Culture / Travel

After a Multi-Million Dollar Renovation, This 170-Year-Old Charleston Hotel Blends Luxury With Rich History

Exploring the Holy City Through an Iconic Pink Lens

BY // 08.02.23

This August, 2023 marks the 170th anniversary of The Mills House Hotel, a historic destination in Charleston, South Carolina. In celebration of this incredible milestone, the hotel recently went through a multi-million dollar renovation, which included revamped guest rooms, premium suites, a rooftop pool, and the opening of two new restaurants, Iron Rose and The Black Door Café. On our visit to the Holy City, I used Charleston’s beloved “Pink Hotel” as my luxurious base during a two-night getaway.


The Mills House Hotel
Originally built in 1853, The Mills House Hotel celebrates 170 years this August. (Courtesy of The Mills House)

A Little History

Designed by architect John Earl, The Mills House Hotel was opened in 1853 by grain merchant Otis Mills. Against all odds, the historic building survived the widespread destruction in Charleston during the Civil War, but was eventually sold for auction in 1968. Finding the structure unsalvageable, the new owners demolished the property and built a new hotel with a facade based on the original. They also increased the hotel from five to seven stories. In December 2022, The Mill House became part of the Curio Collection brand by Hilton.


The Mills House Charleston
The Mills House Hotel is located right in the middle of Charleston’s French Quarter — perfect for walking around town. (Courtesy of The Mills House)


Located in the center of the French Quarter in downtown Charleston, The Mills House Hotel is in the perfect spot to explore the city on foot. One morning, we took a historic Lowcountry Walking Tour led by our bubbly and very knowledgeable guide, Kay. Over two hours, we explored many of Charleston’s hidden alleyways and passages. We began at the Old Exchange Building and learned how the city used to be walled in during colonial times. We ended at the famous Rainbow Row of bright-colored Georgian townhomes. It was a great, historical start to our time in the city.



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The Mills House
The King Studio Suite was the perfect spot to come back and rest after a long day of walking. (Courtesy of The Mills House)


During our visit, we stayed in a King Studio Suite at The Mills House Hotel, which offered ample space to unwind and recharge during our trip. There was even a separate work area with a desk, which was great for working remotely. A wet bar offers a Keurig coffee maker, mini fridge, and sink. During the renovations led by interior design firm Ealain Studio, the hotel revamped the guest rooms with modern furniture and artwork by Southeastern artist Tracy Murrell.


The Mills House Charleston
The renovated rooftop pool and terrace at The Mills House offer an outdoor bar and cabanas. (Courtesy of The Mills House)

Rooftop Pool and Bar

This summer, the hotel opened its new rooftop pool and terrace on the second floor. It features an outdoor bar and private poolside cabanas. One afternoon, we relaxed in a cabana and enjoyed frozen sips from the new bar. Taking a dip in the pool was a perfect reprieve from the steamy Charleston heat.


Iron Rose Charleston
The Iron Rose is The Mills House Hotel’s new signature restaurant. (Courtesy of The Mills House)

Charleston Dining

Along with the updated guest rooms and rooftop pool, The Mills House debuted two new dining concepts, Iron Rose and The Black Door Café. In the lobby, the all-day café features coffee, pastries, salads, sandwiches, and other grab-and-go bites.

Iron Rose

Led by Chef Gary Mennie, the hotel’s new restaurant offers craft cocktails, an extensive whiskey menu, and Southern Coastal fare. After a long day of exploring the city, I opted for The Iron Rose cocktail, the restaurant’s take on the espresso martini. It’s on the sweeter side with Kahlua and simple syrup mixed in with vodka and espresso. For food, we started with the tuna tartare served with Benne crackers, which we saw a lot of in Charleston. The West African name for sesame seed, Benne was brought to the South in the early 1700s and grown on plantations. And for the main dishes, you have to try a fish entree at Iron Rose. Opt for the Roasted Black Grouper or Market Fish.

The Obstinate Daughter
The Obstinate Daughter serves eclectic Southern cuisine in Charleston. (Courtesy of TOD)

The Obstinate Daughter

On another evening, we had to try one of the most popular restaurants on Sullivan’s Island. From the owner of Wild Olive (on Johns Island), the sister restaurant serves a Southern, seasonal menu of seafood, pizza, and housemade pasta. Make sure to start with the cheese of the day with lavash and seasonal jam. We also shared a pizza and pasta including the stand-out of the evening — Ricotta Gnocchi. Served with short rib ragu, horseradish, and pine nut gremolata, we couldn’t get enough of the warm, pillowy bites. We ordered The Cheeky Monkey pizza as well — as it was a simple guanciale (pork cheek), tomato, and chili flake creation with just the right amount of spice. For dessert, you have to go downstairs to the restaurant’s desserts shop, Beardcat’s Sweet Shop, for a scoop of olive oil sea salt, or pistachio gelato.

Pink Cactus
Charleston’s Pink Cactus is a favorite spot for authentic Oaxacan food. (Photo by Megan Ziots)

Pink Cactus

Located in the Cannonborough neighborhood in Charleston, this traditional Oaxacan Mexican restaurant is a must-try in the city. Opened by Brooke Warden in 2019, the casual spot offers cocktails, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, rice bowls, and more. One of our favorite dishes during lunch was the Chile Rilleno (pictured above). We couldn’t get enough of the roasted poblano stuffed with carnitas. Paired with a pink cactus (prickly pear) house margarita, it was the perfect midday meal.

Felix Charleston
Stop at Felix when in Charleston for one of the best burgers you’ll ever try. (Photo by Megan Ziots)

Felix Cocktails et Cuisine

A second favorite lunch spot on our trip, Felix is a French restaurant on King Street. Since 2017, the Paris-inspired spot has been serving one of the best espresso martinis in Charleston, sandwiches, soups, and salads. We started with the can’t-miss lobster deviled eggs and fried Brussels sprouts. The Raclette Burger is one of the best burgers you’ll ever try with double short rib-brisket blended patties, caramelized onion, Raclette, and dijonnaise.

Harken Cafe Charleston
Harken Cafe is a must-visit coffee and biscuit shop in Charleston. (Courtesy)

Harken Cafe

We loved this little coffee and biscuit shop right around the corner from The Mills House so much that we visited three times. First off, the espresso drinks are perfect if you’re a coffee snob like me. No foamy cappuccinos here. The shop bakes its biscuits with ricotta, making them fluffy and delicious. For breakfast, opt for the Butter Me Up sandwich with herb cheese, egg, and pickled shallot. You will then crave it every day after.

The Mills House Charleston
The Mills House Hotel celebrates 170 years this August with a month of celebrations and activations. (Courtesy of The Mills House)

The Mills House Hotel’s 170th Anniversary Celebrations and Activations

If you’re headed to Charleston this August, make sure to check out The Mills House Hotel’s 170th-anniversary celebrations. A throwback menu will be available all month long at Iron Rose featuring historically inspired dishes that pay homage to the original dining menu of the hotel in the 1800s. A special Jerry Thomas-inspired (a well-known bartender at the time) cocktail menu will be offered as well.

Don’t miss the pop-up art exhibit in the hotel lobby curated by nearby The Gibbes Museum. It will feature original historical works of The Mills House from the museum’s archives.

And on August 26, 2023, for one day only, there will be a pop-up barber shop at the hotel in partnership with Broad Street Barber offering free haircuts. The shop pays homage to Joseph Rainey, one of Charleston’s most influential freedmen and the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. His original barber shop was located on the ground floor of The Mills House in the 1800s.

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