There’s a bar up front at The Grey. A beautiful bar. Stools, booth seating, and an unmistakable warm vibe going on. That bar is its own room, separated by a glass wall and door. Historians will know the area as an original coffee shop that sat up front at the Greyhound Bus Depot, which this building originally was. That just scratches the surface as to what John Morisano, owner of The Grey, has done to maintain, enhance and buff to a beautiful shine, everything that building has been in the timeline of Savannah’s storied history. This is an Art Deco masterpiece in my book. I like to think myself a bit of a history buff. My two favorite times in American history to read about? The Civil War and The Civil Rights era of the 50’s and 60’s, so it’s easy for me to be bright eyed in this building when I’m told about which section of this building once held “negro restrooms”. It’s equally fascinating to have a worn out spot in the floor, perfectly preserved, pointed out to you as the original ticket line at the Greyhound station. If you allow yourself to drift for a minute, you can see what it looked like once upon a time. Now, however, it’s one of the most beautiful spaces in this city. An incredible homage to what it was.
A walk back into the main dining room, you get a feeling I can only describe as “bus terminal’ big. There is hustle and bustle, but it isn’t someone travelling from New Orleans to Washington D.C. anymore. It’s an employee or two making their way around their own stations. There are also guests laughing and enjoying this great room. The lighting, I’m told, custom made to fit this room. Gorgeous. The doorways to an outdoor seating area labeled “Gate 1”, “Gate 2” ,and “Gate 3″. The giant “U” shaped bar in the middle of the room the perfect spot to sit down, have a cocktail or glass of wine while you wait for your bus to depart. Of course, the last bus pulled out of here a long time ago, but that’s the feel. It’s a room full of energy, music in the background, and employees and guests headed one way or the other.
I sit down at the bar in the main room and text a friend a photo of this grand room. The photo really didn’t do the beauty of the room any justice. It is darkish in there, and the flash on an iPhone is hardly going to capture any detail, but I fired it off anyway to a friend who knew I was visiting The Grey and asked for an update. The response I got from this friend who is very well traveled was “Looks like any place I’ve been to in New York or LA”. “You know what?”, I thought. He was exactly right, with one big exception.
I was sitting at 109 MLK Blvd in Savannah, Georgia.
The Grey is a perfect example of the big city coming to Savannah. Until recently the most beautiful restaurants in town were nods to Savannah’s history, yes, but a different era. You walk into the Olde Pink House, and you know what you see in there. The same goes for Elizabeth on 37th and even, say, Vic’s on the River. All beautiful properties and wonderful tributes to Colonial Savannah. This year, The Florence converted an old ice making warehouse into a beautiful two story restaurant and The Brice Hotel gave The Mulberry a long overdue makeover to bring it into the current century with Pacci. The Grey has preserved it’s own spot in Savannah’s history, an era no less significant in this city’s evolution.
The staff was clearly as knowledgeable as any of the most informed groups in the city. The menu was smaller than I expected, but diverse. I just nibbled on a couple of appetizers. The Seafood Boudin with crawfish, shrimp and Carolina rice was excellent. Prices for 2nd courses range $13-$15. Mains run upper $20’s to $42 for a Veal Chop. Hardly the most expensive restaurant in town. The key here is variety. The offerings on this menu have been described as Southern with some French influences. That is obvious. Don’t expect Chicken Fried Steak and Mashed Potatoes. Then again, maybe you will get that in here one day, but the last thing it will remind you of is anything you find off of the side of the road on I-95. This is real food, done well. As warm and personable as Executive Chef Mashama Bailey can be, I’ve been told her kitchen is built on precision, detail and proper execution.
In the big picture, the burden is now on Savannah’s palate to deliver. For all the talk about the new restaurants in this city, it’s going to take an acceptance over time that these are the kinds of restaurants you can find doing great things anywhere in America. Do you have to visit all of the time? Of course not. There does, however, need to be an acceptance that the types of things that are happening on Savannah’s food scene are the kinds of things that are truly going to elevate the profile of this city beyond long lines for fried chicken. The Grey is a huge step in that direction. That’s exactly the feedback I got from a few guests that I spoke with enjoying their meals.
“I spent four years here listening to people. Listening to everyone”, Mr. Morisano tells me. “We wanted to give Savannah what they wanted.” I can’t argue with the vision.
See you on TV.
Look for a full blown review from our Eat Squad soon.