South Carolina may be celebrated for its beaches and mountains, but don’t discount our state capital, once relegated to school field trips or a pit stop between here and Charleston. A few years ago, investors clamored to create housing for young professionals and redeveloped a somewhat vacant downtown office complex. Twenty-somethings flocked to apartment living, transforming downtown Cola into an after-work hotspot, now dubbed the Main Street District. The development catalyzed growth—places to eat, drink, and shop popped up to support the new residential audience, nearly all indie businesses with singular, foodie-loving concepts.
Just weeks ago, a boutique stay opened called Hotel Trundle, which combines three 100-year-old buildings into 41 guest rooms. Each is unique in size and shape and perfectly appointed with furnishings and artwork commissioned from dozens of local makers. Owners Rita Patel and Marcus Munse met in graduate school while studying architecture. They got married and have worked in the hotel business for nearly a decade, always dreaming of opening their own independent location. It took the district’s full support, a pile of historic designations, and a lucky break with a property investment group granting them a multi-year lease with a buyout option to complete the unprecedented build-out.
Hotel Trundle’s tagline “Live Joyfully. Dream Fearlessly” and its graphic unicorn logo imbue a playfulness that’s apparent throughout. A bubble machine dispenses floating iridescent orbs down Taylor Street. A back hall papered with shadow puppets offers a shadow box for you to try your own hand. Two first-floor suites are windowless but filled with gorgeous natural light thanks to double-story light wells (a button adjacent to the luxe king bed pulls blackout shades for the ultimate sleeping environment). The thoughtfulness extends even to the mattresses, constructed locally by Best Mattress, placed in beds designed and built by renowned local furniture maker Bricker and Beam.
Details abound in the lobby, which feels more like an apt co-work space than the expected hotel entrance (with open network Wi-Fi for guests, I called it my office for two fantastic days). Couches, deep chairs, tables, and outlets teem in the cushy menagerie. In the morning, treats from local bakery Ally & Eloise and coffee from award-winning roaster Indah Coffee Company abound, and in the evening there’s craft beer and wine selected by local mavens.
A stunning work by Lauren Dillon, a.k.a. the Master of Plaster, sits to one side of the front desk. Dillon’s installation of plaster squares illustrates the inn’s beloved unicorn and is reason enough to visit Hotel Trundle. The artist, whose roster of work spans preservation projects across the country, worked tirelessly on nearly every crumbling original wall in the three structures, saving or repairing much of it with hand-mixed slaked-lime plaster. Over the couch in the main lobby hangs mesmerizing fine art photography by Ashley Concannon. Rita and Marcus hired Concannan preconstruction to shoot Columbia City Ballet dancers in the raw future hotel space. Much of Concannon’s work bedecks guest rooms as well, adding to the whimsical feel of the entire atmosphere.
Just a short block from Hotel Trundle is a trifecta of getaway stops. A wine bar inspired by an 1800s milliner who once rented the space for her hat shop, Lula Drake is owned by Tim Gardner, an oenophile whose by-the-glass list shifts monthly, if not weekly. Chef Pierce Bowers produces inspired small plates including house-made pasta, gnudi, braised local meats, and a not-to-be-missed gourmet grilled cheese night on Wednesdays.
The Nickelodeon, known as The Nick, is the only non-profit art-house movie theater in the state, showing multiple films in upstairs and downstairs screening rooms. It’s just down from Sweet Cream Company, the small-batch craft ice-cream shop with flavors you’ll be itching to sample, like plum fennel sorbet or sweet onion rosemary, along with perhaps the best dark chocolate ice cream you’ve ever tasted.
When you need a cocktail, Bourbon is just around the corner from the hotel. With its long bar and even longer communal table, Kristian Niemi’s flagship restaurant is a convivial place. The kitchen turns out savory, delicious dinners under Executive Chef Frank Bradley, with ever-rotating features and one of the deepest bourbon and whiskey lists in the state. Order a Heart of Darkness, a smoked Old-Fashioned, or the lovely layered Witches of Eastwick.
Walking around the Main Street District, you’ll come across the unexpected. Artist Bohumila Augustinova yarn-bombs the neighborhood each winter, creating a vibrant wonderland on every tree, light post, and pole with the help of volunteers. And artist Blue Sky’s massive sculptural installation Never Bust Chain connects two buildings and will likely become a cherished selfie. Once a Macy’s department store, the Columbia Museum of Art is here, too. Its front courtyard becomes a street party the first Thursday of each month, and although undergoing a massive expansion, the museum remains open for business, kicking off its update later this year with a noteworthy Jackson Pollack exhibit. It’s just another trophy in the Main Street District’s thriving showcase, transforming downtown Columbia into a dynamic destination.
Good Life Café Raw, vegan, and handmade are key here, a welcoming spot for a meal, snack, or Wi-Fi hotspot. Cold-pressed juices are stocked into a self-serve cooler each morning. 1614 Main St. (803) 726-2310, goodlifecafe.net
Lula Drake Wine and tapas are purveyed in a century-old building named for a former milliner. Owner Tim Gardner and Chef Bowers have crafted a wine-friendly menu.1635 Main St. (803) 606-1968, luladrake.com
Sweet Cream Company Handmade ice cream in a menagerie of mind-bending flavors, such as the black sesame ginger. 1627 Main St. (803) 251-3311, sweetcreamcompany.com
The Whig Feel like a local at this hip dive bar with a magical griddle and live music.1200 Main St. (803) 931-8852, thewhig.org
Columbia Museum of Art Ever-rotating exhibits create an easy opportunity to relish the galleries of this award-winning museum currently undergoing a soon-to-be completed expansion. The courtyard alone is a worthy stop. 1515 Main St. (803) 799-2810, columbiamuseum.org
The Nickelodeon Independent and art-house films along with other movies of interest play on a rotating schedule at this not-for-profit theater known in Columbia as The Nick. 1607 Main St. (803) 254-8234, nickelodeon.org
The Grand Domain New high-end bowling and game concept with food and drink, keeping adults and their playtime in mind. 1621 Main St. (803) 726-2323, thegrandonmain.com
SC State House Don’t forget about the historic State House and its grounds. Public tours are available every hour, on the half hour. 100 Gervais St. (803) 734-2430, southcarolinaparks.com/education-and-history/state-house
Hotel Trundle This newly opened boutique hotel offers unique artwork and access to the Main Street District. 1224 Taylor St. (803) 722-5000, hoteltrundle.com