First Person: Savannah
It’s hard not to have a good time in Savannah, Georgia, a city where takeaway cocktails toted around the historic district are de rigueur and a special drinks destination is dedicated to sips straight out of an adult-rated Willie Wonka. Jen’s and Friends on E. Congress Street features sugary cocktails in endless flavors, from Snickers and Heath bar to Rice Krispies treats and tiramisu.
Fun ground central on a recent visit to this romantic riverfront city was undeniably The Brice, a pet-friendly Kimpton hotel close to all of the historic district action, and located a block from the Savannah River. An especially amiable group of wedding guests with green hair, club kid footwear and all-black outfits were in the house for a weekend wedding and typified the city’s vibe of come-one-come-all cool.
The Brice is so dog friendly, it features a cocktail hour for puppies and their people every night in the hotel lobby where you can coo over the assembled fur babies. Our pug Oskar also walked away with an enormous dog biscuit handed out by the front desk staff imprinted with the hotel’s name that made him feel like a rock star (I think). The Brice has an in-house restaurant noted for its brunch, Pacci Italian Kitchen + Bar, but what wooed me were all the delightful public areas, including a stylish art-filled lobby great for lingering over a glass of wine and hallways and a gorgeous courtyard perfect for a late night drink or morning coffee.
Though a stroll on the cobblestone riverfront makes for some interesting people watching (especially if people in off-color T-shirts with the stumbling gait and wind-chapped faces of the definitively pie-faced are your thing), you will probably want to avoid the majority of tourist trap restaurants on that strip. Savannah may not be as renowned a food town as its patrician Southern neighbor Charleston, but it boasts its share of notable spots, both down home and fancified.
Media-star and James Beard-winner chef Hugh Acheson, a Canadian who has mastered the art of thoughtful, revamped Southern cooking, boasts highly regarded restaurants in Athens, Georgia and Atlanta and now The Florence, an Italian restaurant with Acheson’s usual Southern twist, in Savannah. A stylish, cavernous spot housed in a former 1800s ice factory, the space is loaded with the kind of fresh industrial design you’ll want to try in your own home. It’s easy to get in at lunchtime, when the inventive salads and thin pizzas topped with house-made charcuterie make for a satisfyingly foodie lunch.
A short walk away from The Florence, sugar calls in the form of old-fashioned treats like lavender shortbread, red velvet cupcakes, banana pudding and coconut cream pies at Back in the Day Bakery, a light-drenched retro spot that was filled with Japanese tourists and SCAD students when we stopped in. Southern artists like Whitney Stansell and Cedric Smith’s charming pieces decorate the walls and the entire place is buzzing with happy people; little wonder considering the sublime sweetness on offer.
The SCAD Museum of Art, housed in a former railroad depot is worth a walk-through and boasts impressive solo shows of contemporary artists like Carrie Mae Weems and regular fashion-focused shows curated by Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley.
For shopping, uber-talented SCAD students hock their wares at shopSCAD, a cross between a brick and mortar Etsy boutique and an indie gallery with off the chain creativity on view.
Francophiles will lose their minds over the charming sundries from affordable to pricy at the Paris Market, a smartly curated mix of old and new, but don’t miss the basement for covetable antiques and special sales. And the Book Lady Bookstore in Savannah’s historic district is a treasure trove of carefully curated new and used books stacked like cord wood on every available surface. My bibliophile 15-year-old had to be dragged out of its labyrinth shelves and beckoning vintage paperbacks.
A true walking city, Savannah is a town founded on Spanish moss draped squares flanked by gracious antebellum homes, camellias dripping blossoms and a hothouse Southern ambiance, that clashes perfectly with its funky visitors, preponderance of great art and just a touch of bad behavior rubbing elbows with the gentility of Georgia’s oldest city.