The Southern States have been good to us in the past; New Orleans, Nashville and Memphis all ranked highly on our list of favourite trips. So when it came time to find somewhere to escape to this year we figured why not try another southern gem – Savannah.
Checking out Savannah’s amazing tourism website supported our hunch pretty quickly; there was plenty of history to explore and by chance the exact dates we were able to go (my wife is a public high school teacher with limited travel windows) happened to coincide with the Savannah Stopover Music Festival’s dates. So, when we were able to score a great rate with US Airways for a quick flight down we were sold.
Speaking of US Airways it’s pretty thrifty – it felt more like riding a Greyhound bus in fact – but they were fast, efficient and after a quick layover in Washington DC (where we saw the Washington Monument, White House and Lincoln Memorial all from the tarmac; ooooh!), we were in Savannah. It was 3 degrees (Celsius) and raining. Perhaps the infamous polar vortex had decided to join us for the trip down south but frankly it was still a vast improvement over the -20 degree weather we in Toronto. So with umbrellas in hand and bundled in sweaters and coats we checked into our beautiful historic hotel, The Marshall House.
Our Queen room was on the third floor of this stunningly restored and storied building that first opened in 1851 (with past uses including serving as a Union Hospital during the Civil War). The detailed restoration work in each room – our favourite likely being the claw foot tub) truly made us feel as though we’d stepped right into the building’s past (albeit a past with a flat screen tv and wi-fi). After freshening up and grabbing a quick, delicious craft pint at World of Beer, we were off to our first Stopover venue for the night, the over 100 year old Knights of Columbus Hall. St. Paul & The Broken Bones warmed us up quickly with their funky horn backed southern soul. From there we decided to skip over to another incredible venue, the Congress Street Social Club. First and foremost, we loved this place right from the get go, amazing staff, a gigantic bourbon wall, an intimate stage and the best damn smoked wings we’d ever had! Great sets from The Silver Palms and their young Georgian Strokes sound, The Black Cadillacs, and J. Roddy Watson & The Business cemented a solid first night for us. But of course we couldn’t just stop there so we hit Savannah’s answer to Toronto’s The Bovine Sex Club for a nice heavy night cap set from KYLESA and their amazingly loud double drum setup.
That was just the first 12 hours.
We woke up still charged from the fun of our first night and decided to grab a quick coffee (with a cafe on nearly every block this is very easy in Savannah) before exploring what we both agreed has to be one of the most beautiful walking cities we have ever seen. We also discovered The Distillery which (when paired with our stop at World of Beer the night before) tipped us off that Savannah shares Toronto’s love of local craft beer. Not only that, they are also getting pretty good at it too with a big focus on hoppy IPAs and flavourful stouts that may even rival some of our beloved Ontarian beers. From there we warmed up for the night with Sauna Heat back at the Congress Street Social Club before grabbing a quick and delicious burger at B&D Burgers. Then it was back to Knights of Columbus to catch our fellow Torontonians July Talk. I swear it isn’t patriotic pride making me say this – they absolutely put on the best show we saw that weekend, and probably one of the best shows we’ve ever seen (high praise given our pretty decent list of shows between the two of us). The raw energy the band expelled managed to convert the audience into instant fans that night, it was the sort of show you all leave knowing you’ll never be lucky enough to see them in that small of a venue again. Following up July Talk were some more Canadians The Belle Game, who’s haunting electric pop felt so oddly perfect a soundtrack to send us off into the cool Savannah night.
We woke up to weather that was finally co-operating and decided to play movie tourists for breakfast by checking out Clary’s Cafe, or as you may remember it the diner in which John Cusack meets some of the locals in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. While it was an absolute zoo inside the staff could not have handled the chaos better or made us feel more welcome and tended to. The food was delicious, the portions were overly generous and the amazing diner coffee was a perfect friend for my fuzzy head from the previous evening. With the weather warming we decided to head on over to the beautiful Moon River Brewery Beer Garden for an amazing afternoon of music in the sun. Velvet Caravan and their Eastern European Bluegrass sound (no really) kicked off the afternoon just right followed by the equally entertaining (loved the one mic setup) local indie Bluegrass band, City Hotel. Properly warmed up – having tried most of the brews on offer – we were ready for Austin’s amazing Wild Child who stole our hearts a little with their beautiful indie folk set. Lastly to close out the afternoon – set against a beautiful dusk sky – the wonderfully moving southern folk sound of Hurray for The Riff Raff. To let the ringing in our ears subside a wee bit we stepped away from the festival and out to Savannah’s second oldest restaurant, The Crystal Beer Parlor. Have I mentioned Savannah’s doing the whole craft beer thing pretty well? Well fed and fuelled we headed back to the festival to catch the creepy indie-psych of Brooklyn based TEEN at Club One (the home of The Lady Chablis, also from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). And with that we decided to turn in for the night and say goodbye to the Stopover.
On Sunday we decided to jump into the more touristy river district of Savannah and explored some incredible antique shops, we had a quick drink at the Pirate House (since 1753!), stopped by and loaded up at the famous Byrd Cookie Company and ended our evening with a Savannah Haunted Pub Crawl where our excellent guide Keely showed us some of the most haunted spots in Savannah that happen to serve alcohol. The absolute highlight of which must have been getting to see the apparently very haunted basement and unfinished second floor of the Moon River Brewery that we had already visited during Stopover. What struck me as even stranger though was that while we were sitting on the patio (located next door) the day before I had wondered aloud what had once been on the site. Well apparently the basement of the brewery in particular had a long and storied history ripe for ghost stories and we had been sitting on top of former tunnels that connected to that very same basement.
You were spooky indeed Savannah but your craft beer, incredible architecture, delicious food, southern hospitality and amazing music were what we’ll truly remember.