Scarlett O’Hara was born 150 years too soon to hang out with the party crowd that fills downtown’s rooftop bars every night and patrols the hangouts and beaches on Tybee Island. But not you.
An hour by air or three to four by car from Atlanta (depending on where you live and whether you consider speed limits absolutes or advisories) deposits you in the revitalized heart of the Hostess City.
No matter what you think you know about Savannah, it’s more than “The Book” (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt) and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade bacchanalia.
Here are six reasons to run down there this weekend or any weekend. We could have come up with 50 or more. If we missed your favorite excuse, let us know.
1) COCKTAILS TO GO
Now here’s the way to do open carry. Ask your friendly bartender (try the HangFire Bar on Whitaker Street) to pour your leftover Moon River brew or Scorpion Tea into a plastic glass, and you’re ready to amble or pedal to your next stop. Yes, we said pedal. Savannah Slow Ride offers 100 percent pedal-powered, eco-friendly, 15-person bicycle tours. One of your options is the pub crawl. Don’t stray too far away from the nightspots on River and Bay streets, though. The open-container law applies only in the downtown Historic Distric
The past is an inextricable part of Savannah’s present, so you should expect that some of its long-departed citizens are still hanging around. A ramble at dusk through the Colonial Park Cemetery at Abercorn and Oglethorpe streets, can raise the hairs on the back of even the most rational person’s neck.
The more glamorous Bonaventure Cemetery doesn’t have this 264-year-old burial ground’s history of murder, voodoo and grave desecration that the 264-year-old Colonial does, nor its nearby ancient dueling ground.
You might lose track of time wandering among the gravestones of Savannah’s departed, but beware! The gates are locked at 8 p.m., and those yellow-fever victims buried in the 1700s don’t make comfortable nighttime companions.
If you exit pursued by a phantom, seek shelter on a nearby porch painted an ethereal blue. Lowcountry legend holds that “haint blue” or “Savannah blue” repels restless spirits because the color reminds them of water or heaven.
3.) PARTY, PARTY, PARTY
The city that loves to party moves from one festival to the next without stopping. Three that are worth marking your calendars:
Savannah Film Festival. Oct. 25-Nov. 1. If the Savannah College of Art and Design didn’t launch Savannah’s reputation as a film-friendly town, it certainly paved the way. SCAD hosts film screenings, parties, panel discussions and lots of celebrity-spotting in its lovingly restored Trustees Theatre and elsewhere.
Savannah Book Festival. Feb. 12-15, 2015. This free, four-day event brings in celebs of a literary bent in order to get more people reading, writing and talking about books and ideas. It also sponsors author events periodically throughout the rest of the year.
Savannah Stopover. March 5-7, 2015. Forget about snagging tickets for South by Southwest. SXSW comes to you via the Savannah Stopover. This multi-venue music festival began as an oasis where small indie bands traveling to Austin for SXSW could pull off I-95, catch some Z’s and play a gig or two (and make a few bucks for gas and food, too). It has since taken on a life and a buzz of its own.
Need a break from the tourist rush? Brush up your Hebrew and view one of the rarest religious artifacts in a city full of churches. It’s the 15th-century Torah printed on deerskin, a treasure of Congregation Mickve Israel since its founding in 1733. You can see the Torah, and read from it if you remember anything from Hebrew school, on 45-minute tours that include the elegant sanctuary (10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-4 p.m. Monday-Friday).
Skip the malls, and stroll the Broughton Street shopping district, which mixes familiar chains and small, locally owned ateliers that sell the kind of merchandise you really can’t get back home. Three places to linger:
The Paris Market & Brocante. This home décor and accessories shop revives the nearly lost art of window dressing with ever-changing displays. Give yourself at least an hour to poke through the shop’s collection of candles, soaps, furniture, lighting, specialty foods, books, kitchenware, linens and oddments from hither and thither.
Nourish Savannah. This might be the best-smelling shop in the city. Owners Shoshanna and Corey Walker sell their own small-batch soaps along with carefully curated lines for face, baby, bath, aromatherapy and candles. If the Broughton Street location gets too busy, visit the other shop a few miles southeast in the Sandfly neighborhood.
shopSCAD. An easy walk south of Broughton Street brings you to a shop that’s worth the weekend trip all by itself. SCAD students, grads, staff and faculty make all of the merchandise — cutting-edge fashions, jewelry, home goods, handbags, prints, sculpture and fiber art. Students usually run the cash registers and are a fun bunch of people to chat with as you browse.
They’re everywhere, especially in the hotels along Bay and River streets just up from the Savannah River.
The city’s swellest new hotels have chic overlooks where guests can toast sunsets and passing cargo ships and watch from a safe distance as tourists stream up and down from the riverfront. But even workaday hotels like the Holiday Inn Express on Bay Street and restaurants like Fiddler’s Crab House give guests their own rooftop havens. You might also want to check out Rocks on the Roof at the Bohemian Hotel, the Top Deck at the Cotton Sail Hotel or Casimir’s Lounge at the Mansion on Forsyth Park. Cheers!