Rising nine stories in the center of downtown Charleston, the brand-new Hotel Bennett, which opens Sunday, January 27, is hard to miss. And while the neoclassical building itself turns heads, Camellias, the champagne, caviar, and dessert bar off the lobby, may be even more eye-catching. Colorful murals of its namesake flower bedeck the walls, and pink marble reclaimed from the public library that once occupied the site covers the bar and tabletops. The room, which draws inspiration from the design of a Fabergé egg, glows with rosy hues.
“It’s a bar, not just a hotel bar,” says Michael Sichel, the Bennett’s executive chef who previously served at Galatoire’s, the century-old grande dame of Creole cuisine in New Orleans. Sichel designed the menu of small plates at Camellias to include the likes of diced tuna and beet tartare and broiled oysters in rich béchamel sauce topped with caviar. Executive pastry chef Remy Funfrock provides the desserts, helmed by the signature Camellias Cake, which combines cheesecake mousse, strawberry marmalade, and lemon madeleine sponge into one luxurious confection.
But like any good bar, the cocktail menu takes center stage. Beverage manager Steven Huddleston, a Marine Corps veteran who previously worked as a mixologist at the Bank at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, is taking his cues from the hotel’s design. Expect lots of bubbly—by the glass or the bottle—and champagne-inspired cocktails, like the cognac-inflected Debutante.
“The base to this cocktail is the classic julep,” Huddleston says. “Many people assume that the history of the mint julep started at the Kentucky Derby, but it actually originated in Virginia, where it was classically made with rum and brandy. We decided to elevate the standard julep by switching out the historical brandy base for cognac and topping it with champagne.”