New Savannah spot: American Prohibition Museum

Disclaimer: My wife works for the company that put together the American Prohibition Museum. I was not charged admission on my first visit.

The American Prohibition Museum is an interesting tour through a time in American history I think a lot of people don't know about — a time we can learn a lot from.

That will be a story for another post, though. For now, this is just a look at the museum.

If you're not familiar with Savannah, you should know that booze plays something of a big role here. Our open container law allows you to walk around in the historic district (read: tourist area) with a drink. You can still see openings in basements and walls for tunnels used for rum running or kidnapping.

When Georgia voted to go dry a dozen years before prohibition was ratified as a constitutional amendment, Chatham County seriously considered seceding. It would have formed Chatham State, with Savannah as its capital.

The museum takes us through the temperance movement, from marches and posters and cartoons and editorials as early as the 1850s, through the rise of the political version of the movement, and into prohibition, when alcohol became the realm of mobsters (Al Capone saw his rise through bootlegged liquor), auto tinkerers (people would buy scrapped chassis and outfit them with souped-up engines to outrun the law) and pharmacists (Walgreens never would have become a national chain without being the primary dispensary of medical whiskey during prohibition).

We learn the Charleston. There's a speakeasy (also open after the museum closes for the evening). There's a room dedicated to racing — those souped-up bootlegger cars became the beginning of NASCAR when there was no longer a need to outrun police with a trunk packed full of illegal booze.

We even learn how to distill whiskey and what the penalties would be if you were caught with bootlegged whiskey — or worse, a still. And we learn how much business and tax money was lost during the years of prohibition.

Admission is reasonable, and comes at a discount if you buy online or as part of a package with a trolley tour. Give yourself 45 minutes to an hour inside, longer if you grab a drink. It's located in City Market, with an entrance next to Wild Wing Cafe.

After the museum closes, the speakeasy opens to the public (no hats or shorts, guys).

Customer service quick hit: Ben’s Neighborhood Grill & Tap

Had a crazy busy work week, so please forgive the short post. I think it still has some impact and a good lesson for businesses. And if you're in Savannah, a good burger, too.

There are a lot of high-energy, high-impact posts coming.

I first heard about Ben's about six months before I moved to Savannah. We had plans to move here, had visited a couple of times, and were still formulating a plan.

We were keeping up with things we might enjoy through media, tourism websites, organizations and also things like the Brew/Drink/Run podcast, where I first heard about Ben's when owner Nick Lambros made an appearance on the show.

It slipped my mind for a while when we moved here, but then we moved close to the restaurant, and so we make an effort to go at least monthly.

The first time was when we were scouting the neighborhood. We had a good burger and a reasonable experience.

The next time we went was just a couple of weeks before we were moving, when a hurricane tore through town. When we came back, we went there for lunch on our way into town. It was the middle of the afternoon, so the place wasn't real busy.

Nick came over and introduced himself and welcomed us to the neighborhood. (Aside: Why does Nick own's Ben's? Because it's Ben Franklin on the door — entrepreneur, beer enthusiast and all around awesome guy.)

A little while ago, I decided to treat myself to a delicious burger after a run in the rain. It was right about noon when I got there, and the place was crowded. I pulled up a stool at the bar, greeted Bob (not her real name, but that's what we call her), asked for a beer and a burger, and noticed a couple of guys at the end of the bar from a distributor with new beers to offer Nick to start carrying.

Even in a packed restaurant, Nick came out from helping at the grill to make time for them, even if the time was brief. He was friendly, patient and polite, even though there was one empty table in his restaurant.

Before he made that time for them, he stopped at the bar, shook my hand and said it was good to see me again.

That's the reason why he sees me again (and again).

Lesson for a business: You're never too busy thanks for spending your money here instead of somewhere else.

Lesson for a customer: You're special. Take your business where it's appreciated.

Lesson for a hungry person: Go get yourself a grass-fed burger and a beer at Ben's. If you're going to spend $20 on lunch somewhere, that's the sort of place to do it.

Webb Military Museum, Savannah

I think the Webb Military Museum may be one of the more overlooked historical spots here in Savannah.

It's a private collection that's been turned into a museum, and includes items from the Civil War all the way up through the Iraq War of the 1990s, with new pieces still being acquired. Here are some eye-catching items.

If you go: Park on the street, pay a meter. If you read everything, it'll take about 90 minutes.

17hundred90 and Segway of Savannah: Our experiences

Happy second wedding second anniversary to my lady love! A little explanation: We got married in a small private ceremony on July 24, 2014, then had a big ol' family wedding on July 26 of that year. So, celebrating two years of marriage, and this happens to be the date of our second wedding.

So. We got a recommendation for the 17hundred90, a beautiful little haunted inn and restaurant with a bar attached.

We made reservations but showed up 15 minutes early and were seated immediately anyway. The dining room is like stepping back in time. A piano player sits in the corner playing everything from Pachelbel to Disney themes. The dining room is small, and the carpet and low ceiling keeps the sound in check. It really is a lovely room with great atmosphere.

We shared a house salad with a house-made raspberry vinaigrette (creamy and delicious) and an appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops, seared in butter. The scallops were amazing.

We each opted for a blackened New York strip steak with a bleu cheese sauce (medium rare), served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Everything was excellent. I paired with a Malbec; J— with a white zin.

The restaurant comped us dessert for our anniversary — we opted to share a "chocolate bomb," essentially a chocolate tort — and a cup of coffee.

If we'd paid for the dessert, dinner would have come in just under $125, including four glasses of wine. Definitely reasonable for such a nice place. I'd highly recommend it.

***

We'd been talking about doing a Segway tour for over a year now, and J— surprised me with one. It was a lot of fun. It started with a quick lesson in how to actually work a Segway — pretty easy if you balance well or ride a bike often. And then off we went onto the streets of downtown.

Now, I don't know about the place you live, but it's easy to play tourist in the town we live in. The city itself has about 100,000 residents. We get something on the order of 12-17 million tourists a year.

We take a lot of different tours — trolleys, walking, museums, houses of worship. We hear a lot of the same stories, but this was fun. It was only us on the tour, so we got to trade stories with Bill, our guide.

We stopped at famous houses and squares and got to hear stories, and experience the city at a pace we don't often take time for, particularly without a destination in mind.

Again, something else we'd highly recommend.

Date night Savannah: Bar Food, CO, river, Bohemian and Leopold’s

We set out for a networking event last week, and found it was canceled. Woo! A reason to go out and try new places!

2015-06-18 18.00.06We'd been meaning to get to Bar Food for a while, but it's in a part of town we don't go to a lot, but it was right around the corner from our canceled event, so we went, had a beer and a snack. They have a solid selection of craft brews and the other usuals. I had a Two Boots, while Jenny had a cider. We shared a cheese board, which came with some toast, four cheeses, local honey, some pickles and strawberries. Great way to start the evening. The menu looked really good; the crowd was interesting — it's a contemporary, kind of hipster place, but the crowd leaned not exactly biker, but not exactly not biker.

We then headed downtown to another place that was on my list, CO, which recently opened in Savannah after having restaurants in Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Our server, Grace, soft-sold us some cucumber mojitos, which were light and refreshing on a 103-degree day. We had summer rolls and gyoza (pork dumplings) as appetizers — both delicious — and Jenny ordered some pad thai while I had a tiger roll, which their menu describes as "shrimp, surimi salad, cucumber, yamagobo, avocado, unagi sauce, spicy aioli." We were both very pleased with the meals, and with the overall atmosphere. We sat at the sushi bar, but there's also a bar in the front, some booths in the back, a couple of high tops and some long tables should you decide you might want to meet a couple of people. The electronic dance music was quiet and suited the space well. We'll be back, though we're worried this will become a hot spot and we won't be able to get a seat next time.

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

Left, from top: Pork gyoza, cucumber mojito, summer roll. Right, from top: Pad thai with chicken and shrimp, tiger roll

With quite full bellies, we wandered on down to the river to sit for a bit. If you're ever wondering why we might have moved here, it's because we can park, walk and have this view about 330 nights a year.

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We finally decided after almost an hour to get up and visit a bar we'd gone to once and found it too crowded (at 10:00 on a Friday night). Rocks on the Roof at the Bohemian Hotel. The rooftop is open on two sides, one overlooking the Savannah River, and one overlooking the crowds on Bay Street and Founders Walk. We sat on the river side on a sofa and sipped a gin and tonic, and met a recently engaged couple. The electronic dance music seemed a little loud out of place for a space that's reminiscent of more of a jazz cocktail lounge, but it's still a cool spot.

Cute, happy and on a rooftop. #visitsavannah #savannah #datenight

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

2015-06-18 21.47.03-1Our last stop for the night was, of course, at Leopold's. If you're new to the area or just visiting and the line out the door has turned you off, don't sweat it. The bend in the line at the curb is about a seven-minute wait, the ice cream is homemade and the soda fountain is basically the same as it was in 1930-whatever. I love the butter pecan ice cream, but pictured here is a dish of chocolate chewies and cream and a hot fudge sundae, which are both also delicious. They even have seasonal flavors; the Japanese cherry blossom is light and creamy and wonderful.

And apparently they also make good soups and such, but for now, we're happy working our way through the ice cream menu.

Where should we go next, Savannah?

Shooting Savannah’s squares (photos)

The city of Savannah has a downtown that is, I believe, unique among American downtowns. It is certainly not the only planned city in the country, and it may not even have been the first — some of those New England factory towns were drawn out from the beginning — but it may be the most beautiful.

The original city was built in 1733 and included 24 squares, designated as public parks and meeting places, sprinkled every couple of blocks. At the northern end of downtown is the Savannah River, which provides a natural border between Georgia and South Carolina, and at the southern point is Forsyth Park with its signature fountain. In roughly the center of downtown is Colonial Cemetery, which has been shrinking over the centuries as the need for wider roads came about and some of the ground was paved over (the headstones have been moved to a wall of the cemetery).

My wife and I undertook to walk all the squares one lovely morning recently. Here you'll find photos from all 22 squares, Forsyth Park, Colonial Cemetery and Emmet Park, which lies above the river. We started at Forsyth and then moved on to Chatham Square, working our way west through the squares to Whitefield Square, then up to Troup Square and east through the squares to Pulaski; you'll get the idea if you follow the map from our starting point to our ending point.

We did stop to look around the Scottish Rite building, which, at six stories, is among the tallest buildings in town, and we stopped at a couple of shops along the way, as well. All told, we walked a bit over five miles from Forsyth to Emmet; we then walked to lunch at the Pirates House, took a tour there, and took a more direct route to our car back near Forsyth; probably closer to a mile, maybe a little more.

More on Savannah's squares from Visit Savannah »

You can see the squared version of the photos on Instagram, or continue reading for the full versions.

As I mentioned, we started at Forsyth Park. The decision to start at a southern point and walk north instead of going the other way was based entirely on the abundance of free parking near Forsyth. Here's the park's famous fountain:

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Next up was Chatham Square, a shady spot with several large live oaks.

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Then over to Monterrey Square, home of a monument to Casimir Pulaski. Monterrey is, I think, my favorite of the squares. It is close in proximity to two of my most common destinations downtown (Congregation Mickve Israel and the Scottish Rite building), and some of its benches are outside the flow of most of the foot traffic.

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Then to Calhoun Square.

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I'm not sure I'd ever made it out to Whitefield Square, but there were about a dozen people there, though none sat in the gazebo.

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I'm very curious as to why there's an armillary sphere in Troup Square. I do know that a drunk driver once ran it over and people really missed it while it was being repaired.

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Lafayette Square, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who was famously a visiting orator in Savannah, is one of many squares with a fountain in it.

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Sgt. William Jasper stands guard over Madison Square.

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Pulaski Square has some of the gnarliest oaks downtown (some of the midtown parks compete well, though).

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Orleans Square is another one of my favorites. It tends to stay quiet, but there is often a child balancing along the fountain wall. The low-hanging oak branches provide plenty of shade.

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James Edward Oglethorpe, the man who founded the colony of Georgia (named for King George) and the city of Savannah, watches over Chippewa Square, which is what you see in the background during the bus stop scenes in the movie "Forrest Gump." Trivia: In the film, the bus goes the wrong way around the square. Also: The bench is in a museum; don't visit the square looking for it.

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This arch is the entrance to the Colonial Cemetery, which sits at the intersection of Oglethorpe and Abercorn.

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This little gazebo sits next to a basketball court in Crawford Square. Thanks to the kind gentlemen who didn't mind us taking photos that included them.

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Oh, look, there's a tour going on in Greene Square.

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Another fountain, this time in Columbia Square.

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More shade, in Oglethorpe Square — where, apparently, it's autumn.

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Wright Square has a really, really tall monument.

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I don't have a lot to say about Telfair Square, other than it's fun to see the view at the rear of the Jepson change every now and then. But you can't see it in this photo, so I guess you'll just have to come visit.

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This monument in Franklin Square is dedicated to the chasseurs voluntaires, who came to help fight the British in the Battle for Savannah in 1779.

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Ellis Square is known for its fountain (which a lot of people and animals cool off in), but I love this sculpture of Johnny Mercer reading a newspaper while leaning on a fire hydrant. I've said, "good morning," more than once.

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Johnson Square has two of these fountains.

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John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, preaches in Reynolds Square.

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Despite the fact that it sits next to a parking garage and boasts some of downtown's only 10-hour parking meters, Warren Square is really quiet. And green.

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Washington Square is named for the volunteer fire company that was once at that site.

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And finally, anchoring our walk, is Emmet Park, overlooking River Street and the Savannah River.

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If you live in the Savannah area or have visited, what's your favorite square? Why?

Date night Savannah: The Olde Pink House and 22 Square

One thing I'm finding in Savannah is one of those things that's nice to see in a business community: businesses in the same industry recommending each other. Without variety, an industry dies down. Without competition, an individual business can get lazy.

In a big tourist town (12 million visitors a year, and they don't allow cruise ships to dock here), there will never be a shortage of restaurants. But that doesn't mean they can't strive to be the best.

My conversation with Chef Brandon Whitestone of The Olde Pink House started with me saying we had a great night that included a dessert stop and him recommending another bar.

I went on to say thanks, and that my wife and I would have to give his restaurant a try, too; he responded as if it almost hadn't occurred to him to recommend himself.

Nice.

We got our reservations in (even two weeks out, a Monday, a 7 p.m. seating request had to be pushed out to 7:15, so if you're planning on a trip, call early), and spent way too long staring at the menu over those two weeks. We made sure we read the bad reviews on Yelp so we knew what to watch out for (mostly the complaints were about cold food and long prep times; not only did we not experience either, but the latter isn't something we were worried about — if you're looking to not wait for your food, either pick a fast food place or pick a destination not in the deep south).

So, Monday night, off to The Olde Pink House we went.

We managed to get parking nearby; Miss Kimberly and Chef Brandon both made sure to introduce themselves. We were seated in what was the master bedroom of the original house, next to a window overlooking Reynolds Square. The window still had some of the original panes in it (you can tell because old panes had a higher lead content, creating the appearance of waves in the glass).

Now, it was need-a-flash-on-your-camera-dark in there and people were enjoying their vacations and Valentine's Day celebrations, so we didn't take pictures of our food; we'll have to let the words do it.

Jenny started with a semi-sweet riesling; I ordered a Sazerac cocktail (Herbsaint is essentially absinthe, so that's what's typically used, if you're looking cross-eyed at the recipe). Both were delivered promptly and cold.

We shared three appetizers. First, a charcuterie that included a fantastic mustard that must have been house-made and a local camembert-style cheese, along with some Berkshire meat and tasty accoutrements. After that, we had artichoke fritters; these were artichoke hearts stuffed with goat cheese and lightly batter-fried, done with a spicy sauce. Then, jalapeño poppers, stuffed with some very creamy mac & cheese. All were delicious.

For dinner, Jenny had sea scallops and shrimp tossed over fettuccine with a cream sauce, and asked them to toss in some spinach. I had their house specialty, scored flounder, which is a whole fish (sans head), scored into little medallions, then cooked and topped with a spicy apricot glaze. It was delicious. To eat it, you pop up the medallions, chew, swallow, repeat, then flip the fish and do it again on the other side. They claim to be the first to serve it in this style, though it's a popular method for cooking flounder in other locales as well.

While we dined, a maitre d' came by a couple of times, as did our server. We felt well-attended-to and well-fed, and will most certainly be back.

We then walked five blocks to the Andaz Hotel (which Chef Brandon mentioned in his first tweet to me), for coffee and dessert. The hotel restaurant, 22 Square, offers a much different environment from Olde Pink House, very contemporary, with modern art on the walls and some exposed brick. The cocktail list looked interesting, but we were at a nice finishing-up point.

Jenny had ice cream and berries. It was a raspberry base with some Italian wedding cookies mixed in, made by Leopold's specifically for the restaurant and only available there. I had a dark and stormy chocolate cake, which, as the name implies, is derived from the rum-and-ginger ale cocktail. The cake tasted like a chocolate gingerbread, and the rum was pleasantly infused in the icing. It came with a scoop of very creamy vanilla ice cream, which I can only imagine must have come from Leopold's as well.

I think next time we try 22 Square, it will be for pre-dinner cocktails, and we'll sit at the bar. While the food was delicious and I love what they're doing with local food, the contemporary atmosphere was a little overwhelming to me with the bright colors and the art and the more open space allowing sound to travel a little more. But we'll definitely be back to Olde Pink House at some point.

Where to next, Savannah?

Savannah social media successes, so far

Well, we've been in Savannah almost two months now, and we've had some good experiences with some businesses doing social media well.

Let's start with this one:

I went over to the local sports bar, tweeted my beer, and within a couple of minutes, the owner walked over and introduced herself and chatted for a few minutes. We've been back a few times since. If you're in Georgetown or Southside Savannah, go pay Rachael's 1190 a visit.

***

You may have seen my post about our experience at Gribble House a couple of weeks ago. Whoever's handling their Twitter account has been very responsive via favorites and saying thanks every time I mention them — including when we checked in on Swarm, when I dropped the audio into SoundCloud and when I posted about our evening.

***

Another one who's all about the favorites are the local foxes (I think they're sister shops, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that), Coffee Fox and Foxy Loxy. They serve different neighborhoods, but both with excellent coffee and food that smells really good (we haven't eaten at either). PERC also gets a shout for being helpful; the foxes both serve their coffee. It's delicious.

***

We're still new here, though, and have lots more places to try. Chef Brandon at The Olde Pink House has been really friendly; we're excited to get over there some evening, hopefully soon.

Whom are we missing? Tell us, please, we're still out exploring!

Gribble House


Six-year-old Thelma says hello to us at Gribble House.

In 1909, a triple ax murder took place at the downtown Savannah home of Eliza Gribble. The crime was never really solved. Just before she died, one of the victims said her husband, JC Hunter, did it, and he was tried and convicted, but then had his death sentence commuted to life in prison and he was later pardoned.

It seems Hunter walked with a cane and was in his 60s. You'd think one of the three victims could have gotten away.

The house was torn down at some point in the 1940s or '50s to make room for a warehouse, which still stands on that spot and is used for things like parking and charging Segways for tours.

And at night, the building opens for the Gribble House paranormal experience. It's no ordinary ghost tour.

First, you sit in a welcome room, where your guide for the night plays you some of the recordings made during some visits, and then you see a video from the show "Ghost Adventures."

You're next invested with a flashlight, an AM transmitter, which apparently ghosts can manipulate, a K-II meter, an infrared thermometer and another sensor that lights up "when a presence is nearby" and "can be manipulated by a presence blinking the lights" — I'm putting that in quotes, because, well, I don't know what the actual science is and I don't know what this device was originally created for.

The guide brings you around to the places you're likely to find a presence, and lets you explore for an hour or so. Our K-II meters didn't do much of anything, but the other device lit up quite a few times, and we got some interesting audio out of the transmitter (hear a snippet at the top of the post).

Overall, it was fun. If you're in town, go enjoy the experience. And then you can walk down the street to Lulu's Chocolate Bar, where you can get something to eat or drink, like, say, a piece of pecan pie with some homemade caramel pecan ice cream.

Find your relax

beach

It's been 32 days since we pulled out of New York and 14 days since I felt like a passed-out cat. We've learned a bit about our new city, some about our neighborhood, and it took us 10 days to figure out all our utilities, the last of which was the garbage, which has been piling up a bit.

The landlord told us she'd notify the HOA when she got our paperwork. The paperwork is at the listing agent's. The listing agent's firm doesn't handle anything outside of the paperwork. The neighbors we've met largely take their trash to work, where they have dumpsters.

The listing agent then told us to call the people who handle our water – they would handle our trash, unless they didn't.

They don't.

The other day, I saw some barrels out, and they were stamped with the name Savannah Waste and a phone number.

Turns out they're a small, locally owned private hauler, and that the city (who handles our water) doesn't go beyond a certain point. Our first recycling load will be picked up sometime today; we can finally get rid of some trash on Monday.

On top of that, we've now had stuff like furniture and boxes full of our belongings for three days. So, we're unpacking on top of everything else.

We're both working full time, too.

feetWe're also figuring out where to find some relaxation, and one of those places, it turns out, is Tybee Island, a half hour drive away, with restaurants and beaches and restaurants and beaches.

It's exactly what you'd expect from a beach community. Really expensive housing with the occasional tiny bungalow or trailer park thrown in. Nice restaurants that look shabby because the salt air has messed with the paint and the wood.

We took two hours at brunch on Sunday, then walked over to the beach, where we hung out for another couple of hours. The water was chilly, and I guess the air was too cold for the locals; it was really sparse out there.

But it was beautiful, and relaxing, and even though I had a tough night ahead at work (busy and short-staffed), everything felt right.

Onward we march, until we bury our feet in the sand.