Beautiful winter-flowering camellias are synonymous with the American South. Originally from Asia, this flowering shrub was transported to South Carolina in the late 1700s and thrived so much that it has become a fixture of the south’s horticultural landscape from Alabama to Florida. It comes as no surprise then that the newly opened Hotel Bennett in Charleston has named their lush champagne and caviar bar after this exquisite symbol of the South.
The five-star hotel with a neoclassical look is located on King St. in bustling Marion Square, a labor of love (the plan to build it was announced in 2005!) and homage to the city from hotelier owner Michael Bennett, a Charleston native. Hotel Bennett stands at the location once occupied by the Charleston County Library, then a 1960s modernist-style building adorned with pink marble. The building’s design at that time was considered controversial – a boxy structure of steel, marble, and glass standing among the city’s finest historic buildings and homes. The library eventually moved, and the empty building was demolished to make way for the hotel. But its pink marble lives on, reclaimed and restored and beautifully put to use at Camellias where it now graces the bar and tabletops. In another nod to its past, guest rooms have their own charming little libraries.
Camellias’ bar entrance is stunning, with doors made of steel and bent glass curved to follow the room’s Faberge jewel box-inspired egg shape, which is framed with four art panels showcasing the camellia flower. The pinkish hue from the marble and decor, complemented by the pink and white camellia blossoms in the panels and strings of crystals hanging from a sprawling chandelier, give Camellias a luxurious yet familiar vibe. The place exudes softness and grace suggestive of the South’s famous hospitality. One would be so inclined to huddle with another or with friends in any of its cushy spots and corners, order from its bevy of champagnes and nibbles, and chill forever.
Beverage Manager Steven Huddleston, one of the city’s most distinguished mixologists, designed and created Camellias’ beverage menu. “The bar’s unique shape and color has allowed our team an opportunity to create beverage and culinary offerings that draw inspiration from the design,” says Huddleston. There’s a great variety of bottled and by-the-glass champagne and sparkling wines, plus a cocktail menu with Southern-inspired nomenclature such as Jean May, Kramer’s Supreme(from a camellia variety with red peony-like flowers), and bourbon-based Desire (could this be Blanche’s streetcar?).
The bar’s dining menu matches the opulence of the beverage menu, consisting of dishes like lamb tartare with mint and deviled yolk; Maine lobster with ponzu and soy brewed tomatoes; and Hackleback and Osetra caviars paired with oysters and smoked salmon. And there’s sweet stuff to balance the savory, including its signature namesake Camellias Cake, made from cheesecake mousse, strawberry marmalade, and lemon madeleine sponge.
Huddleston describes how he came up with this cocktail: “I created this to have many different dimensions to it while also pairing beautifully with a hot Charleston summer. The cocktail uses a local gin named Jaspers Bourbon Barrel Rested Gin by Charleston Distilling – so named because the gin is rested in used bourbon barrels for 4 months. It is floral on the nose with heavy notes of lemongrass and anise. Due to the extreme approachability of this gin, I paired it with the bright expression of fresh blueberries without losing the essence of the pink grapefruit from Giffard’s beautiful liqueur. After topping it with Moet’s iconic house champagne Brut Imperial, it seemed almost a no brainer to pair it with the bright fruitiness of blueberries. This drink embodies the elegant maturity of the bourbon barrel rested gin.”
This refreshing cocktail takes after its name, for it is a perfect match to Charleston’s sultry summer nights.
Glassware: Cocktail Coupé
1.5 ounces Charleston Distilling’s Jaspers Bourbon Barrel Rested Gin
.5 ounce Giffard Pamplemousse
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5 ounce simple syrup
Fresh muddled blueberries – 3-5 berries depending on size
Top with Moet & Chandon Brut “Imperial” Champagne
Garnish: 3 Candied Blueberries, skewered
Chill cocktail coupé by adding ice and water and set aside.
Add blueberries to a small shaking tin and muddle until fully pressed. Then add the first four ingredients starting with the simple syrup and ending with the spirits.
Once all ingredients have been added, fill tin with fresh ice and shake until combined. Empty cocktail glass that has been chilling and double strain cocktail into the coupe using both hawthorne and fine mesh strainers. Top with a fresh bottle of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial and finish by placing skewered blueberries over the top.
Maria Steinberg is a NYC-based marketing professional. She teaches Food & Culture in a NJ college and writes about anything and everything culinary in her spare time. Her work has been published in academic and consumer publications in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.