Savannah, Georgia’s reputation as the crown jewel of the Old South – full of haunted Gothic mansions, trees hung with moss and implausibly syrupy Southern accents – has been crystallized in people’s minds, thanks to iconic Hollywood films like Forrest Gump. But in recent years, the sleepy southern dame has transformed into a vibrant, art-filled city that is attracting young sophisticates from Atlanta, Boston and Washington, DC.
potent reason for this change is the Savannah College of
Art and Design (SCAD). With more than
10,000 students, many from outside the United States, SCAD occupies 70
renovated historic buildings in downtown Savannah and its influence can be felt
everywhere. Seven SCAD art galleries complement the 1886 Telfair Museum, the south’s first public art
museum with a large collection of European masters. In 2006, the Telfair opened
an acclaimed modern expansion and houses works from
Hans Holbein to Jasper Johns.
In the Savannah of years past, most visitors’ attention was focused on the city’s 22 historic squares -- picturesque parks surrounded by 19th-century
mansions embroidered with wrought iron accents. The new Savannah is centred around Broughton Street, the city’s original shopping thoroughfare, and
Market, a pedestrian mall that encompasses Savannah’s first retail area. Broughton Street was once blighted with boarded-up storefronts, but the
core is now chockablock with stores, nightclubs and restaurants.
Sylvester & Co Savannah, a branch of the
eco-minimalist Hamptons, New York retailer, attracts a steady stream of new Savannah urbanites
and faux-hawked, black-rim-bespectacled millennials. There are also several vintage
clothing stores, including a branch of Atlanta’s Clothing Warehouse and the Savannah Bee Company, a shop filled with products from
At night, music ranging
from nouveau country to thrash rock leaks from the doorways of clubs,
restaurants, tea rooms and hookah lounges along Broughton Street. Most weekends, packs of partygoers roam the streets until the wee
hours, satiated with art, food, music and plenty of adult beverages to wash it
all down. The Crypt, a pub and dance club on Broughton,
is decorated with candles and skulls, but also has a surprising menu of delicious
sustainably-produced food, like locally caught shrimp. There is also a wide-ranging
beer selection with microbrews such as Fat Tire, but try the Hobgoblin with a
touch of Framboise for something a little different.
Do not be tempted by low rates at
“convenient” Midtown motels. Book your hotel in the historic district, where parking
is scarce, but you can walk to the clubs, restaurants and shops. Two chic newcomers are
the Avia, a trendy boutique hotel, and the Studio Homes at
Ellis Square, a contemporary style timeshare building. The Thunderbird Inn has received a lot of
press, but its location, across from the
Greyhound bus station west of City Market, is still suspect safety-wise. At the Mansion on Forsyth Park, one of hotelier Richard Kessler’s
masterpieces, the eclectic decor embraces both Greek columns and orange crystal chandeliers and the hotel holds more than 400 pieces of contemporary art.
Savannah’s cuisine is not on the same level as Charleston, South
Carolina, or New Orleans,
but it is getting there. Longtime standouts Garibaldi Cafe, Elizabeth on 37th and the Olde Pink House have been joined by new inventive eateries. At the
high end, try 700 Drayton at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, where they pair local shrimp with garganelli pasta and Niman Ranch
bacon. Jazz’d is a tapas bar with a Rat Pack-cool
interior and live music. For artery-clogging southern
standards, try the Lady and Sons, the signature restaurant of Food
Network star Paula Deen. Despite Deen’s
diabetes diagnosis, the food is just as creamy-buttery-salty as ever. For breakfast, there is no better
place than Clary’s Café, a no-nonsense neighbourhood diner. Zunzis has vegan dishes and coffee shop the Sentient Bean is a little slice of Seattle in Savannah, its
tables laden with MacBook computers and organic baked goods.
College of Art and Design operates seven galleries in the city and maintains a calendar
of exhibitions, so you can get a preview of what will be showing
during your stay. Much of the work is very experimental. The newly opened
“main” museum, the SCAD
Museum of Art, has a permanent collection that is augmented by
temporary exhibitions of the best current works. You should definitely make
time for the city’s Telfair Museum and in
particular, it’s gorgeous modern wing designed by architect Moshe Safdie. In City Market, check out the
gallery of local artist Stephen Kasun.
The shopping is laid out along a half-dozen blocks of
Broughton Street and in City Market. Sylvester & Co has everything from zip-up flowered
cowboy boots to retro refrigerators. The Paris Market sells collectibles and housewares that have been gathered worldwide. Beekeeper Ted Dennard parlayed his
fascination with the social insects into a stellar boutique, Savannah
Bee Company, which offers dozens of deliciously packaged
local honeys and soap.
While Savannah has great musical history — it was home
to the composer of Jingle Bells and Johnny “Moon River” Mercer — it did not have much to offer beyond country and blues bands until fairly recently. At Casimir’s Lounge, jazz combos play Sinatra and standards while cigar smokers retreat to the rooftop terrace
overlooking Forsyth Park to sip their Scotch. SubZero is a faux ice bar located in a
basement. Everything is white, from the fur-trimmed minis worn by the hostesses
to igloo-esque walls and a mounted caribou head. The crowd starts young and
gets younger as the night goes on. On Congress Street, 51 Degrees is a three-story dance club with very
loud hip-hop, salsa and house music.