These days, it seems like every desirable city in America has jumped the shark. All vestiges of artistic counter-culture swept away by a tidal wave of selfie-taking maniacs and real estate developers. Savannah, at least for the moment, still possesses that increasingly rare combination of authentic edge, creative spark, and aesthetic beauty.
But finding its pulse at the moment means getting out of the heart of this eclectic Georgia city––to places like the Starland District, where hip restaurants cater to a local crowd that isn’t just here to drink themselves into oblivion in honor of St. Patrick or their pending nuptials.
Eat (Beyond Shrimp and Grits)
This outdoor urban food court is constructed from a Jenga stack of shipping containers. It hosts revolving food truck tenants anchored by an indoor-outdoor bar and the incredible Vittoria Pizzeria, where heirloom grains are milled on site to make the dough. Save room for the cannoli.
Next door to Starland Yard is the excellent local Two Tides Brewing Company, so stop in for a brew or beer slushie and a game of pinball. ) And across the street is Superbloom, a coffee shop with “handcrafted drinks” in the oat milk latte and kombucha direction, hand-printed t-shirts and revolving items made by local artists.
On a marsh 15-minutes from downtown Savannah is the The Wyld, a dockside slightly-upscale seafood shack with a great vibe, a nautical bar with adult slushies, and fried local shrimp that I’m still daydreaming about weeks later. Plus, it’s an interesting drive out of downtown that forces you to see Savannah beyond the usual tourist circuit.
This extremely popular spot churns out artful tacos to a hip local crowd, a nice distance from the roving gangs of bachelorette parties. But they don’t take reservations, so come early.
There’s no alcohol for sale in this Harry Potter-esque tearoom, but if you spent the prior night in Savannah your liver probably needs a break anyway. Housed in an old pharmacy, the Gryphon has eccentricity on the menu and on staff, and it’s owned by and supports the local design school, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which maintains a flow of young creative minds into the city.
Part gas station, part 24-hour gourmet grocery, all local institution. No matter what you get up to in Savannah, it’s a comfort knowing you can always wander into Parker’s, 24 hours a day, for something greasy to soak up the adult beverages, or to build a picnic to take to one of many nearby parks. Not exactly off the beaten path, but serves a valuable purpose.
Another wildly popular local favorite that you should hit up early or expect a wait. Standouts include the Tobacco Road Hot Dog and the Uncle Reuben Slider.
Drink (Like a Local)
Drinking in the open is kosher here; so long as you’re in the historic district and you’re drinking from a plastic cup. But the paradox of present-day Savannah is that to appreciate the bar scene, you need to get beyond the novelty of Solo-cup booze strolling and drink like the locals do.
I’m a sucker for tiki bars, that great American hodgepodge of manufactured lore that blends concocted Pacific island culture with cocktails centered on a spirit (rum) made a continent away. Water Witch has creatively woven its tiki mythology into the 1864 wreck of the USS Water Witch, off the nearby coast. “Come get sunk,” the menu beckons, on drinks with names like “Banana Spliff,” and “Piña What?” It’s a watering hole worth getting vaccinated for if ever there was one.
A dive bar with class, serving incredibly-named drinks like “Treat Objects Like Women” (vodka and citrus to “carry you away to your quiet Malibu Beach community) and “Flat Moon Society” (vermouth, sake and Mexican Aperitivo served in a square wooden masu cup.)
Hand-set Duckpin Bowling, billiards and cold beer. Enough said. The $2 PBR and $8 cocktails make the menu read like a time machine. Moodright’s is the kind of place that you would’ve found in Austin twenty years ago, and then someone bought the block to build a condo. It’s a place in that goldilocks space between urban renewal and wildfire gentrification.
If you’re in the heart of downtown Savannah and want to drink somewhere that locals approve of, seek refuge in a booth at this basement bar with 150 cocktails on the menu and 500 different spirits on offer for some serious mixology.
If you’re going to drink en-plein-air in Savannah, do it right: get a nice bottle of something crisp and French from Savannah Wine Cellar, and have a picnic in one of the city’s many extraordinary parks. This serious wine shop is a short drive from the historic district, so it’s priced for locals instead of out-of-towners, and the staff are friendly and helpful.
This one can get a bit crowded, but when I’m in Savannah, it’s one of the only shops I’ll make a point to visit. It’s an artfully arranged store with Francophile gifts upstairs, furniture and housewares downstairs, and a jewel box of a French café selling macaroons, pastries, baguette sandwiches and espresso.
When I got engaged in this city, I went to V & J Duncan and bought an antique Savannah print, and it was the best possible souvenir from that weekend, beyond of course, my now-wife. This institution has a collection of antique maps and prints that you didn’t know you needed, but you’ll wonder a few minutes after stepping in just how you lived without this parrot print from 1923, or that nautical map from 1840.
A dusty maze of an antique store the size of a few football fields that you can get lost in for hours. Not just a step back in time but also out of time, with centuries of wood furniture, miles of tables, entire bars pulled out of English pubs, and the occasional cigar store Indian.
An exposed-brick-walled design shop with cool art, furniture, and decor in the heart of downtown. I’m partial to the Aviation pieces, like a coffee table made from an airplane engine, and tables made from airplane doors.
If you want the most luxe hotel room in Savannah at the moment, or you want to feel like you’re staying where the action is, look no further. The free bubbly all day from the front desk is a major plus, as are the sweeping views from the rooftop pool and bar. Bear in mind that the rooftop bar/restaurant, Peregrine, draws a big crowd from outside the hotel, so try to catch it in the off hours. The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market off the lobby is excellent, with long banquettes to sink into over a bowl of mussels and a side of truffle fries and watch the passing crowds like a cop behind one-way glass, as they check themselves out in the picture windows.
Right across the street from the Savannah River, the Kimpton Brice Hotel is a well-priced modern pied-à-terre with an extremely friendly staff. Staying at the Brice, you almost feel like you’ve got your own apartment in the city, except with linen service. It’s close enough to walk anywhere in the historic district, but just out of the fray enough that it feels like retreat. The rooms are bright and airy, the bathtubs are massive, and there’s a free happy hour in the restaurant for guests. It’s also pet-friendly, if you’re on a wander with a canine in tow.