What’s New in Spartanburg, South Carolina

A local’s pick of the gems that shine in Sparkle City

photo: Marcos Gomez

The downtown Spartanburg skyline.

Whether you’re a Spartanburg local (like me!) or you’ve passed through to visit the popular Beacon Drive-In, Carolina Panthers Training Camp, or Ballet Spartanburg’s Christmas performance of the Nutcracker, there are plenty of reasons to swing back into South Carolina’s Hub City. In recent months, the upstate community has been nurturing a “restaurant renaissance,” an evolving art scene, and many ways to enjoy nature. Discover the city’s newest restaurants, seasonal dishes and drinks from neighborhood favorites, and the latest events for outdoor, art, and music enthusiasts.

See & Do

Stroll through the Johnson Collection to see a showcase of Southern artists in the gallery’s latest exhibit, What’s in a Frame?, through March 25. Set in an elegant dark grey space, the gilded frames include eighteenth and nineteenth century styles, from delicate acorn and oak leaf motifs to elaborate papier-mâché. Study the frames and their evolution into the modern era, or even touch the gallery’s mockup of an original mount by painter William Edouard Scott. “What makes these frames so special is the way that their details complement the paintings,” says chief operating officer and curator Sarah Tignor. “The exhibit showcases a different side of art.”

photo: The Johnson Collection
The freshly painted gallery at the Johnson Collection for the new What’s in a Frame? exhibit.
photo: The Johnson Collection
Sully Thomas’s Mother & Child on display at the Johnson Collection.

Hop a block over to Spartanburg staple Little River Coffee Roasters and cozy up with a nutmeg-spiced eggnog chai or cranberry white mocha before popping into Hub City Bookshop & Press next door. Discover the latest Southern writers and listen to discussions on Hub City Press’s newly released work from authors and moderators from Wofford College. Upcoming events in February and later this spring include an evening with a reading of South Carolina in 1865 by Karen Stokes, a veteran archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, and a discussion of the debut story collection Manywhere with author Morgan Thomas and environmental studies professor Taylor Brorby. The book club Her Story is a monthly meet-up that focuses on exploring titles written by women.

photo: Carroll Foster
Hub City Bookshop & Press.

To find good company and live music, head to RJ Rockers taproom, an airy warehouse space with different artists on stage every week, from acoustic sessions to lively jam bands. The frequently updated calendar pencils in performances for Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Groove to fresh tunes and taste some of the brewery’s current winter craft beers, like the S’mores ale with warming chocolate and marshmallow notes. If you’re looking for a spicy, citrusy take, the taproom offers the crisp Witty Twister, a fruity wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel.

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Get Outside

Hikers, campers, birdwatchers, and anglers frequent the expansive Croft State Park, which supports twenty miles of biking and hiking trails and 7,000 acres of lush forests—and, it’s five miles from downtown Spartanburg. Rent boats for leisurely paddling or fishing on Lake Craig, or grab binoculars to scout out wood ducks, bald eagles, and Cooper’s hawks before migratory birds like rose-breasted grosbeaks and wood warblers return in the spring. Explore the woods with the Local Hiker, where you can join in on group hiking trips and stock up on outdoor necessities. After you’ve collected supplies for hitting the trail, venture to the new Hiker’s Hub in the back, where you can sip wine and beers from nearby breweries in upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina, like Highland, Thomas Creek, or New Groove.

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Food & Drink

Sit down for Local F.I.G.’s updated weekend brunch menu. Southern favorites include the berry and bourbon caramel-topped fried French toast, which stars a pillowy bread with a sweet Nutella filling. For a sweet-and-savory bite, dig into the chicken and waffle paired with house-made fig jam with a spicy kick.

photo: Courtesy of Local F.I.G.
Local F.I.G.’s fried French toast.

For lunch or dinner, check out Sophia’s, a cozy Italian restaurant that has become a well-loved spot since its arrival in the fall of 2020. Tuck in to specials like spinach and mascarpone-filled ravioli topped with toasted hazelnut, butter, and fragrant sage, or warm up with the popular chicken marsala over homemade pasta.

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Another fresh face to Main Street includes the elevated restaurant and bar Tulip Tree. The space welcomes diners for seasonal dishes such as creamy crawfish bisque and Southern catfish paired with inventive hand-crafted cocktails. Tulip Tree and its neighbors at Little River Roasting recently collaborated on a bracing cocktail menu to beat the winter chill. Sip on the delicious Late Bloomer, an herbal hot chocolate blended with dark chocolate, lavender syrup, Oak & Pearl Rum, and Carolina Cream.

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Wind down at the AC Hotel and take in a view of the skyline of downtown Spartanburg from top-floor restaurant Level 10. “We try to do simplicity well,” says head chef David Phillips, who joined the group in 2020 and, this year, revamped the menu and space for an elegant, polished atmosphere. The New Orleans chef is crafting refined winter dishes that include a Louisiana-style gumbo that “warms your soul,” and a plate of crispy duck spiced with star anise, Hub City Honey, and ginger on a bed of Carolina Gold rice. Slurp down local shellfish with an order of the Carolina Dreams half-shell oysters from Stump Sound, North Carolina.

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The hotel’s polished look was influenced by the aesthetic of European modernism and features the Johnson Collection’s impressive series of North Carolina’s Black Mountain College artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Anni and Josef Albers, and Ruth Asawa. Curators at the Johnson Collection collaborated with the hotel’s architects and interior designers to select pieces and craft an engaging visual experience, complete with wall text and labels for each work of art. “It’s always open to the public for a museum-like experience,” says Sarah Tignor, who spearheaded the curation of the space. The most recent additions to the hotel’s rotation include Enmeshed I by Anni Albers and Balcomb Greene’s Debutante.

photo: Courtesy of the AC Hotel
The AC Hotel and top-floor restaurant Level 10.
photo: Courtesy of the Johnson Collection
Designers planned the aesthetic of the front desk at the AC Hotel around Robert Rauschenberg’s Time + Ties.