Savannah may be a picture-perfect Georgia town with sprawling oak trees and Spanish moss, but it’s also a cultural playground, boasting some of the nation’s most inspiring art galleries, fashion-forward thrift stores, innovative bars, and award-winning restaurants. Lucky for me, I was in town to experience the latter two firsthand, immersing myself in all of the food and drink that the Hostess City of the South has to offer. From traditional to trendy, aperitifs to pralines, here are my top five favorite establishments tailored to five different types of patrons.
City Classic: Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
This is the place to shamelessly put on your fat pants and dive fork-first into fried chicken and 20-plus(!) rotating Southern sides (the marinated cucumbers—a departure from calorie-laden traditions like mashed potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese—were, surprisingly, my favorite). Expect to make new friends as you dine family-style with strangers in a quaint, understated home that’s been serving locals since 1943. And don’t forget to schedule a mid-afternoon nap. You’re absolutely going to need it.
Most Instagrammable: The Grey
The pessimist in me goes into any highly-reviewed dining establishment with the expectation of being underwhelmed or disappointed. Needless to say, I was damn-near shocked when 2019 James Beard Award-winning Best Chef Mashama Bailey’s The Grey (featured on the latest season of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”) was not only as delicious and memorable as critics say, but my favorite meal during the entire Southern road trip. Perhaps its biggest strength is taking familiar classics and adding unsuspecting elements, like a steak tartare with pickled turmeric, tuna crudo wrapped in fig leaves, and creamy grits topped with seared foie gras. Every dish was so smart, so well-balanced and refined, but without the pretentiousness of a stuffy three-Michelin star restaurant. Its renovated Greyhound bus station location, which boasts impeccable design details in golds and navy blues, is also worthy of a check-in and tag on Instagram. Eat your heart out, Nate Berkus.
Hidden Gem: Alley Cat Lounge
The lengthy, witty, and educational newspaper bar menu is worth the trip alone. Nestled behind an actual street alley with a hidden door that leads to a basement, Alley Cat offers hundreds of cocktail combinations, from familiar to modern, simple to bizarre, in nearly every spirit you can imagine. Still not sure what to order? The bartenders embody true Southern hospitality by offering to customize any libation based on your alcohol and flavor preferences. Just peachy.
Sweet Spot: Savannah Candy Kitchen
The bustling storefront is a Savannah staple that offers everything your dentist and dietician have warned you to stay away from, including but not limited to retro candy, homemade ice cream, popcorn, peanut brittle, and world-famous pralines. Their gophers (deconstructed versions of a turtle with a caramel patty, chocolate center, and rolled in chopped pecans), however, are the true star. You’ll leave with at least a dozen and regret nothing.
Healthy Recharge: Lost Square Rooftop Bar at The Alida Hotel
Come for the views, stay for the food and drink. The newly-opened Alida Hotel merges Southern charm with modern sophistication in an ideal riverfront location. Its rooftop serves as a perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of sightseeing and eating excessively, offering refreshing fruit-forward cocktails and a light menu that is also great for happy hour. Cheers to you and your health.
Where to Stay: Perry Lane Hotel
It’s no surprise that Perry Lane has quickly earned the reputation as Savannah’s most iconic hotel. I enjoyed my room’s interior design so much that I emailed the manager for the gray and blue paint colors in both the bedroom and bathroom. Beyond feeling inspired in a brilliantly decorated oasis, the hotel goes above and beyond in offering lavish accommodations like a state-of-the-art gym with Peloton bikes, a rooftop pool and bar (Peregrin), The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market, and innovative cocktail lounge The Wayward, all capped with exceedingly friendly service. Its central location also makes it an ideal spot for those exploring the city by foot. I can’t recommend this property enough and am already looking forward to my next visit.