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Midnight in the City of Ales & Lagers

The book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and its subsequent film adaptation thrust the once obscure and sleepy town of Savannah, Ga., into the national spotlight.
Photo credit: dailyishphoto.blogspot.com

Visitors flock to the Peach State’s oldest city in search of a connection to the genteel past of antebellum mansions, cobblestone streets, garden squares, fountains, trees draped in Spanish moss and deep Southern hospitality.

Savannah holds a quirky, eccentric charm that quickly endears itself to almost anyone, and its popular downtown historic district – now more beautiful than ever thanks to the restoration of countless historic homes and businesses over the last 20 years – provides an extremely pedestrian-friendly locale. Just over four hours by car from sprawling Atlanta, the city offers its guests an inviting, tranquil environment where life seems unhurried. Whether pausing in a coffee shop, relaxing on a park bench, enjoying a plate of local seafood, or admiring the architecture on a leisurely walk through its 21 squares, Savannah never fails to please. And for lovers of great beer, the city also boasts a variety of personable, Old World-style pubs and restaurants in which to imbibe, eat and relax.

Founded after General James Oglethorpe sailed from England in 1732 with 114 colonists, the city still values its connections to the British Isles. Cobblestones that served as ballast on English ships 280 years ago pave touristy River Street, and the small, coastal town is home to British, Scottish and Irish pubs all within a few blocks of each other (the owners get along marvelously). One of the country’s best brewpubs also calls Savannah home, along with a world-class craft beer bar and a very old-school saloon. It’s a perfect place to head the next time you’re looking for a trip full of history, food and – especially – good beer. Here’s a look at what’s brewing in the old city.

Food, Fermentation and Frights

Moon River Brewing Company, Savannah’s only brewpub, has been cranking out scrumptious house beers and cuisine for over 10 years on the site of the old Savannah City Hotel. Allegedly, 150-year-old ghostly workers and residents of the hotel still roam parts of the building, and it is said that a group of construction workers once fled after an invisible presence tried to push one of them down the stairs. Numerous TV shows have explored the ghostly phenomenon at Moon River over the past few years, but John Pinkerton, Moon River’s co-owner and brewer, does his best to focus on the true attraction of the place – his phenomenal house ales and lagers. Swamp Fox IPA, Captain’s Porter, Wild Wacky Wit, Slo-vannah Pale Ale, Savannah Fest Bier and Claire de Lune Kolsch (a silver medal winner at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival) make up the impressive range of Moon River beers, and a cask-conditioned firkin of one of the ales gets tapped each Thursday afternoon. Pinkerton’s popular Road Trip Hard Cider, produced from over 500 gallons of fresh apple juice from the north Georgia mountains, forms an annual cold weather offering. The menu includes Moon River crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, bayou stuffed shrimp, a Lowcountry crab melt, burgers, ribs, blackened scallops and cheesy crab-stuffed chicken. www.moonriverbrewing.com

British Swagger

The small yet ornate original space occupied by Churchill’s Pub provided the setting for an integral scene in the 1997 movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” based on the book by John Berendt. When the owner, Andy Holmes, closed the bar in 2003 after a kitchen fi re, he began immediately planning a bigger and better version of Churchill’s just around the corner on busy Bay Street. Holmes, a native of Manchester, England, came to Savannah on vacation back in the early 90’s, fell in love with the city and never returned home. Churchill’s impressive layout now includes a massive dark oak main bar, attractive dining rooms, an upstairs terrace and a cellar game room with dart boards and pool tables. Big plates of hearty, traditional English pub fare highlight the food menu. Look for 21 draft lines and more than 50 bottled beers – a selection heavy on the best English, Belgian and American craft ales available. www.thebritishpub.com

A Touch of the Highlands

Molly MacPherson, a great-grandmother of the owners of Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub & Grill, formed the inspiration for this beautiful Scottish-style pub situated just a few steps from Savannah’s popular City Market shopping block. Visitors should note the imposing MacPherson clan crest hanging proudly above the front entrance of the fi ve-year-old pub. Molly’s showcases kilt-wearing bartenders, Savannah’s biggest single malt Scotch selection, eight draft taps and around 40 bottled beers. Highland Brewing Company’s Gaelic Ale, brewed in Asheville, N.C., makes up the keystone of the fi ne drafts, with several English/Scottish craft ales dotting the bottle menu. Grab a fineale to enjoy alongside a tasty meat pie like the steak and Guinness, or instead choose among dishes such as neeps and tatties, stout-battered onion rings, and fish and chips. www.macphersonspub.com

River Street Craic

Traditional Celtic music sets the tone at Kevin Barry’s Pub, a rustic, historic spot on busy River Street. Considered one of the best Irish pubs in the country, Kevin Barry’s books great Irish singers from up and down the East Coast to perform in the pub’s intimate music hall off the main bar area. Nightly music begins around 8 p.m., and there’s no better way to end a splendid day in Savannah than with lively tunes and a pint of fresh Guinness at Kevin Barry’s. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale also flows from the draft taps and goes well alongside the mouth-watering chicken wings, spicy shrimp and Irish stew. www.kevinbarrys.com

Craft Beer and Culinary Bites

In 2008, Michael Volen and his son, Ben, opened The Distillery, Savannah’s premier craft beer gastropub, in a building that around a century ago housed the Kentucky Distilling Company. Prohibition killed the distillery,but the upscale pub now pours beer from 21 taps and around 80 bottles, concentrating on the best selections from American and Belgian craft breweries, with no American standard lagers or light beers on the menu. The draft list changes daily, and the eclectic slate of dishes include wild Georgia shrimp, fish and chips, I.P.A.-soaked onion rings, imperial stout chili and Maryland-style crab cakes. Flat-screen TV’s around the spacious and handsome bar display Prohibition-era silent films, and there is live music most nights. www.distillerysavannah.com




Beers of Our Fathers

Local legend claims that William “Blocko” Manning operated a speakeasy out of the basement of the Crystal Beer Parlor during Prohibition, and the building’s upstairs apartment served as a house of ill repute. These days, this well-known Savannah institution serves up friendly atmosphere, affordable comfort food and a well-stocked bar. Having grown up with the Crystal Beer Parlor, locals crave the pub’s fried oyster sandwich, creamy crab stew, Crystal hot wings with jalapeño lime sauce and double-decker club sandwich. With 15 taps and almost 80 bottled beers, Crystal features mostly domestic beers, with “retro” brands like Pabst, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee served alongside many of the hottest new American craft brews. After the pub suffered a recent closure, Savannah residents Phillip and John Nichols purchased the establishment and reopened it with an expanded beer menu. Considering its name, Phillip thought the place should offer a selection of brews remembered fondly by our fathers, as well as trendy new brands to excite gourmet beer enthusiasts. www.crystalbeerparlor.com