Phew, it’s been a long year and a half.

I was very sad for most of the pandemic. How could I not be? The human toll still staggers me, and the monotony of isolation while trying to deal with the massive tragedy was maddening. The regular lineup of distractions that would have otherwise helped with the emotional upheaval was not available. But now! After getting vaccinated, it feels like a whole new world has opened up. Join me on a hypothetical weekend about town where I visit all the places I’ve been missing or missing out on.

First, self-care.

We made it through, y’all. But not without some hunched shoulders, clenched jaws, and grown out mops of hair. The first stops on the grand re-opening tour are going to work out the kinks of remote work and layers of stress.

Metropolis Salon

My favorite place for a haircut and color. Friendly staff in a cute space right off Main Street. Metropolis can do it all! I’ve had great haircuts, highlights, and even makeup experiences.

Occo Luxury Spa

My mini bachelorette celebration (cancelled due to the pandemic) was going to include a spa day for all of my friends – massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, you name it. I can’t wait to return to Occo and get the works.

Season Nail Boutique

I’m not a big manicure person, but I would stop in here before a big event or trip. One manicurist at Season was doing gels on me once and said “I can tell you’re a wallflower.” Shade aside, they always do a great job and I can’t wait to get roasted again sometime soon.

Next up, drinks.

I’ve got the loosened shoulders, hair and nails done, now it’s time for some sippies. (If you’re wondering about outfits, my closet will be my shopping mall this year — so many fun clothes I haven’t worn in ages!)


This bar is the seasonal cocktail creator of my dreams. Bourbon’s bartenders win awards, their food menu is outstanding, and they’re right downtown for convenient barhopping.

Coa Agaveria Y Cocina

A mezcal bar and small plate restaurant within walking distance to some of the best event venues in the city? Sounds like the place to be to me! It helps that Coa’s golden lighting makes you feel like the main character.

Lula Drake

A wine bar with a well-curated list, delicious cheese boards, and a cozy interior is the perfect place to happy hour or to wind down after a long evening. I’ve done both and will do both again! Open soon, Lula Drake.

It’s dinner time.

I’ve had my fill of aperitifs, now it’s all about the meal. This list was hard to narrow down because there are so many yummy options to choose from. But you can bet anything not listed here will be called out as a local pick in future emails!

Inakaya Watanabe

They serve the best sushi I’ve ever had and were our go-to date night spot before the pandemic. I can’t wait to go to Inakaya again and again and again, regularly and religiously, forever and ever amen.

Baan Sawan

I’ve only been to this Thai restaurant once before, but now I’m waiting with bated breath for them to reopen. Please, please, please reopen Baan Sawan (when you feel it’s safe to do so)! There’s something about the intimacy of the dining room and the care taken with each dish that is calling out to me.

Black Rooster

Sitting in blue velvet chairs and eating decadent French food? Oui oui s’il vous plait! I’ve heard nothing but good things about Black Rooster, and I can’t wait to try it for the first time. Remember new things? Me neither, but this will ease me back into being adventuresome.

Saved room for dessert.

Like Claire Saffitz, I’m a dessert person. I love all food, so sometimes I don’t have room for more after a full meal (I do not have a second stomach for sweets, unfortunately), but when I remember to pace myself so I can enjoy a sugary treat, oh it hits so good.

Pelican’s SnoBalls

The best part about South Carolina in the summer is Pelican’s SnoBalls, where a teenager still in braces hands you a massive snow cone drizzled in your choice of syrups (Sour Black Cherry and Passionfruit for me, please) and it helps combat the feeling of oppressive heat for just a little while. A gem, can’t beat it.

The Baked Bear

Customize your own ice cream sandwiches by selecting the cookie AND ice cream flavors? This is too much power, but The Baked Bear gives it to you and then laughs in your face when you try to eat the massive concoction before it melts and starts to drip everywhere. Spoons recommended.

Sweet Cream Co.

Turns out that the best dessert you can get in Columbia is frozen. Sweet Cream has ice cream by the scoop or the pint, homemade waffle cones, seasonal flavors utilizing local farm-grown ingredients, and an ice cream sandwich of the month.

It’s morning now.

I fell asleep in a food coma, but now the sunshine is peeking in and it’s time for some breakfast.

Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

Cinnamon Roll Deli defines bang for the buck. A breakfast sandwich that comes with a mini cinnamon roll and a side of chips for just $5? Get outta town. No don’t, if you leave someone else will steal your table; stay to protect your turf and your delicious breakfast.

Original Pancake House

Did I download an app solely for the purpose of reserving a table at Original Pancake House? Yes. Did this feel absurd and unnecessary in the moment? Also yes. Am I grateful for how much faster I can get to a massive platter of pumpkin pancakes and hashbrowns now? Yes again.

Cafe Strudel

The hungover college student’s dream. Unfortunately there’s no app to help beat the wait, but the bottomless coffee and great omelets make up for it. Cafe Strudel is a local institution that would break hearts if it ever closed.

Fun and games.

I have unironically begun to call all activities “playdates.” Gross, but I can’t stop. Here are the playdate destinations I am most excited about.

Transmission Arcade

Pinball, skee ball, Pac-Man, and more await at Transmission! Plus some tabletop games and a killer menu besides. I can’t wait to while away many an hour there.

The movies

Any movie. I will go to any movie just to get a massive tub of popcorn, arrive early enough to see all the pre-feature content, watch the previews in rapt attention (the previews are the best part), and whisper my commentary on the film to Sean.


Before the pandemic I had a weekly radio show on USC’s student radio station. Access for alumni was revoked as part of indoor capacity controls, so I have been off the air since March 2020. I will make my triumphant return soon. Until then, you can get my music recs in every issue of Ari’s Picks!

Okay the end!

Thank you for joining me on this roundup of all the places I can’t wait to patronize again. I hope you all can execute your own grand plans safely and with great enthusiasm!

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