A Southern Party City: Savannah, GA

8 Apr

Savannah City Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

Savannah City Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

To Yankees, Savannah may seem a sleepy Southern town stuck in a time warp—all antebellum mansions, Spanish moss, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But those in the know have a different picture of the Hostess City, one that heats up when the sun goes down.

The city whose beauty once convinced General Sherman not to burn it to the ground has been revitalized over the last 20 years, thanks in part to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The prestigious art school has renovated and taken up residence in many historic-district buildings and infused the downtown area with a vibrant, artsy crowd.

A Southern Party City

Savannah is also one of only a handful of places around the country where people can drink alcohol on the street (provided adult beverages are in a plastic “go” cups), which puts Savannah in good company alongside more famous drinking cities like New Orleans, Memphis and Las Vegas.

Historic Downtown River Street. Photo courtesy of faungg via Flickr.

Historic Downtown River Street. Photo courtesy of faungg via Flickr.

Add a rollicking waterfront and an easily walkable downtown historic district studded with more than two dozen park-filled squares. Throw in up-and-coming annual music festivals, like the Savannah Music Festival, Georgia’s largest musical art event (late March-early April), or the Savannah Stopover, a three-day event in early March during which bands from around the country stop in Savannah on their way to Austin’s SXSW conference. And you’ve got the perfect spot for a long weekend of pub crawls, bar hops and leisurely libations.

Drinking Enclaves

Savannah skyline from the roof of the Bohemian Hotel. Photo courtesy of herrea via Flickr.

Savannah skyline from the roof of the Bohemian Hotel. Photo courtesy of herrea via Flickr.

For first-time visitors to Savannah, River Street is the obvious choice. Steep stairways lead to the cobblestone waterfront, where nearly a mile of old cotton warehouses have been repurposed into a lively strip comprising dozens of bars, shops, hotels and restaurants. To get a good look at the scene below, Rocks on the Roof—at the top of the Bohemian Hotel – has a great balcony overlooking the river and a classier vibe than the frozen-drink and Jell-o shot joints at street level.

The other tourist epicenter in town is City Market. Located at the site of the original colonial-era marketplace, these few blocks are all cafes, art galleries and souvenir shops by day, but it can get rowdy after dark at spots like The Bar Bar, a sprawling subterranean warehouse beneath the streets. The sports-bar chain Wild Wing Café also sits on the corner, overlooking the newly renovated Ellis Square. If, however, you want to visit Savannah and drink like a local, it pays to look beyond the waterfront and City Market.

Ellis Square. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

Ellis Square. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

Given the number of college students who live in and around downtown Savannah—during the school year more than 10,000 students move into an area with only about 20,000 resident—it’s no surprise that some of the most popular local spots around town are the dives, where cheap drinks and loud music bring out the characteristic diversity of the town.

Head west down W. Congress Street, along the backside of City Market, to find The Rail, a former red-light district brothel turned workingman’s watering hole with peanut shells on the floor. And just around the corner, on Whitaker Street, Hang Fire is a staple stop for late-night dancing, live music and cheap PBR tall boys.

One dive bar in particular has achieved landmark status in Savannah. Pinkie Master’s was recently named the “third-best dive bar in the South” by Southern Living magazine, and legend has it that Georgia-native Jimmy Carter announced his presidential intentions standing atop Pinkie’s bar. Among the battered booths and walls laden with photos of Southern politicians, risqué portraits and cheesy signs, you’ll find a genuine cross section of Savannah. Sidle up to the U-shaped bar and you can rub shoulders with student or a soldier just as easily as you might a moneyed Savannah aristocrat or a movie star from one of the frequent films being shot around town.

Pick Your Poison

Moon River Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Clevergrrl via Flickr.

Moon River Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Clevergrrl via Flickr.

Beer lovers looking for a local brew should head straight to the source. There’s only one hometown brewery here, and that’s the Moon River Brewing Company, on the corner of Whitaker and Bay Streets, just across from the Hyatt hotel. A brand-new beer garden opened at Moon River in March 2013 (just in time for Savannah’s famous St. Patrick’s Day celebration), making it a great outdoor spot to grab burgers and beers on a balmy Southern night, like the hop-strong Swamp Fox IPA or the English-style Apparition Ale, named for the supposed Lady in White reputed to reside on Moon River’s third-floor.

If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, don’t worry, Savannah’s Southern gentility is still very much intact—you just have to know where to look. Circa 1875  is the kind of bar you just want to sink into, with dark-wood décor, old-world atmosphere and skilled mixologists behind the counter, known for their masterful martinis.

The Marshall House. Photo courtesy of victor408 via Flickr.

The Marshall House. Photo courtesy of victor408 via Flickr.

Similarly, 45 Bistro, the street-level bar beneath the French Quarter-style wrought-iron balconies of The Marshall House  has a distinctly Southern feel, where wide French doors open onto a grand room of exposed brick, oil paintings, and impeccably dressed bartenders. The hotel upstairs also does double duty as one of Savannah’s many famous ghost hotspots. Guests of the Marshall House, which was used as a military hospital during the Civil War, have reportedly spotted a uniformed soldier walking the halls carrying his amputated arm. No word on how many cocktails they had beforehand.

A Southern Party City: Savannah, GA Georgia , USA

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: