Savannah Off the Beaten Path
By Orlando Montoya
A well-known joke here goes, “People in Atlanta ask about your job. People in Charleston ask about your family. We ask about your drink preference.’” Savannah’s love for libation is best perhaps enjoyed on a wide porch or in a backyard or kitchen. But if you can’t enjoy these places here, have a good time with the following guide to all things nocturnal in the Hostess City.
Savannah is a college and military town. The Savannah College of Art and Design and Fort Stewart in particular form the heart and lungs of our nightlife. And that’s good. Because when the blood is pumping, those students and soldiers provide a hip and hopping nightlife. But when it’s not, call for an EKG. You can really feel the pain here between academic terms, especially in June and December.
Even with our cardiovascular system in place, you might get dizzy from low blood pressure if you’re out at the wrong time. Naturally, Fridays and Saturdays pack most houses. But if you’re in town on a Thursday, you’ll find a surprising amount of hubbub, too. The art school has a four-day class week. And when 7,000+ students hit their Friday, it’s your Friday, too. Things start slow around 10pm, with a workout pace after midnight. Last call is at 3am, when police car flashing lights and hundreds of young people form a “last call melee” that can be intimidating. Try to avoid it.
Alcohol laws here are fairly tolerant for a city of our size and geographic location. The Bible Belt has a hole where we “wear it loose” and that’s Savannah. But don’t push the laws. They are enforced. Minors in clubs, minor sales and DUI, in particular, are no-no’s, but you might take note of the so-called “go cup” law. This allows anyone who can buy a drink to leave the bar with it in a 16oz plastic cup, which you ask for as a “go cup.” This is only allowed in the so-called “entertainment district,” saving you time and money while downtown. Of course, please keep Savannah beautiful and safe. Throw your trash away and designate or ask for a cab.
In fact, weekend nights are just about the only time you can “hail a cab New York-style” here. Drivers circle City Market constantly when the blood is pumping. There’s also a cab stand running 24/7 in City Market, where the horse carriages are at St. Julian Street during the day. A fare to the Southside will be about $18. Closer in town will be less. Out by the Interstate will be considerably more.
Now, if getting food after midnight were as easy! Unfortunately, most kitchens here close promptly at 10pm, seemingly the only time Savannah operates on schedule. But, service workers have to party, too, and there are options, but only on Friday and Saturday nights. Besides those listed below, Vinnie Van Go-Go is a great hangout. Located on Franklin Square near City Market, they serve New York style pizza until 1am. The bleary-eyed also make their way to Sushi Zen. Serving Japanese rolls, nigiri and such until 4am, they’re located at 41 Whittaker Street, between Congress and Broughton. And I’ve never seen Rude Rudy’s close, though the pizzeria across from Lady and Sons presumably does.
For sake of space, look below for more with “EAT LATE.” And if you’re really desperate, Congress Street rolls out the hot dog and barbecue stands near City Market and Bay Street has a hot dog stand near City Hall when folks are out. Off the beaten path, there’s always-open Pancake Palace, an “Al’s Diner” sort of place on Abercorn Street at Eisenhower near many of the hotels on the Southside.
Now if you run out of cash doing all this, Johnson Square is the center of banking. The national Bank of America and SunTrust as well as several regional banks have ATM’s there. Wachovia’s is one square to the south at 136 Bull Street. Of course, many bars have ATM’s with high fees.
And finally, don’t forget to find newsstands with the following local publications for live music before you head out: Connect Savannah, Diversions (in the Thursday edition of the Savannah Morning News), Murmur and SavannahUnderground.com. Some lamp posts, the back wall at Vinnie Van Go-Go and “any local college student” also will have inside information. Enjoy!
Venus de Milo
38 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
(between Congress and Broughton Streets)
Attracting the young and upwardly mobile, this two-story scene is the wise young man of Savannah hipsters. With more button-ups than pull-overs, more high-heels than sneakers and the occasional after-wedding get-up, Venus is a place to be seen. But it’s also a comfortable place. The upstairs, in particular, is a refuge from the din of the bar, which can be packed tight on busy nights. Check out the two alcoves for a more private setting or the outdoor patio for a further change of scenery. They have designer drinks and a good wine selection, but something about the place demands a classic.
Cosentino’s Trattoria (Eat Late)
44 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
(at Broughton Street)
A welcome newcomer on the Savannah scene, this Italian restaurant with a wrap-around bar serves great food until midnight Monday through Saturday. Dishing Italian-American mainstays from ziti to lasagna and appetizers from spicy shrimp to calamari from six to nine dollars each, you won’t break the bank. The bar has more Italian or you can stick with your favorite poison.
Blaine’s Backdoor Bar
13 East Perry Lane
(in the lane behind Perry Street, between Bull and Drayton Streets)
First and foremost a neighborhood bar, Blaine’s has the feel of any hard-to-find hole-in-the-wall where the average man goes to down a pint. There’s the character bartender who knows most by name, the pool table stacked with quarters to play and a glow of television screens in a haze of smoke. But this bar serves Savannah’s gay neighborhood. And unlike other gay bars here and elsewhere, it tends not to attract the fashionably curious. The character bartender, a drag queen, pours drinks for an almost exclusively gay male and largely middle-aged crowd.
Club One Jefferson
1 Jefferson Street
(at Bay Street)
On quite the other hand, there’s Club One Jefferson. Famous for The Lady Chablis from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” this three-level dance and show bar is a regular stop for tourists and a surprising number of straight locals, many fans of good dance music, mostly house with industrial on Thursdays. Regular drag shows at $6 can be entertaining, but be warned to never, ever go to the 8:30 show! It’s filled with sober, go-to-bed-early out-of-towners and is dreadfully not fun. Otherwise, attractions here include the occasional go-go dancer (called “box boy” here), drunk elected officials and oar-wielding proprietors. Also be warned that drinks from the downstairs slushy bar are very potent and the lesbians are sometimes not lesbians. This is entertainment, friends.
301 East River Street
(down the stairs below Bay at Jefferson or at the electrical plant on River)
Another nominally gay bar just a short walk from Club One Jefferson, Chuck’s is a neighborhood bar with a nightclub crowd. Students, many from the Savannah College of Art and Design, populate this cozy hang-out, falling into large sofas, sprawling around the pool table or waiting for their turn at the jukebox machine. The walls are filled with photographs of the bar’s patrons and many include them posing with Chuck himself. Just be careful on the steep, 19th Century steps that lead from Bay Street.
318 Drayton Street
(at Harris Street)
Pinky Masters is a hard-scrabble bar with genuine character. Its walls are filled with the collected detritus of a much-loved, decades-old institution: photographs of stars, near-stars and a future President who campaigned here while Georgia Governor. Its beat-up furnishings have seen better days, but they hear all the stories: the powerful brokering deals, the not-so-powerful solving their problems over a cheap, cold beer and lively debates over sports and politics. With only a few seats, you’ll know everyone in the bar by the end of the night.
127 West Congress Street
(between Barnard and Whittaker)
311 West Congress Street
(between Montgomery and Jefferson)
117 West River Street
(down the stairs below Bay at Whittaker or just west of the Hyatt on River)
Jazz’d Tapas Bar
52 Barnard Street
(underneath The Gap on Broughton Street)
This stunningly lit and decorated bar and restaurant underneath The Gap near City Market is the perfect setting for your classy drink moment in Savannah. This hidden hot spot serves up some of the best drinks here while also being known for small plates or “tapas” and live jazz. I don’t know which is better. The black-shirt, button-down bartenders here make the most difficult drinks perfectly, such as when they use actual mint in mojitos. Hummus, artichoke, shrimp, tuna and more are on offer from the extensive, fusion-inspired menu. Art lines the walls. And the live jazz would be an attraction in itself. The crowd is slightly older and more affluent than most places. It’s almost always difficult to get a seat at the bar on the weekends.
309 West St. Julian Street
(a door in City Market near Jefferson leads you upstairs)
Boba is actually a coffeehouse, but an important part of Savannah nightlife. The only coffeehouse open late, it’s conveniently located in City Market. It includes several computers for down-time browsing. And it offers terrific entertainment in the form of watching “life” (if that’s what it’s called at this hour and place) pass by al fresco from two wonderful second-story patios. They sell sandwiches, soups, smoothies and other more typical coffeehouse fare 24 hours a day. That’s right. They’re always open. And with quiet sometimes hard to find on weekend nights, it can be a refuge – especially if you end up waiting for someone and start to get bored. Go to Boba and surf.
Moon River Brewing Company
21 West Bay Street
(on Bay Street across from the Hyatt hotel)
Moon River is Savannah’s local beer. Ask for it at local bars and restaurants! You won’t find it at chains, however. So get “off the beaten path” for a fresh alternative to corporate beer. Or why not just go to Moon River yourself? The brewery is also a restaurant and bar, offering standard pub fare, a few pool tables, occasional live bands and sports on TV, all secondary, of course, to the main attraction. The brew comes in at least six varieties from bitter to a popular light. The dark porter has a hint of chocolate. The wit is slightly orangey. And the seasonal apple is certainly interesting. Just don’t ask for a Bud. The owners hate their business practices.