Over two decades in the making, the 179-room Bennet hotel finally opened in Charleston in February 2019. On the corner of fashionable King Street and historic Marion Square it is within walking distance of nearly all the main attractions of the city.
The owner is Charlestonian Michael Bennett, who started his business with ‘Free Wheelin’ bike and moped rentals as a student, then went on to a buy up and restore properties. Bennett Hospitality now owns 18 hotels, eight restaurants and other developments in four states, with many more in the pipeline. His intention is to keep the Hotel Bennett in the family for eternity (his 25-year-old son is already part of the business).
A new build in classical European style, the hotel occupies a huge space formerly occupied by the original west wing of The Citadel, South Carolina’s Military Academy and, more recently, the Charleston Library.
The 9-storey hotel inevitably provoked controversy and a legal battle went all the way to the Supreme Court. But Bennett persevered, determined to make a grand statement in the city, and one that would last at least a century.
In keeping with Charlestonian hospitality the welcome is a warm one, from the moment the door man greets you – with a ma’am or sir. A Rotonda with murals of 18th century Charleston – and one of Michael Bennett’s mansion with dogs on the lawn– leads into a spacious foyer.
With its classical structure, luxurious guest rooms and gastronomy, the hotel is designed with the sophisticated and well-heeled traveller in mind. With plenty of event space including a Crown Ballroom and rooftop Observatory it is used for weddings and other social events.
Guest rooms are plush, light and spacious, with gold-trimmed pillow cases, elegant glass lamps and book shelves with titles from the former Charleston Library. Best rooms have views of Marion Square – and some have terraces.
Sliding glass doors open on to sleek bathrooms with designer pedestal tubs, art deco mirrors, fluffy white towels and a separate shower and toilet. ‘Thinner’ scales are provided – and best avoided if you intend to tuck into southern cuisine.
All rooms have mini-bar, safe, flat-screen TV and basic Nespresso machines (though you’ll probably prefer the coffee in La Pâtisserie (see below). Services include 24-hour in-room dining, twice-daily housekeeping service and dog-friendly accommodation (small or medium-sized) for a fee.
It may take you a while to work out the electrics. Don’t assume the lobby light switch is in the lobby or that you can close the blinds with a cord. It’s all regulated with the TV remote. Not to worry if you still have problems – just ring down to Reception – they are super friendly.
Guests who reserve rooms or suites in advance with Club Lounge access (at extra charge) are given special VIP treatment such as customized itineraries, private concierge service and access to the Club Lounge.
The Signature Spa is designed with five treatment rooms, including a couples’ room, relaxation area, manicure/pedicure studio and fitness centre.
The Fiat Lux rooftop bar and pool is the place to go for exotic cocktails with a view – and Mediterranean-style culinary offerings. From here the views over the cityscape and spires stretch to Charleston harbour. Private poolside cabanas with day beds and private TVS come with waiter service.
Food and drink
Camellias Champagne and Caviar Bar, whose design is based on a Fabergé egg, is a big hit with both guests and locals. The pink reclaimed marble used for the bar and the table tops originally embellished the exterior of the former Charleston Library. Panels of pink camellias decorate the four corners and a huge oval chandelier glitters above. Come for cocktails, Champagne, a luxury selection of caviar, ceviche and tartares, or for afternoon tea and delectable desserts.
The two-storey Gabrielle restaurant is headed by Chef Michael Sichel who draws culinary inspiration from his years as a chef in Europe and New Orleans. Expect a French slant in signature dishes such as Shrimp Remoulade and Duck à L’Orange; there are also melt-in-the-mouth steaks, sustainable seafood and fine wines. The restaurant has a spacious dining terrace overlooking Marion Square known as The Plaza. This is the largest outdoor dining area in Charleston.
For a blow-out breakfast try the Eggs Bennett – a version of eggs Benedict but topped with filet medallions. The alternative for breakfast is La Pâtisserie on King Street, open all day for snacks and French pastries and desserts, created by the fabulously-named pastry chef Remy Funfrock.
Is Wi-fi available
Yes, everywhere, and complimentary
From US$ 450 for a double room, excluding breakfast.
King Street for shopping, Marion Square for a large and lively Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning. The hotel is within easy walking distance of the City Market, numerous restaurants and most of the cultural attractions.
Also read: Travel Guide to Charleston
By Susie Boulton