Updated: Jul 8
Southern, sleepy and savory
John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil made Savannah equally famous and infamous. The latter, in my opinion, stems from the city’s characterization as a town full of idiosyncratic characters that drink an awful lot. This is reinforced by characters in the book claiming that “Savannah has always been wet…even when the rest of Georgia was dry" (a reference to openly flaunting prohibition laws in the 20s). One only needs to walk the Savannah riverfront for evidence of widespread imbibing - take-away "bevvies" are sold at most bars along River Street. This is a party city, to be sure, but finding quirky characters as portrayed in the book is much more difficult.
More easily found are shady, serene oases in many parts of the historic district, most of which are located in one of the city’s 22 historic squares. These squares are a singularly defining element of the city, radiating composure, serenity and grandeur. Churches and stately homes that contribute to the dignity of each space surround most squares, as do majestic oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A one-way vehicular circulation system seems to discourage traffic, which adds to the sense of tranquility that permeates most squares.
A half-day walking tour of the squares is a perfect introduction to the distinctive architecture and culture of Savannah. The more interesting to us were Lafayette Square with its fountain and views of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and Forsyth Park, for a grand fountain and terrific people watching. The more prominent live oaks were found at Columbia Square, Orleans Square and Franklin Square.
Another theme of Berendt’s novel is a belief in the occult. Many Savannah tours leverage the city’s fame as one of the most haunted in America to seek a rendezvous with the paranormal in mansions, graveyards and bars. We opted for a ghostly bar crawl as this seemed a good way to celebrate two types of spirits in one adventure! We were not disappointed as our tour took us to some very spooky spots with take away libations.
But if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that any travel involves eating (as well as finding ways to run off the indulgences the next day). Savannah is a supreme southern dining experience and we were not disappointed by the local specialties – shrimp & grits, fried green tomatoes, baked oysters and pimento cheese. The highlight was the menu at Husk, which changes regularly so that the kitchen can offer the freshest, in season produce from the region. The inspiration starts with a clever cocktail offering as well as an interesting list of wines by the glass. We were very impressed by the chicken liver pate on the restaurant's signature hearth sourdough bread, and the magic continued with an unusual Caesar made with ribbons of fresh squash, followed by a pecan tortellini that was sublime.
Savannah's Prohibition museum bears mentioning as a unlikely gem of an attraction for its entertaining interpretation of the Prohibition era. The exhibits focus not only on 1920s Savannah, but also explore the historical significance of the time within a national context. This museum was a treat and deserves to be recommended.
Without question, our experience of a long weekend in Savannah validates its reputation as the Hostess City!
Note: I am not being compensated for my mention in this post of the various dining establishments and tourist attractions. I am simply a satisfied customer.