We had visited Atlanta, Asheville and Charleston on our tour of the Southeast in the late spring of 2015. Our final stop was Thebeerchaser’s favorite city of the four – Savannah. And not just because it had the best bars and restaurants on the trip!
The oldest city in Georgia was founded by 114 colonists on February 12, 1733 led by James Oglethorpe. He laid out the design of the city – still intact today and prohibited rum, slaves and lawyers – banned from 1733 to 1755. “Georgia was to be “free from that pest and scourge of mankind called lawyers.” (Visit Historic Savannah.com)
Savannah’s population has grown to 144,000 and it’s the fourth largest container port in North America. It has twenty-two stunning parks in squares on the streets scattered throughout the city with historic fountains and monuments
We saw many of them on our “Free Tours by Foot” – another 90 minute journey through history by our able guide. As was the case in Charleston, it was well worth the tip at the end and one of the best ways to get an overview of the city. Someone once said that the following description distinguishes three of the southern cities we visited:
If you’re from Atlanta, the first thing locals ask you is your business; while in Charleston, they ask your mother’s maiden name; and in Savannah, they ask what you want to drink.
This premise may have been affirmed to some extent when on our first day in Savannah, we were having a beer during happy hour at the Moon River Brew Pub on West Bay Street, one of the main thoroughfares and near the state capitol. We saw quite a few people walking down the street while drinking beer.
Upon inquiring, we found that Savannah has an ordinance that allows open containers in the Savannah Historic District near downtown. Drinks must be in open plastic containers and no more than 16 ounces.
Moon River Brewery was founded in 1999 “….in one of the oldest, most historic and genuinely haunted buildings in Savannah, Moon River Brewing Company invites you to experience this history and our delicious food and hand-crafted beers first hand.”
And they had great hamburgers.
Another one of the many bars and brewpubs on West Bay Street was J.J. Bonerz Sports Bar (Official Green Bay Packers Bar of Savannah):
“Cold beer and friendly service. This is also the only Packers themed bar in Savannah, since I am a Packers fan, it was right up my alley. I love this atmosphere.” Trip Advisor 4/10/15).
The bartender, Troy, who had worked at the bar for seven years told me that their specialty is Bloody Mary’s with beer.
I liked J.J.’s the afternoon I went but the reviews were mixed including one Trip Advisor in February 2015, that described a fight between a couple (“A drunk customer who had mauled his girlfriend to the point they both abruptly fell from their bar stools approached me and brazenly ate from my meal.”)
And an incredible August 2014 Yelp account of a “a very cute, petite waitress with tattoos walks up to the table of a 60-70 yr old man drinking by himself.” The guy then purportedly proceeds to suck her toes……?!
And the reviews of the food were pretty negative so if you go to J.J.’s hit it in the afternoon and stick to beer – try a Green Man IPA from Asheville which I liked.
If you visit Savannah, a must-see is the wonderfully impressive Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which rivaled many of the grand cathedrals we saw during our Rick Steve’s Best of Europe Tour in 2014. ( See the six posts in “Thebeerchaser Goes International.”)
A parishioner gave us a tour of this magnificent structure, constructed in 1850 and which survived an earthquake in 1898 and two fires – one in 1898, the other in 2003, when an arsonist tried to destroy the church.
The highlights of this magnificent structure are:
The main altar, carved in Italy of Carrara Marble weighing 9,000 pounds
The marble baptismal font weighs 8.000 pounds.
A 207 foot high steeple with a bell weighing 4,730 pounds and approximately 5 feet in diameter.
The roof with 45,000 slates and 90,000 copper nails.
While walking to the Cathedral, we passed what appeared to be a dive bar (Pinkie Master’s Lounge) in a small, non-descript building and, of course, I returned the next day to check it out.
It was late morning and the only person in the bar besides me was, Francine, the bartender, a nice woman who briefed me on the rich history of this watering hole and also the incredible amount of Pabst Blue Ribbon customers consume.
SavannahBest.com states, “If you love authentic personalities and blemished history, there is no better spot than Pinkie Master’s.” I was delighted to discover this bar on my own without prior knowledge of Pinkie’s gravitas! Continually rated as the best dive bar in Savannah, Pinkie’s Master Lounge has held this mantra for decades. Most recently, in March of last year, it was voted the third best bar in the South by Southern Living Magazine.
“They haven’t changed the price of the drinks in more than seven years, the Stars and Bars has been draped over the alcohol since the 1960s, the walls are lined with memorabilia that’s been added and left to gather dust for decades, the bar has duct tape covering holes — and the patrons wouldn’t have it any other way.” (At least in April, the Confederate flag still hung above the bar.)
As I was having a very cheap PBR (the bar’s beer-of- choice and talking to Francine, I looked down and saw the following metallic plaque on the bar where I just happened to sit:
Our walking-tour guide had told us that Savannah has the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the US – it is a big holiday with the schools dismissed. According to Francine, on March 17, 1978, President Carter during his first term, was in the city and came to see Pinkie – a long-term friend and major supporter during his campaign. He sat in that very seat although she didn’t know if he had a beer.
And it may be legend rather than fact, but the 3/4/13 edition Savannah Morning News also reported:
“As the oldest running watering hole downtown and one made famous when President Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy while standing on the bar…..”
Another historic landmark to see (and tour) in Savannah is the Green-Meldrum House. Built in 1853, the impressive American black walnut in the entry area is supplemented by silver-plated doorknobs, hinges, keyhole escutcheons and covers. There is an amazing spiral stairway to the second floor and each room has ornate chandeliers, marble mantles and large mirrors.
The original owner of the mansion invited General William Tecumseh Sherman to use the mansion as his headquarters in 1864 on his “March Through the South” and from the house in December, 1864, he sent President Lincoln a telegram offering the City of Savannah as a Christmas gift.
Our second night, we had dinner at another historic establishment (the building was built in the early 1800’s as a cotton warehouse) – The Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern – right on the Savannah River. They had an excellent menu including black-eyed pea and ham soup, steaks, shrimp and grits. After reading a “Daily Meal” description of my go-to breakfast during the trip – biscuits and gravy, I decided I needed to be a little more healthy, although we did hit the gym earlier that day:
“…….a biscuit topped with cream gravy, usually flecked with chunks of sausage, is basically a heart attack waiting to happen…….Biscuits are usually made with shortening in order to make them light and flaky, which is a major source of trans fat, and cream gravy is basically all fat….. Cream gravy is also a common topping for country-fried steak, resulting in one of the unhealthiest foods man has ever produced.”
And we had an after-dinner drink at another nice bar/restaurant in the Historic District – Churchill’s Pub – a nice selection of beers and British ambiance.
If you are planning to visit Savannah, be certain to rent the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” – filmed on location in Savannah in the early 1990’s. Kevin Spacey does a superb job in one of the lead roles and as stated by “Rotten Tomatoes”:
“a tale of murder in high society….. it brings to life the setting, the rich assortment of characters and the atmosphere of modern Savannah.”
On our last day, we walked around the city and were drawn into one of the two Savannah Rae’s Gourmet Popcorn stores – over 250 flavors of popcorn. We split a small bag of the most popular one – Caramel Sea Salt, having passed on the Oreo Cheese Cake and the Loaded Baked Potato Popcorn.
(I guess I was still harkening back to biscuits and gravy and remembering): “…..popcorn (is) coated in preservatives, salt, and partially hydrogenated oils (also known as trans fats) masquerading as butter…” (The Daily Meal)
And to quench our thirst after ingesting all of that salt, we made our last watering- hole stop in Savannah – The Savannah Distillery Ale House – “Savannah’s Only Craft Beer Bar,” an advertising claim they make that doesn’t seem credible…although they do have twenty-one craft beers on tap and ninety-nine bottled beers.
… The great building…….was once a very reputable distilling establishment. The Kentucky Distilling Co. opened in 1904 and as the Temperance Movement gained steam, the company changed ownership and became The Louisville Distilling Co. , which served the Savannah community until 1907. By 1920, Georgia joined the nation in the prohibition of alcohol. Our country saw over 1100 operating distilleries dwindle to a mere 33, producing alcohol for medical purposes only.
With the Distillery Ale House’s closing, the building became Freich’s Pharmacy, operating as a drug store, soda fountain and lunch counter until 1940. Rumor has it that our 2nd floor produced bathtub gin and homemade beer throughout Prohibition years.
In 2008 the Volen Family resurrected Distillery Ale House…..The mahogany topped bar and oak back-bar were crafted, and now features an antique copper still. During construction, various artifacts were unearthed dating back to the American Revolution, including musket balls, bones, dishware, clay pipes and liquor bottles.
Savannah was a fitting final destination to a great trip to the Southeast – a region to which we will return for the history, the culture, the hospitality, the food and, of course, the beer!