My City

Charleston Restaurateur Bethany Heinze Offers Her Ultimate Guide to the City’s Signature Spots and Secret Charms

Bethany Heinze at Bar Rollins in Charleston. All clothing by J.Crew.

To celebrate J. Crew’s Local Time Tour, CULTURED tapped a group of chefs, curators, and designers across the East Coast and Midwest to share their My City guides—intimate maps of the cities they call home—all while dressed head to toe in their favorite J. Crew looks.

Once a year growing up, for a week or so, Bethany Heinze and her family would drive from Ohio to South Carolina. She’d watch the farmland and cows roll by through the window until they alighted in Charleston, trading the tall grasses for sailboats and Lowcountry architecture. By 2013, Heinze was “simply infatuated” with the city—she was working as a bar manager at McCrady’s, a cherished Charleston haunt where she later met her husband, Dano Heinze, a Floridian chef.

The pair did their time in other regions—they spent a few years in California, where they planned to open a restaurant of their own, but it felt like something was missing. That 'something,' it turns out, was a feeling of home: in 2022, they returned to Charleston and opened Vern’s, a restaurant named after Dano’s late grandfather. “We opened in the dead middle of summer expecting to have a little ramp up into full capacity,” recalls Bethany, “but we were—fortunately—wrong!” Two years later, the spot has attracted a cast of dedicated locals who see Vern's as "a pillar" of the city's restaurant community.

Pale yellow walls, mismatched dining chairs, a hearty menu, and the heat of a wood-burning oven give the restaurant the feel of a neighborhood joint, despite its status on destination eating guides and its sizable social media following. Here, just in time for J. Crew's Local Time Tour, Heinze joins CULTURED on a walking tour of her city, pointing out the wine bars, galleries, and shops that compose the tapestry with which she’s become so intertwined.

Heinze at Vern's.

How would you describe the Charleston dining scene? 

Incredible, dynamic, and only getting better! There is a strong emphasis on ingredients here, with the best chefs championing the produce and small farmers of the area. I love the mixture of high and low here, with the most casual rustic seaside spots holding the same love as fine dining. It is very special.

What is your pick for a local restaurant that offers a great midday bite?

My absolute favorite midday bite is Malagón, a Spanish tapería that is open all day and is the perfect spot for a few tapas and a glass of sherry in the afternoon.

What's your best advice for seeming like a local?  

Use "ya'll"! The best pronoun. Inclusive and properly southern.

Name one underrated Saturday afternoon activity.

I'm truthfully working 99 percent of the time, but on a rare weekend off I love to walk the city. You really don't need a car downtown. I love to bike the South of Broad neighborhoods and stop for a bite or glass of wine at Bin 152. It feels like a day of leisure and luxury. 

Where do you go to escape the crowds?

I love to grab pastries from Weltons Tiny Bakeshop and head to Hampton Park to relax under the oak trees and read a book after a stroll around the park.

Who's got the best cup of coffee in the city? The best cocktail?

Best coffee at Sightsee, best cocktail at Last Saint.

What’s the best neighborhood for a visitor to stay in? Any hotel recommendations? 

The neighborhood called Elliotborough, where Vern's is located, is my all-time favorite. It's one of the only "AirBnb" districts, so plenty of rental options in the area. I also love The Pinch boutique hotel on King Street—excellent central location and effortlessly cool vibe with two restaurants on-site that are some of the best in the city.

Your ideal Sunday art-viewing itinerary?

You have to stop in Robert Lange Studios to see some captivating works in a smaller space. I also love the Gibbes Museum for a mix of classic and local work. Redux and Hed Hi gallery are great to check out for installations and pop-up events.

Heinze at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

What is the best place to shop for gifts? For yourself?

Candlefish on King Street has gorgeous gift options and custom candles that I love. I thrift for most of my own shopping—my favorite hobby is checking out antique shops and thrift stores. Favorite stops include Terrace Oaks Antique Mall in James Island and The Station in Park Circle.

What’s one thing newcomers get wrong about Charleston?

People perceive Southern Charm as theatrical or not real, but there are so many genuine layers of Southern hospitality that are felt on a deep level. It's part of why I love this place so much.

What’s your best tip for getting the most out of the city?

Go to a good restaurant and ask your server or bartender where to go. They know best!

J.Crew is hosting store events in four cities across the country along with their Creative Directors Olympia Gayot and Brendon Babenzien. Find out more here. For insider tips on how to navigate cities around the globe, check out David Castillo's guide to Miami, Gisela Capitain's tour of Cologne, and Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel's advice for visiting Paris