Savannah is a Georgia coastal city, although you have to drive to the beach since Tybee Island is the nearest place to really swim because of all the paper mills saturating the environment here with a thick stink on humid days and possible radiation contamination in the water (not to mention an atom bomb lost during World War II that’s off the coast somewhere). This is to say that Savannah is actually about ten miles upriver of the Atlantic, but any reasonably unfocused atlas will convince its reader that salt air is more than just proximous. The downtown borders the south edge of the Savannah River along River Street, which one can imagine is primarily attended by serious tourists and shore-leave military. Across this river only a thin strip of island separates Georgia from the horrors of South Carolina.
The urban geography is based on a ward system, and if you call it a grid you will be flogged. The wards center around sixteen beautiful, open, public squares, each given over to its own historical title and looped by four tour buses every half hour. The easiest way to describe Savannah’s layout is as it radiates from River Street to the south, since the street numbers ascend in this direction and the quality of living changes in strange ways. River Street actually sits pretty well below the rest of the city and is a kind of stone boardwalk. Two stories up precarious cobbled steps is Bay Street to the south, a major downtown thoroughfare running East-West about eight degrees off magnetic north. If this is not yet confusing the next street south is the major commercial strip called Broughton Street, where (as in most other cities) you will find things like the Gap and Starbucks and Banana Republic in case you like to go new places for the same shit. Next come Oglethorpe and Liberty streets, the last of the downtown.
Already you are in the Historic district, where beautiful estate homes filled with ghosts and rich people surround every one of the myriad squares. Don’t trip on the bricks, they’re uneven because they’re old. About a half mile south again the buildings are no less historic, but very much less developed. From about 30th Street to 40th street is a strip of ghetto that is really quite bad as far as ghettoes go, but not as bad as it has been. On either side of Whitaker (a north-south axis that runs straight into downtown) along 35th Street we still have problems with Bloods and Cryps and incessant barking dogs. Next thing you know you’ve hit Victory street and once again enormous, palatial estates dominate, flying patterns off their balconies that remember the War of Northern Agression like it was yesterday.
Following other longitudinal axes like Habersham or Abercorn away from Savannah’s core will bring you in no time flat to the liminal purgatory so essential to modern life: the strip mall suburb. With frightening alacrity this exterior zone surrounds the city, and is rather less attractive than even the midnight BP parking lot would admit to. So it goes something like this: Image, History, Ghetto, Money, Commerce in a stratigraphic layering.
Flora and Fauna
Savannah is a breeding ground for giant roaches called Palmetto bugs and parasitic plants whose most notable variant is the Spanish Moss that is the pride of hobby horticulturalists for its droopy omnipresence that canopies the entire city in either a soft blanket of natural strands or a thinly veiled image of the underside of Hephaestus’ scrotum (depending, I suppose, on your character). This “local flavor” is an import like a toad plague, but looks good in postcards and movies and does in fact set the city apart from more metropolitan places that boast things like elevated trains in lieu of giant oak branches. Along these branches sometimes crawl rodents we have tentatively identified as Norwegian roof-rats, which the exterminator has assured us drink water like human beings and must go outside to die rather than crawling under our refrigerator and making terrible gurgling noises as their stomachs rot with poison.
In the water you will find all manner of crustacea, alligators, dolphins and according to local biplane reports a frenzy of sharks just short of the body surfers. I have yet to see a shark, but am certain that upon viewing Open Water I will not return to the shore. Other notable denizens include crack dealers and emo kids. Only one has been and will be here longer than the other. Neither can be avoided by simply staying in doors. In fact I think sharks and dolphins are the only local life that can be avoided this way. Also if you are unfamiliar with what it is like to wear mosquitoes like a hairshirt, come prepared to do battle.
War, fire, slavery, depression and good times. (Maybe I’ll fill in later about Oglethorpe the man and his plan and Sherman’s march, the fact that the city is a raw-material hub and an urban-planning disaster etc. but right now there’s just a serious need for a Savannah wu, so I’m writing what I know)
Drinking, drinking, drinking
Um. . . culture, right. There’s no culture here that’s not done better in New Orleans, no scene here that’s not more hyped in Atlanta, no clubs here that aren’t trashier in Miami, and no food here that one weeps tears of joy for. But why does a city have to have a thing it does best? Savannah’s got the second best St. Patty’s day, and it’s the second most haunted city. What’s the difference when you’re drinking? Notable establishments for putting back drinks like there is no tomorrow include:
- Pinkie Master’s; where the politicking never stops and the smoke is so heavy your eyes feel like sun-burnt tinted-windows. Here there be Pabst.
- The Bar Bar; in which the trashiest hotsgusting secretaries shake rump to contemporary hip hop classics in the hope of luring jabronis to their duplex.
- Notorious: Formerly known as Stoggies, sure to change names soon. Wear a sophisticated button-up or a modern-cut monochrome skirt. Prada a plus. Expect misinterpretable glares and stiff liquor drinks. Also features a humidor.
- B & B; Not to be confused with Bar Bar. A pool-hall with terrible food and touch-screen games. Just try and beat Fornicator at erotic photo-hunt! Free pool every Thursday and infrequent bands.
- The Jinx; The only Metal / Indie / Hard Rock / Improvisational What-Have-You. Cheapest canned beer and most confusing bathrooms. Double thumbs up! Saw a great band called Spurioso or something (probably) and they rocked!
- The Sand Gnats; this is Savannah’s baseball team and they’re terrible, but thirsty Thursday has proven to be a community staple with two dollar drinks and five dollar bleacher seats.
- Then there’s Frozen Paradise which I’m not allowed in, Venus DeMilo if you like garden parties and wine, O’Connel's which lately features only sobbing acoustic pap and draft Guiness, and finally the true test of anyone’s stomach: the Whitaker Street Saloon. Tell me how it goes.
Okay, some food
Try some of the following and /msg me with a reminder that my tastebuds may come alive once more, if only in a distant future where I stop buying Zelda games and Ninja Tune vinyl:
For class go to the Sapphire Grill or The Pink House and dine with cotton money and nouveau riche alike. For novelty and the Low Country Boil go to the Crab Shack and throw shells into a bucket under year-round outdoor Christmas lights or feed any one of the 52 live alligators in the fenced-in pit. If you make it past the city limits go to North Beach Grill on Tybee for delicious fare and people-watching or to Tangos for Caribbean flare and froofy spangled drinks. There are some fairly good Thai and Japanese restaurants, and two decent burger joints you can find for yourself. Mellow Mushroom and Vinnie Van Go-Go’s cater to the stoner in you, ordering a pineapple, Italian sausage and artichoke calzone with a pitcher of Moon River. Of course Mojo Burrito is still open at three in the morning and offering up enormous wrapped bundles of everything nice. Up the road is Shebaz, and you never knew that fish on white bread would be the best thing you ever put down the hatch, but its true. It may not be euro-cuisine, but its all better than what’s cooking at my house. Frozen waffles for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Short for the Savannah College of Art and Design, a private school largely credited for Savannah’s economic turnaround. SCAD owns some ludicrous portion of the downtown (in the area of 20%) and is the single largest provider of jobs and area income due to its wealthy clientele. Tuition is an insane 36 grand a year, a number that will surely be dwarfed in ten more. As a design school its focus is on the arts and it has a phenomenal motion graphics department. Other departments are on the rise. Its sorta like RISD in the souf’. Its impact on the community can not be underestimated, but I am loath to say whether for better or worse. In any case ITS PRESENCE WILL NOT BE DENIED.
Other schools include Armstrong, Savannah State and Savannah Tech, a smattering of debutant finishing schools and a handful of Catholic high schools, as well as the better-than-nothing public educational system here that I will note (without undue cynicism) perpetuates what is referred to as a “cycle of violence”. Much respect to those educators who find themselves working to put an end to it.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; both a book and a movie, cited as the other reason people have taken a recent interest in Savannah (alongside SCAD).
Ghost tours, graveyards and hearse rides. Just because it’s the second most haunted doesn’t mean a lot of effort doesn’t get put into ensuring that it doesn’t sink down to third or fourth. Crypts and myths about catacombs after the yellow-fever epidemic keep the night alive.
Outkast; Big Boi lived here before moving to Atlanta and getting all famous. That’s fun. It’s the dirty south. Fun.