While South Carolina’s capital may evoke that slow, genteel Old South way of life—it’s offical nickname, after all, is “The Capital of Southern Hospitality”—it’s been on fast-forward to start the 21st century.
Emerging from a decade of sizeable renovation projects, the historic destination of Columbia has rejuvenated to become a meetings-friendly entertainment hot spot without losing that trademark charm.
“There really is something to be said about Southern graciousness,” says Jason Outman, director of sales at the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, which represents the destination. “It really goes a long way when meeting planners can know that their attendees are well taken care of.”
While historic allure is bountiful in the city’s many 19th century buildings, Columbia doesn’t allow its venues to gather dust. Instead, Columbians have leveraged this architectural legacy to create pulsating scenes in the city’s downtown, such as the transformation of an antique bank treasury into the chic martini bar The Vault, or the restoration and conversion of Civil War campgrounds into the award-winning Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens.
In Congaree Vista, a once-decrepit cotton warehouse quarter on the banks of the Congaree River, a renovation sowed the seeds of a transformation into an artistic hub with some of the most fashionable eateries in the city.
“You have all these old warehouses that have been repurposed into business and restaurants, but still with that old historic flair to it,” Outman says.
The city’s hotels also boast rich history without neglecting contemporary amenities.
The Sheraton Columbia, originally named the Palmetto Building when constructed in 1913, underwent a $12 million renovation that brought the Gothic-style hotel’s meeting space to 14,000 square feet. The Hilton Columbia, in the heart of the historic district, is adjacent to the 100,000-square-foot Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Both hotels have been recognized as AAA Four Diamond properties.
As home to the University of South Carolina, the town’s young demographic has resulted in a vibrant nightlife scene, where groups can taste artisan brews at Hunter Gatherer Brewery and Ale House or hear big band beats at Delaney’s Speakeasy, a cigar and jazz bar.
However, Outman adds, the city’s gorgeous natural landscape and sunny serenity also cater to those who find bliss at a slower pace.
“Columbia has that major-city feel in a small-town setting” Outman says.