cupcakes—my new shop is next door, and I'm scared I'll turn into the Fat Hatter! Everything is homemade, and it's a beautiful, old-fashioned space (59½ Cannon St., 843/579-2891, sugarbake.com).
My favorite shops are locally owned and celebrate artisans and designers. Lesesne has wonderful paper goods and household items (539 King St., 843/853-3905, shoplesesne.com). And I buy gifts at Lime Blue all the time—especially the Hoi Toi statues that are symbols of prosperity and come in a range of colors. The owner also makes ceramic birds attached to poles that stick into plants (62 B Queen St., 843/722-1983, shoplimeblue.com). Worthwhile carries a designer I love, Gary Graham. I recently got a white cotton jacket based on one from the 1800s, with buttons down the front (268 King St., 843/723-4418, shopworthwhile.com). Blue Bicycle Books is owned by Jonathan Sanchez, a writer, and his wife, Lauren, a designer who sells her bags at the store (420 King St., 843/722-2666, bluebicyclebooks.com).
I buy a lot of trimmings for my hats at an old-school place called Read Brothers. The 50¢ table used to be the quarter table, and Mr. Read, the now-deceased owner, would say to me every time I came in, "Everything on that table is a quarter!" Finally, one day he looked up in mid-sentence and said, "Oh, you know!" (593 King St., 843/723-7276, readbrothers.com).
When visiting a city, I get a sense of the creative community by checking out the galleries. Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston has monthly shows, and the Friday-night openings are fun (54 St. Philip St., 843/953-5680, cofc.edu). And the Redux Contemporary Art Center is losing its space in a few years, so go soon (136 St. Philip St., 843/722-0697, reduxstudios.org).
Leigh's shop, Magar Hatworks, is located at 57 Cannon St., 843/577-7740, magarhatworks.com.