There are times during the calendar year when it seems all I do is find myself writing about yet another new restaurant. It comes in phases, of course. Early in the year everyone, especially downtown, is racing to get their space done by St. Patrick’s Day. Spring is busy, summer typically slows down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. From my seat, new restaurants are certainly good for business. The growth we’ve seen in this city has been discussed ad nauseam. Don’t worry, this isn’t another one of those columns. If you haven’t been paying attention, Savannah’s bar scene has exploded over the last few years as well. There is just no other way to put it.
Now, your first reaction my be “Great, just what Savannah needs is another bar.” Considering our city’s reputation for throwing back a cold beer while you walk down the street. It’s a big draw for tourists, particularly the younger crowd, but they aren’t alone. I’ve seen plenty of the 40 plus crowd walking along downtown enjoying a beer or a cocktail. Yes, responsibly. It’s a nice option to have in Savannah and it most certainly makes us unique in that regard.
Scott Marshall is the man in charge at Alley Cat Lounge, a brand new spot downtown Savannah near the corner of Barnard and Broughton. You enter the Alley Cat via the lane. Yes, that is a play on words, but that is as General Oglethorpe wanted it. No fancy knocks, no secret passwords, just a door with a door knob. You walk in and step down into Savannah’s newest basement bar, and it is spectacular.
“The first time we saw the space we climbed down into a hatch.” Marshall says. “It was a dirt floor basement. There was nothing down here.” That was almost 4 years ago.
Marshall came to Savannah from Boston where he worked for 15 years. Including a spot called “Drink.” One of those places you wait in line to get in to, then pay $16 for a cocktail. If you look at them side by side, yes, Alley Cat was created in that mold, but Marshall insists this isn’t about creating some untouchable ‘fancy’ spot that only the cool kids can get in to.
“I will absolutely take the Pepsi Challenge” Marshall tells me “when it comes to our prices.” He refers to the newspaper looking menu then adds “It took me about 6 months to put that together. Everything was thought out and priced including tax. You can have a shot of tequila and a PBR here for 6 bucks.”
Sounds about right.
You’ll also be able to drop a pay check or two in here. Right now Alley Cat is carrying 64 rums and almost that many bourbons. There are well over 100 cocktails you can choose from. Some may be less expensive than others, but if you know what you like, chances are you will be able to find it there. “All of our pours are 2 ounces.” he says.
There was a lot of buzz ahead of Scott and his business partner Pila Sunderland opening Alley Cat. Like everything else, Hurricane Matthew backed them up a little bit, but they opened a few weeks ago and haven’t looked back. “Our first Friday night was jammed in here.” he says of the 68 seat space. “We turned about 25 people away that night. There was a solid line upstairs of another 25 waiting to get in. Within two weeks I had doubled my staff.”
Yes, that means the spot was an instant hit. And they haven’t even rolled out their small menu yet. Yes, food. Chef Nick McNevin came to Savannah to work at The Collins Quarter. He is a solid talent. No, there isn’t going to be a big menu, but there won’t be any Jalapeno Poppers on there either. “He’s still working on what he can do back there with the equipment he can use below ground.” Marshall says “but we are thinking maybe things like a foie gras terrine, maybe mushroom toasts or a crab salad.” he adds. Bring an educated palate or be gone. Well, not really. But if those kinds of dishes aren’t your speed, then just eat before you get there.
Alley Cat is a most welcomed addition to a bar scene that continues to bubble in this city. It wasn’t all that long ago that you could probably count 5-7 incredibly skilled bartenders in Savannah. To be fair, they may have been here, but it wasn’t until bar programs like what you find at The Florence, The Grey and 22 Square at the Andaz Hotel gave the talent in this town an outlet to create, that things started taking off. “Now you can probably count 20-30 or even more great bartenders in Savannah. There are so many. Even Tybee Fish Camp very quietly has a great bar program.” Marshall says.
Artillery is another spot that has opened on Bull Street near Liberty. It is big city gorgeous. The kind of place, frankly, that you visit in New York or Miami and ask yourself ‘why can’t we have something like this in Savannah?’ I know I have done that many many times. Well, now we do, and little by little these spaces will add to our city’s credibility on the national food and beverage scene. “You know Husk is going to be great when they finally open” Marshall says. “Prohibition up on MLK as well.”
There’s never been a shortage of spots to have a cocktail in Savannah, but options are always good. And judging by how things are going at Alley Cat, there’s never been a better time in this town to Drink It and Like It.
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