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Old Meets New

Don’t let its fabled past fool you; Savannah’s antebellum charm coexists with cool shops, contemporary art and a cutting-edge dining scene.

 

Wormsloe Historic Site’s dramatic tree-lined entrance is the quintessential Savannah selfie backdrop.

 

Housed in a restored antebellum railroad depot, SCAD Museum of Art is as interesting from the outside as it is the inside.

 

Hotel Indigo Savannah Historic District’s plush guest rooms are colorful and contemporary.

 

A classic black-and-white awning marks the entrance to historic resto Vic’s on the River.

 

Although the wallpaper in this hotel vignette appears to have a simple graphic design, a closer look reveals a grid of the city

 

Vic’s on the River is a hot spot for sophisticated Southern dishes like sweet grass mussels, lamb shank and pan-seared jumbo sea scallop. 

A bartender at The Grey shakes up a retro cocktail in the restaurant’s refurbished bus-depot digs.  

Local 11Ten’s intimate bar with custom pendant lights offers guests a warm ambiance as they sip a drink (or two). 

It’s a city draped in Spanish moss and history, where ornate architecture, horse-drawn carriages and quaint cobblestoned squares await at every turn, and yet, Savannah feels more fresh and alive than ever. With a slew of spots that are both rooted in the past and decidedly of the moment, Savannah is full of surprises—and worth a visit in 2017.

Upon arrival, check in at the new Hotel Indigo Savannah Historic District. The building—formerly a 19th century dry goods storage house, and later a general store—now stands as a vibrant boutique hotel with a contemporary lobby and stylish West Elm-esque guest rooms, many offering sweeping views of the Savannah River. Design elements offer subtle nods to the local culture: Think blown-up photos by renowned Savannah College of Art and Design professor Meryl Truett framing the headboards, and perforated chains dangling in the lobby entryway to mimic Spanish moss. The hotel’s Five Oaks Taproom offers farm-to-table cuisine and Georgia-made beer on tap; sit a spell at the sleek bar while mixologist Jason Graham shakes up The Fassbender, his Old Fourth Distillery gin concoction that won the People’s Choice Award at the 2016 Savannah Food & Wine Festival Bartender’s Challenge.

Mere steps away from the Hotel Indigo’s front door lies River Street, a tourist favorite that is best enjoyed with a bowl of shrimp and smoked cheddar grits and a glass of sauvignon blanc in hand at elegant Vic’s on the River, nestled in a former warehouse used by Gen. Sherman’s officers during the Civil War. (Fun fact: The main dining room showcases a map that was hand-drawn by Union soldiers detailing Sherman’s march from Tennessee through Georgia.) With airy interiors and a pretty outdoor patio, Vic’s is a sought-after venue for hosting bridal luncheons, rehearsal dinners, wedding receptions and more.

After lunch, wander over to City Market, the open-air marketplace and bustling epicenter of entertainment and nightlife where the city’s open-container alcohol policy is on full display (read: prime people-watching). Just beyond that is Broughton Street, a shopper’s paradise with local gems like uberchic The Paris Market and in-house coffee shop Brocante; Modern Trousseau’s newly opened bridal flagship; New Orleans-inspired eyewear company KREWE; and Sylvester & Co., a modern general store offering home furnishings, art and gifts.

After exploring block after block of boutiques on Broughton, be sure to end up at The Grey, where pre-dinner drinks and apps are in order. Housed in a handsomely restored former Greyhound Bus terminal (hence the name), the diner evokes the glamour of the 1930s, with dapper bartenders eager to pour vintage cocktails like Savannah Planter’s Punch (Jamaican rum, cognac, lime and pineapple) and prepare a board piled high with savory nibbles like Benton’s ham and cheddar.

For dinner, a quick Uber ride lands you at The Olde Pink House, a Colonial mansion that’s now one of Savannah’s most popular dining spots, and for good reason: With sophisticated Southern cuisine and a casual yet upbeat setting (the nightly live entertainment in the basement tavern is a must), it’s the perfect blend of historic and happening. Don’t forget to take your drinks to-go!

The next morning, drive to Back in the Day Bakery, an eclectic, old-school spot for mouthwatering oversize biscuits, delectable baked goods and espresso from 2015 James Beard nominees Griffith and Cheryl Day (check out the latter in Grace Bonney’s popular coffee-table tome, In the Company of Women). From there, continue on to Wormsloe Historic Site, where the entrance lined with oak trees dripping in Spanish moss will take your breath away. Walking trails along the marshy riverbanks abound for those looking to burn off a few of those breakfast calories.

But when it is time to replenish, lunch at The Wyld Dock Bar is something all visitors should add to their bucket lists. On sunny days, it’s a waterside haven for sipping Pain Killer slushies, noshing on shrimp ceviche and pan-seared local catch, chatting with the friendly waiters—even playing a round or two of bocce ball. Owner Brad Syfan, an Atlanta transplant, has transformed the former fried-seafood shack into a restaurant that retains its low-key vibe, but now serves high-quality, superfresh fare to elevate the experience.

Back in the heart of downtown Savannah, spend the afternoon exploring award-winning SCAD Museum of Art, which mounts more than 20 exhibits each year by art-world luminaries—including an Emerging Artist Gallery dedicated to alumni—in addition to its permanent works ranging from the Walter O. Evans Collection of African-American Art to the SCAD Costume Collection. The museum building itself is something to admire—constructed in 1853, the original walls feature handmade Savannah gray bricks, forming the oldest surviving antebellum railroad depot in the country.

Catch an Uber to the swanky Local 11Ten for drinks as dusk settles in. Mixologist Brad Ciechanowski’s innovative libations—like Apples to Apples, a mix of Papa’s Pilar dark rum, black tea and ginger served warm in a hollowed-out apple—are as beautiful as they are bizarre.

A final stop at Asian-fusion hot spot The Vault Kitchen & Market satisfies for dinner, with a buzzing see-and-be-seen atmosphere to boot. The name, of course, hints at the restaurant’s previous life as a local banking institution that served Savannahians for more than 50 years. Like everything in the city, it has evolved without neglecting its past—and has an energy that keeps locals and visitors alike coming back for more.

Romance on the River
Plan a Valentine’s Day rendezvous at one of these intimate Savannah hideaways.

The Vault at The Olde Pink House
Off of the basement tavern is a bank vault-turned-wine cellar just large enough to fit a two-top table, making it one of the most exclusive date-night spots in the city. Couples who book the private room will dine among vintage bottles and more than a dozen flickering candles. But if you’re counting on a Feb. 14 reservation, don’t hold your breath—staff say the room is on a yearslong waitlist for the in-demand day.

Mata Hari’s
Bypass the rowdy bars on River Street and slip into this sexy 1920s-era speak-easy for a nightcap. The only catch? You must present a key (or password), typically by securing an invitation from a member with a key. Once inside, expect sultry live jazz tunes, servers in tuxedo bodysuits and fishnets, and crimson velvet couches for lounging.

Perch at Local 11Ten
The chic restaurant’s rooftop bar feels like a magical escape to a grown-up treehouse. Complete with heaters and white-cushioned sofas, the spot is cozy even on winter nights—sip a glass of mulled wine as you sit among Spanish moss and twinkling white lights.