I never thought a press trip, or any trip for that matter, would begin with me sitting in the backseat of an Uber somewhere outside of Macon, Georgia, at two in the morning, with a Backstreet Boys song blasting. Yet that’s the situation my mom and I found ourselves in on what was supposed to be our first night in Savannah. Because we missed our connection out of Atlanta at midnight due to a freak bomb cyclone blowing through the South, we had no choice but to drive the four hours through the night to reach our destination. It kind of set the tone for the entire trip: unexpected, but cozy and undoubtedly memorable.
While amusing, said cyclone must have opened a vortex that unleashed some sort of Murphy’s Law voodoo that wreaked havoc all over our trip, who had arranged everything. We had a nice day Friday, where we toured the upscale and exclusive Ford Plantation and enjoyed a traditional oyster roast with locals, but that’s where the outdoor part of the trip ended. The forecast rightfully predicted rain for all of Saturday and Sunday, forcing us to rearrange our outdoor plans, which happened to be most of the itinerary. No outdoor boat tour along the river, no architectural happy hour walk, no visit to the famous Bonaventure cemetery or lunch picnic.
For most people, this would have been a major bummer. Pouring rain, or in my case, bomb cyclone rain pouring down on what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful walking cities in the country, on the only weekend you’re visiting, is supposed to make you like a place less. And yet, it made me love Savannah more. Yes, I was #blessed with a good attitude and a travel buddy who would have been happy anywhere I took her. But we also happened to be in the one city where the weather could not stifle its charm, only enhance it. The rain forced us (and our American Express Travel & Lifestyle Consultant, who arranged everything) to go off the beaten track, and see Savannah from an inside-out perspective. One that goes further than Instagram influencer-style photos in the main squares and cemeteries.
Savannah by Day (in the Rain)
The poor weather gave us the biggest excuse to indulge in one of the yummiest places to eat and certainly one of the most fun to drink. Our first meal after our near sleepless night was brunch at an eatery called Collins Quarter on our only nice day. We sat inside, so even if it had started raining, it would have been A-OK. It was a Friday, and totally packed. I got a burger and fries and it was the perfect amount of juicy and flavorful. One of my trip mates ordered a Shakshuka bowl which not only looked delicious and colorful, but the portion was huge. It was the perfect meal to have after the literal hell that is spending all evening in an airport and four hours in an Uber.
Back in New York, I try to find restaurants that I call my “go-tos.” These restaurants, where both the food and ambiance are superb, are the places I go on dates with my partner when I don’t feel like trying something new. They are where I take family from out-of-town and the name I drop in Facebook threads when people ask for recommendations in the city. If I lived in Savannah full-time, Collins Quarter would make my list. The restaurant sat across the street from both the famous historical Savannah Theater, right in the middle of three big green squares, including the famous Chippewa Square, and conveniently was just a five minute walk from our hotel, the Perry Lane, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. Great location, check. Great atmosphere, check. Great menu, check. Great prices, check. Really good food, check, check.
Fast forward to Saturday and that’s where the fun picked up. It poured all day and with no signs of letting up, my group decided to do the one thing we knew that would leave us happy: eat more, drink, and then drink some more. We headed down to the river walk which is a mix of bars, restaurants, and tourist shops. Decked in rain-soaked windbreakers and dripping umbrellas, we stopped at Wet Willie’s, a spiked-slushie bar with 16 mash-up flavors named fun things like Monkey Shine and Chocolate Thunder.
Find yourself tipsy and hungry after the slushies? We sure did. After walking over to the City Walk block of the city, which is a neat strip of low and high-end stores, we made our way to the Byrd Cookie Factory and store, drenched but excited. This is where Savannah’s small-town vibes really came through. The business started in 1924 as a bakery run by Benjamin Tillman Byrd Sr. Since then, the shop has transformed into a regional staple with four locations in Savannah and two in Charleston—all still run by Mr. Byrd’s great grand-daughter today. And the store itself actually does feel like going to grandma and grandpa’s house. Think about the cookie jar sitting in your mom-mom and pop-pop’s kitchen. Now, multiply that by hundreds and a multitude of flavors from the chocolate chip to pumpkin and key lime pie, which was my personal favorite.
Amazingly, Byrd Cookie Company is just one of many hometown-style businesses in Savannah. I tried and loved the dry-skin hand cream from Savannah Bee company, which produces food and beauty products from local ingredients (the main being-shock!-honey.) The pumpkin flavored ice cream from Leopold’s Ice Cream was one of the best I’ve ever had. Visiting businesses like these, with a rich history and major Savannah pride made it more than just something to do in the rain. When our leader asked one of the shop ice cream scoopers if more stores would open, she shook her head. It’s hard to keep the authenticity, she replied, we stay in Savannah.
After working up an appetite on a trolley tour with a very knowledgeable guide (who was also born-and-raised in Savannah, and was very proud of that fact,) we were ready for our final night. By the grace of Murphy our group leader got last-minute reservations to The Grey, with Chef’s Table-featured Mashama Bailey as executive chef (she also grew up in the Savannah area.) The entire experience was the epitome of Southern hospitality and upscale food with a comfort twist and filled our bellies ahead of what we’d soon experience as Savannah’s nightlife.
Savannah by Night (in the Rain)
Dear Reader, it’s a miracle that Savannah hasn’t become overrun with rampant bachelorette parties (though there certainly were a few happening there the weekend I went,) because it is one of the most fun places to drink. Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker and find it amazing that I not only could legally walk around with a drink thanks to the open container laws, but restaurants and bars had to-go cups as if leaving without finishing a drink wasn’t an option.
It was kind of ironic. Savannah is home to the longest-running Prohibition Museum in the country, which also made a great indoor activity. But it’s history was reflected outside of the museum, too. We found speakeasy-style bars thanks to the recommendation of the guide and the one we knew we could get into, the Alley Cat Lounge, was in an actual alley. The drink menu was a newspaper and had drinks that tasted so good that those to-go cups stacked next to the exit came in handy. At this time of night, the city felt like a party, but unlike a place like New Orleans, which is outwardly fun, the fun here is a secret. And it doesn’t care if you find out about it.
By the end of the night, we found ourselves at a fun dance bar called the Tree House, likely due to its second floor and patio that overlooked the City Walk strip where we had found ourselves stuffing our faces with cookies hours earlier. The bouncers were down to earth and we made friends with a group of folks who were also new to Savannah, finding themselves there for just the weekend while working on one of the boats along the river. The city, which was quaint and quiet by day, had proved it had a wilder, more promiscuous side and I was here for it. Savannah had two different worlds, and both were the best. I almost forgot that I barely saw the sun in days and was going on very little sleep.
I really should have known the trip here would be alright in the end. That very first night, my mom and I stared in awe out of the car windows as our Uber driver Andrew (bless this man) drove through the city. “It’s so pretty,” she whispered. It was the first thing she said in hours. It was 4 a.m. We had not eaten in God knows how long and we had just finished driving four hours across a state we knew nothing about, in the dark. I would have easily welcomed death. And yet, even in our worst form, and less than 15 minutes being inside city limits, Savannah pulled us in. The moonlight shone on the willow, green trees, scattered among the Victorian-style homes and green squares that unveiled themselves to us. And there were awesome food, drink, and spooks waiting for us when we woke up. Rain, not even a bomb cyclone, could change that.