Weekend in . . . Savannah

The historic port town in the US state of Georgia is having a cultural revival

Weekend in... Los Cabos, Mexico Desert, surf and fun outdoor pursuits make for a laid-back Mexican holiday Video Images 36 hours in Savannah, USA; where to eat, what to see and where to go out. Video: The New York Times


Some of Savannah’s best-known attractions – mossy cemeteries, old mansions, ghost tours – give the misleading impression that the city is a macabre vestige of its storied past. In truth, Savannah is alive and kicking: how could it not be when a large swath of the historic downtown enjoys liberal open-container alcohol policies that make “go-cup” a popular term in the local lexicon? More recently, a cultural revival has been converting abandoned properties into everything from craft breweries to a contemporary art museum.

So now Savannah’s antebellum (pre-civil war) beauty of live oaks and elegant squares coexists with cool shops and innovative restaurants. Welcome to the new South.

Friday 3:30pm Artistic energy

The creativity emanating from the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, is on display in a number of galleries scattered around town, but none can compete with the SCAD Museum of Art (admission, $10 or €8.90). In 2011, the museum unveiled an ambitious $26 million expansion that was constructed in the ruins of an antebellum (traditional Southern architectural style) rail depot. The soaring entrance, crowned by a glass-encased tower, leads to galleries exhibiting contemporary works in a wide-ranging array of media. Recently, a collection of Oscar de la Renta gowns curated by André Leon Talley was presented alongside Nari Ward’s solo exhibition of works created with salvaged objects such as shoelaces and used batteries. A separate gallery in the museum is dedicated to works from SCAD alumni.

6:30pm: Georgia gourmet

The local food scene has thankfully evolved from its butter-laden home-cooking roots. For proof, book a table at Local 11ten, a restaurant that’s reimagining Southern cuisine with seafood caught off the coast and vegetables grown on nearby farms. Before dinner, whet your appetite with a basil gimlet ($14) at Perch, the restaurant’s rooftop bar, amid Spanish moss-draped treetops. Then head downstairs to the main dining room, a candlelit space that formerly housed a bank, to dine on seasonal specialties; recent highlights included spicy mussels with house-made chorizo ($15) and a pan-roasted quail splayed atop confit pork belly and creamed Carolina rice ($28).

11pm: Eclectic sips 

Savannah loves its drinks, so there’s no shortage of eclectic places in which to imbibe. In a back alley near the river, an imposing wooden door is the discreet entrance to the speakeasy-style lounge Mata Hari. Crossing this portal means entering a past era where bartenders in risqué costumes pour Martinis behind a handsome bar, and the night’s entertainment might include a burlesque show. Later, join the cast of local characters that haunts Pinkie Master’s Lounge, a dive bar where the jukebox plays obscure ’80s albums and everyone is sipping a PBR tall boy.


10am: Park perks

Start Saturday with a stroll through Forsyth Park, a gorgeous 30-acre expanse whose grand allées attract everyone from dog-walkers to violin-playing buskers. Continue past the grassy fields and the ornate fountain framed by ancient oak trees to the south end, which has hosted the Forsyth Farmers’ Market since 2009. There you’ll find coffee brewed with beans roasted mere blocks away, pecans foraged from Savannah’s backyards, and vendors selling everything from farm-fresh herbs and produce to rice harvested on a colonial plantation across the South Carolina border.

Noon: Down under dining

Sunlight streams through the large windows at the Collins Quarter, an Aussie-inspired cafe that became an instant favourite upon opening in August 2014. The space is gorgeous – cherry-red banquettes, white-marble tabletops, soaring ceilings, exposed-brick walls, mosaic-tiled floors – and there’s seating outside. In true Australian fashion, the baristas are skilled in making velvety flat whites ($3.50). But the kitchen’s even better, turning out plates like citrus-laced smashed avocado on toast topped with a colourful medley of heirloom tomatoes, shaved radishes, microgreens, crumbled feta and a poached egg ($12).

2pm: Craft crawl

Antiquated Prohibition-era regulations that forbid breweries from selling beer on-site have stymied Georgia’s craft beer culture. But three local breweries – all opened to the public in the last two years – sidestep this obstacle by selling souvenir glasses that confer free tastings.

Start a brewery crawl at Service Brewing Co, which is owned and operated by veterans.

Tours of the cavernous facility are overseen by the resident brewery cat Black Hawk, while the balanced Compass Rose IPA is poured from taps under a prominent American flag.

At nearby Southbound Brewing Company, join the crowd sampling easy-drinking brews like the citrussy Scattered Sun Belgian Wit. And if it’s the first or third Saturday of the month, tack on a stop at Coastal Empire Beer Co for a chance to taste the stellar Southern Delight Praline Amber, a rich ale flavoured with Georgia pecans.

4pm: Ikea antidote

Ever wondered where to buy a wooden steamer trunk that very likely crossed the Atlantic in the mid-1800s? Then you’ll be delighted to discover Alex Raskin Antiques, in a rambling four-story mansion that’s in an advanced state of deterioration. Explore once-grand halls that overflow with furniture, art, books, rugs and historical curios. Not everything is in pristine shape, but there are some gems lodged in the chaos.

More modern sensibilities will be better served at 24e Design Co, a sprawling two- story furniture and design store packed with distinctive goods, many made with reclaimed materials, like an old ship porthole repurposed into a one-of-a-kind table.

6:30pm: Smoky seconds 

Satisfying a craving for top-notch, Memphis-style barbecue used to entail an eight-mile drive to the drab strip mall that’s home to Sandfly BBQ. But in February, the family owned restaurant, now run by the classically trained chef and Memphis native Keith Latture, opened a second location in the historic Victorian District steps from Forsyth Park.

The atmospheric new outpost is in the old Streamliner Diner, a vintage diner car with counter seats and cosy booths where you’ll dig into the same delicious pulled-pork sandwiches, beef brisket platters, tender ribs and collards served at the original. Dinner for two costs about $30.

9pm: Show time 

When it comes to live music in Savannah, the conversation starts and stops with the Jinx. This bar may have neo-Goth décor, but the large stage plays host to bands of every stripe, from metal and country to south coast hip-hop. When the show’s over, continue the party at Treylor Park, a rollicking new spot with a backyard beer garden and tongue-in-cheek food menu – PB&J chicken wings, fried-chicken-and-pancake tacos – designed for late-night cravings.


11am: Sweet shops

There’s an irresistible sweetness mixed into many of the shops along Broughton Street. At the Savannah Bee Company, honey specialists will guide you through tastings of white whipped honey and raw honeycomb paired with blue cheese. There are also scores of beeswax beauty products and a new bar that pours samples of mead, the ancient fermented-honey libation.

Nearby, Chocolat by Adam Turoni displays handcrafted confections that are as beautiful as they are unusual, like the “exploding” dark-chocolate truffles filled with Pop Rocks. Then walk over to Leopold’s Ice Cream, with retro décor and dozens of enticing flavours, like Thin Mints & Cream, a nod to the Girl Scouts founder and Savannah native, Juliette Gordon Low.

1pm: Lunch buns

The economical atmosphere may evoke McDonald’s, but Sly’s Sliders and Fries serves made-to-order food created with real culinary skill. At this no-frills restaurant, in an evolving neighbourhood south of the historic district, the featured menu items are the $3 sliders with fillings that include smoked brisket and Italian meatballs. Order several, including at least one flavourful Banh U Banh Mi – a soft toasted bun slathered with cilantro mayo and stuffed with daikon, carrots, cucumber and tempura-fried shrimp.

2.30pm: Island time

It’s easy to forget how close the city is to the Atlantic coast. But hop on Route 80 heading east and in about 20 minutes you’ll be driving over the bridge to Tybee Island. With wide stretches of sandy beach, the tiny barrier island, just over three square miles in size, is a favourite retreat for sun-seekers. Follow signs to the lighthouse, a black-and-white colonial-era tower with panoramic views of North Beach. Less crowded than other parts of the island, North Beach is also ideal for a swim, a stroll or – best of all – a lazy afternoon swing on one of the hanging wooden benches that dot this scenic stretch of Georgia seashore.

Lodging Since opening in the heart of the historic district in 2012, the 151-room Andaz Savannah (14 Barnard Street; savannah.andaz.hyatt.com; from $209) has stood out with its upscale style and generous array of amenities, ranging from an outdoor pool to minibars stocked with free snacks and nonalcoholic drinks.

A newer boutique property nearby is the Cotton Sail Hotel (126 West Bay Street; cottonsailhotel.com; from $169), which opened in May 2014 in an old brick cotton warehouse built in the 1800s. The 56-room hotel has handsome floors in reclaimed pine and a popular rooftop bar overlooking the Savannah River and bustling River Street below.

© 2015 The New York Times Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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