Savannah is a hard-drinking town, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day. Visitors expecting a Bible Belt atmosphere are sometimes surprised— often, it must be said, pleasantly so—at Savannah’s high tolerance for intoxication and its associated behavior patterns. A few years ago a city councilman decided he’d had a few too many and simply got a ride home from an on-duty cop. The ability to legally walk downtown streets with beer, wine, or a cocktail in hand also contributes to the overall joie de vivre.
A party here is never far away any night of the week, so it makes sense to begin this section with a close, loving look at the bars, pubs, and taverns that are the heart of Savannah’s social scene and really make it tick. Bars close in Savannah at 3 a.m., a full hour later than in Charleston. One catch: Due to Georgia’s notorious blue laws, establishments that serve alcohol that do not derive at least 50 percent of their revenue from food may not open on Sundays. A city-wide indoor smoking ban is in effect and you may not smoke cigarettes in any bar in Savannah.
Bars and Pubs in Savannah
Uncharacteristically, Savannah now sports several good hotel bars, and chief among them is no doubt Rocks on the Roof (102 W. Bay St., 912/721-3800, daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m.) atop the Bohemian Hotel Savannah on the waterfront. In good weather the exterior walls are opened up to reveal a large wraparound seating area with stunning views of downtown on one side and of the Savannah River on the other. The crowd is a fun mix of locals and visitors.
Savannah’s best dive—and I mean that in the nicest way—is Pinkie Masters (318 Drayton St., 912/238-0447, Mon.–Fri. 4 p.m.–3 a.m., Sat. 5 p.m.–3 a.m.). Named for a legendary local political kingmaker, Pinkie’s is a favorite not only with students, artists, and professors but also with lawyers, journalists, and grizzled war vets. This is where Jimmy Carter, ironically a teetotaler, stood on the bar and announced his candidacy for Georgia governor. The service is very informal; bartenders often finish their shift and simply take their place on a barstool with the customers. Think of Hang Fire (27 Whitaker St., 912/443-9956, Mon.–Sat. 5 p.m.–3 a.m.) as Pinkie’s, the new generation. Only a few years old, this Whitaker Street haunt, occupying the site of downtown’s last strip bar, is already one of the most popular bars in town and, like Pinkie’s, caters to a wide range of people who seem to get along in more or less perfect harmony. Trivia nights on Tuesdays are a hoot.
One of the hottest hangouts downtown is The Distillery (416 W. Liberty St., 912/236- 1772), located in, yes, a former distillery. As such, the atmosphere isn’t exactly dark and romantic—it’s sort of one big open room—but the excellent location at the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Liberty Street, the long vintage bar, and the great selection of beers on tap combine to make this a happening spot. The real hipsters hang out in ironic fashion drinking PBRs at the American Legion Bar (1108 Bull St., 912/233-9277), located in, yes, an actual American Legion post. While the Legionnaires themselves are a straight-laced patriotic bunch, the patrons of “the Legion,” as the bar is colloquially known, tend toward the counterculture. The drinks are some of the cheapest in town. Fun historical fact: The building housing the Legion was the birthplace of the U.S. 8th Air Force during World War II.
The main landmark on the west end of River Street is the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of “The Troubles” you’re on) Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub (117 W. River St., 912/233-9626, daily 11 a.m.–3 a.m.), one of Savannah’s most beloved establishments. KB’s keeps alive the spirit of Irish independence. It’s open seven days a week, with evenings seeing performances by a number of Irish troubadours, all veterans of the East Coast trad circuit. An eclectic mix of travelers, local Irish, military, and sailors keeps this place always interesting and alive. While no one in their right mind goes to an Irish pub for the food, Kevin Barry’s offers a good, solid range of typical fare, including serviceable corned beef and cabbage. Check out the view of the river from the second-floor “Hall of Heroes,” featuring tons of military memorabilia and 9/11 tributes.
Don’t get too excited about the “rooftop dining” advertised at Churchill’s Pub & Restaurant (13–17 W. Bay St., 912/232- 8501, Mon.–Fri. 5 p.m.–3 a.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–3 a.m., kitchen until 10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 p.m. Fri.–Sat.), unless you enjoy looking at the sides of other buildings. The fish-and-chips here are among the best in town. The “other” English pub in town, Six Pence Pub (245 Bull St., 912/233- 3151, daily 11:30 a.m.–midnight), is centrally located off Chippewa Square downtown, and though more popular with visitors than with locals, it is still a good place to stop in for a pint on a rainy day. Look for the big red London telephone booth out front.
The only brewpub in Savannah, Moon River Brewing Company (21 W. Bay St., 912/447-0943, Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–midnight, Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.) directly across from the Hyatt Regency, offers half a dozen handcrafted beers—from a pale ale to a stout and all points between.
Gay and Lesbian Bars in Savannah
Any examination of gay and lesbian nightlife in Savannah must, of course, begin with Club One Jefferson (1 Jefferson St., 912/232-0200) of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame, with its famous drag shows, including the notorious Lady Chablis, upstairs in the cabaret, and its rockin’ 1,000-square-foot dance floor downstairs. Cabaret showtimes are Thursday–Saturday 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., Sunday 10:30 p.m., and Monday 11:30 p.m. Call for Lady Chablis’s showtimes. As with all local gay nightclubs, straights are more than welcome. A friendly, kitschy little tavern at the far west end of River Street near the Jefferson Street ramp, Chuck’s Bar (301 W. River St., 912/232- 1005, Mon.– Wed. 8 p.m.–3 a.m., Thurs.–Sat. 7 p.m.–3 a.m.) is a great place to relax and see some interesting local characters. Karaoke at Chuck’s is especially a hoot, and they keep the Christmas lights up all year.
Live Music and Karaoke in Savannah
Despite its high-volume offerings, the hardcore and heavy metal club The Jinx (127 W. Congress St., 912/236-2281, Mon.–Sat. 4 p.m.–3 a.m.) is a friendly watering hole and probably the closest thing Savannah has to a full-on Athens, Georgia, music club. Shows start very late here, never before 11 p.m. and often later than that. If you’re here for the show, bring earplugs. The other live rock club of note in Savannah is Live Wire Music Hall (307 W. River St., 912/233-1192, Mon.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–3 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–3 a.m.). The music is on the ground floor, while the second floor has a bar and a few pool tables.
Savannah’s undisputed karaoke champion is McDonough’s (21 E. McDonough St., 912/233-6136, Mon.–Sat. 8 p.m.–3 a.m., Sun. 8 p.m.–2 a.m.), an advantage compounded by the fact that a lot more goes on here than karaoke. The kitchen at McDonough’s is quite capable, and many locals swear you can get the best burger in town. Despite the sports bar atmosphere, the emphasis here is on the karaoke, which ramps up every night at 9:30 p.m., and a very competent group of regulars never fails to entertain. The crowd here is surprisingly diverse, racially and socioeconomically mixed, featuring lawyers and students, rural folks and Rangers in equal numbers.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Charleston & Savannah.