Back in December I’m walking along Liberty Street downtown Savannah. The city was all decked out in its holiday best. Public Kitchen and Bar was bubbling as it usually is at the corner of Liberty and Bull and the flow of tourists walking up and down Bull Street was same as it ever was. It’s one of my favorite intersections in the city. By many accounts it is the heart of Savannah’s historic district. Then I looked up at The DeSoto Hilton and thought “you know, somebody should really do something with that.” Well, from the ‘be careful what you wish for’ department came an email from the Managing Director of the The DeSoto Hilton. By the end of the Summer you will be able to add that property to the growing list of ’boutique’ hotel properties downtown that are becoming part of Savannah’s continuing makeover. Yes, that includes the food and the drink.
Jeff Kmiec has been here a very short time, having come to town from the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where he spent 7 years. His ‘to do’ list here in Savannah is significant but work is already underway. The rooms at The DeSoto Hilton, he tells me, have already been renovated as a first phase. As of this writing the lobby coffee shop is getting its makeover. Once that is completed, the heaviest lifting will begin.
“Our next step is this bar area” Mr. Kmiec says “We are going to completely wall off the lobby and re-do this entire space.” The space he refers to is currently called The Lions Den. One dark brown heavy wooden door currently leads you into one dark straight out of 1974 feeling lounge. All of that will be gone. The bar will stay but the look and feel of the entire area is going to be gutted. There will be more glass doors and windows where there are currently brick walls. Natural light I’m told will pour in and a ‘front porch’ built out along Liberty Street. “It will be an outdoor porch, but covered. Heated in the winter and cooled as necessary.” he says. All of it looking out over Liberty Street.
Proof and Provisions is the name of the new dining concept. In keeping with The Desoto theme I’m told it will be an interesting combination of Southern and Spanish tapas. There are really no more details to discuss beyond that because there is no chef in place yet. As I said, it will be a few months before everything falls into place. The restaurant will be the last phase of the food and beverage makeover. Currently the restaurant is called The DeSoto Grille. It’s all being given a new look. “We want an open action kitchen in there. We want our guests to feel the energy in the room.” Great news and a far cry from what that entire space has now.
Also gone as of August 1st will be the affiliation with the “Hilton” brand. The hotel will return to its original name “The DeSoto Hotel.” Sister properties include the recently renovated Georgian Terrace in Atlanta as well as The Whitehall Hotel in Houston. A quick glance at those will give you a feel for what The DeSoto will look like. A desperately needed makeover that will make the heart of town begin to fit in with the rest of the growth in our city. There are also plans to partner with SCAD to display art in the lobby once the makeover is complete.
Truth be told, I’m very curious to see how this will all unfold. I have no doubt the space will be beautiful. I’m sure the food will be good as well. That said, I’m watching the competition for the dining dollar here. Especially in the hotels where the locals don’t typically think about dining first even though a few of them are doing a great job with their food. It’s fine to provide a decent meal to a tourist or a business traveler, but to really become a vibrant part of the city center, The DeSoto is going to want locals making their new-look space a destination. We shall see.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the ride. The Mulberry has become The Brice, one of the prettiest hotel properties in town. Inn at Ellis Square became Hotel Indigo with a completely updated feel. The Cotton Sail and its rooftop deck is among the hottest spots in town. A JW Marriott coming to the Riverfront and likely down the road an Omni property on the other side of the river adjacent to the Convention Center. There are rumors about more fancy schmancy on the horizon but we can talk about those another time. All of that said, can you feel it? Stay hungry Savannah.
See you on TV,