It’s no secret that Columbia, SC is a city on the rise, and tourists from all over are traveling to see what the hype is all about. New restaurants and breweries, hotel properties and more are consistently popping up all over town, but that’s not all that entices visitors to book a trip to the Heart of SC. In addition to checking out what’s new and noteworthy, travelers are choosing Columbia to experience the city’s institutions – businesses that have stood the test of time and stolen the hearts (and loyalty) of locals and visitors alike. So let’s get back to our roots and celebrate these establishments that helped pave the way for the Columbia you see today.
Bob and Anna Williams renovated a five-bedroom home and converted it into the first-ever Lizard’s Thicket in 1977. Forty-five years later, this local country cookin’ chain is still family-owned and operated by the Williams family. Feeding 12,000 mouths a day (14,000 on Sundays!), Lizard’s Thicket still uses some of Anna Williams’ original recipes and what you get at one location, you’re guaranteed to get at another one across town.
In business since 1907 and located on the 1500 block of Main Street, this is sure to be one of the best fried chicken sandwiches you’ll ever have. Stay tuned for a fresh look – the space is about to undergo a big renovation.
The Gourmet Shop
This chic café and purveyor of fine culinary goods has been a Columbia staple since 1979. Serving all-day brunch and lunch, you can while away several hours noshing on their Famous Chicken Salad and then perusing the impressively stocked shelves for wine, cigars, teas, chocolates, glassware, kitchen equipment and so much more. Oh, and their gift baskets have quite the reputation of being a hit for any occasion.
For more than forty years, The Nick has served as South Carolina’s only nonprofit arthouse cinema. In 1979, two UofSC media arts students established the nonprofit organization and rented a storefront on campus, where they started showing films three times a week. Over the years and under various stages of leadership, The Nick moved into the old Fox Theater on Main Street in 2012, where its dazzling marquee still serves as a beacon for film buffs looking for that extra special movie experience. Pass the popcorn, please.
What started as a farmer’s market stand in 1935, Cromer’s has been “guaranteed worst in town” since a rival peanut farmer would shout out to passing customers that Julian D. Cromer’s peanuts were no good and that his were the best. The self-deprecating slogan took off and the business, still family-owned and run by Julian’s descendants, has been providing peanuts, popcorn, candy and more to the delighted masses ever since.
Rosewood Dairy Bar
This little hole-in the-wall is known for burgers, fried chicken and soft serve ice cream (you can never go wrong with vanilla cone dipped in rainbow sprinkles!). Walk up to the window and place your order for a taste of some old-fashioned goodness.
Rockaway Athletic Club
We mean it when we say this spot in Rosewood is a true hidden gem. Seriously, there isn’t even a sign. Guess you gotta be in the know to get your hands on one of their iconic pimento cheeseburgers!
In 1980, Papa Jazz Record Shoppe opened its doors in Five Points. The beloved shop has managed to evolve and thrive for more than 40 years, despite the national decline of retail shopping and the rise of downloading or streaming during the digital age. Perhaps now more than ever, the store continues to successfully support a steady clientele of treasure hunters on a mission to find their favorite albums on vinyl. Fun fact – Amos Lee used to work here when he lived in Columbia!
Let the “the giant cone in the sky” beckon you to Zesto of West Columbia. Awarded by many locals as the best fried chicken in town (perhaps the world?), we bet you won’t be able to resist leaving without a cool dip cone or creamy milkshake in hand.
Eighty-two years ago, Sadie Tronco opened Villa Tronco, now the oldest restaurant in South Carolina, in downtown Columbia SC. During World War II, Sadie – who was called Mama Tronco by all who loved her – fed spaghetti and meatballs to Northern soldiers of Italian descent who were stationed at Fort Jackson and homesick for their mother’s cooking. She is also credited for bringing pizza to South Carolina, so think of Mama Tronco the next time you order a large pepperoni. She worked tirelessly feeding hungry people homemade Italian food until she passed away at 87. Now, Sadie’s granddaughter Carmella and her husband Henry Martin run the day-to-day operations alongside Carmella’s parents, honoring Mama Tronco with every bowl of risotto.
Follow the cool kids to this funky watering hole and live music venue in the Vista district. Inviting you to “escape the ordinary,” Art Bar offers karaoke, open mic comedy and other special events amidst Christmas lights, robots and exceptionally good bar food.
This studio, workshop and art gallery in the Vista opened in 1974 and is best known for handmade, post-modernist lamps and robots (yes, like the ones at Art Bar!) that’ll add that perfect, uniquely Columbia touch to your home.
Brittons of Columbia
From belts to one-of-a-kind bowties, this Devine Street boutique has been “dressing the discerning” since the opening of its original Main Street location in 1947. In 2014, co-owner Lucky Levinson led the charge as UofSC Dance Marathon set the Guinness World Record for the most bow ties tied simultaneously (823!).
Motor Supply Co. Bistro
In 1989, the pioneer of Columbia’s farm-to-table fine dining scene opened its doors in the Vista. At the time, the Vista wasn’t much more than a cluster of warehouses – far from the thriving entertainment district that it is today. But thanks to a concerted effort by the city’s government to fill the area with restaurants and art galleries, the revitalization of the Vista began. Motor Supply was going to be named the Vista Bistro, until the original owner found a 1930s neon sign in the basement that would ultimately give the restaurant its moniker. The same sign still hangs over the restaurant today, while inside the eatery you can expect a menu that changes daily to reflect the absolute freshest ingredients.
If you’re seeking jewelry that will stand the test of time, why not purchase it from a business that has done the same. Since 1897 (yes, that’s an 18, not a 19), Sylvan’s has sat on its corner of Main Street and helped the good people of Columbia commemorate special life moments and add some snazz and sparkle to their outfits.
The OG Columbia barbecue joint that’s constantly finding itself on best barbecue lists near and far, Hite’s is a true hole-in-the-wall and curator of unforgettable hash and rice.
The Kingsman Restaurant
Opened in 1972 by brothers Steve and Aubrey King, The Kingsman is famous for their hearty ribeye burgers. We recommend the Palmetto Burger (topped with pimento cheese and fried jalapeños) if you want the authentic Columbia experience.