Spartanburg is a city in waiting. Refurbished buildings house new restaurants, shops, art studios, and galleries, while many still sit empty, eager for an opportunity to become something again.
This atmosphere of anticipation is palpable as I experience Sparkle City for the first time in more than a decade. For most of my upbringing, Spartanburg played second fiddle to Greenville. Living in Greer, the pull of Falls Park and Main Street were far more tempting than what the town at the other end of Highway 29 had to offer.
Since my last visit to Spartanburg’s Main Street and historic district, the once-bustling railway hub has entered into what can only be described as a renaissance. New restaurants, like The Kennedy from the Cribbs brothers, and new developments, like the AC Hotel, have jumpstarted an era of expansion for the textile town.
My rediscovery begins with a breakfast burrito. Drenched in hot sauce, queso fresco, and wonderfully ripe cherry tomatoes, the La Bomba breakfast burrito is a homey, hearty meal—the perfect way to start a cold and rainy day exploring boutiques, spice shops, and empty storefronts with ‘sold’ signs plastered to the windows. It’s also the last thing I expected from a brewery.
My brunch spot, The Silo, is the newest addition to RJ Rockers brewery in the city’s Grain District. The casual eatery offers local brews and bites in an open-concept, industrial setting—typical for a town in the middle of a makeover.
The Silo has an easiness that’s echoed throughout the city. I find it in the old Masonic Temple building, where Little River Coffee Roasters shares the first floor with Hub City Bookshop & Press and Cakehead Bakeshop. Reimagined as a retail and office space in 2010, the Masonic Temple still gleams with the stately grandeur one might imagine from the Masons, but all formalities are lost within the friendly businesses inside. Little River is a relaxed space with plenty of seating, wide windows, and an affordable menu featuring in-house roasted coffee. Its neighbor, Hub City Bookshop, an Upstate literary mecca since 1995, is the perfect spot to discover local authors.
The theme of the historic district is all things local. Boutiques, outfitters, and even a spice shop promote area-made goods. Nowhere is this vibe more evident than The Kindred Spirits, a colorful marketplace featuring handmade wares from artists, authors, designers, and artisans. I find the shop hiding on the corner of a back street, and a teal and turquoise mural adorns the front door, its color bleeding onto the sidewalk, beckoning passersby to enter. Inside, everything is presented with intention. Works from craftsmen, jewelers, and potters delineate a respect for the products and resources found in the area. I walk away with a print from artist Maggie McDonald, who co-owns the shop with her mother. McDonald’s work is splashed across downtown, where her murals, which evoke West Coast beaches and sunny palettes, brighten a rainy day in Hub City.
Thankfully, the gray skies have no effect on my next stop. Through a chain-link fence and down a flight of stairs, I find the FR8yard, the only all open-air restaurant and taproom in the state. Situated in a large gravel lot, authentic Bavarian benches and beer-hall tables ringed by heaters give the biergarten an authentic air. The bar sits inside a repurposed shipping container, the top of which is a second-level roof bar. My adventures could continue at a Cribbs brothers’ creation—The Kennedy, Willy Taco, Cribb’s Kitchen—or end with an evening at the AC Hotel and its celebrated art-accented walls. But for the time being, I am content to let the low winter sun wane as I sip my beer.
The next day, my mom and I arrive at The Farmer’s Table, once again in the historic district, for lunch. It’s a farm-to-fork eatery with exposed brick, a full bar, and a meat-and-three menu—a nearly seamless blend of the old and new. The lunch selection, though simple, delivers robust flavors and hearty portions. Set away from the hustle of Morgan Square, the empty mill buildings surrounding the restaurant gleam with promise and possibility. After lunch we head outside of downtown to Croft State Park, an old World War II Army training facility now offering offering trails for biking, hiking, and riding.
Spartanburg has grown, I think, as I watch the current of a nearby stream. It’s not waiting to flourish—it already is.