Geoff L. Johnson’s music images have caught my attention for several years now, so when I was scheduled to be in his home base of Savannah recently, I asked the photographer if we could meet…and stroll…with his camera. To my delight, he said yes. From that guided tour, I offer up ten suggested spots to visit in Savannah with special thanks to Geoff for his insight, hospitality and, of course, wonderful photos.
1. Pinkie Master’s Lounge
Though it was 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Geoff and I began our journey at Pinkie Master’s, recognized by Southern Living as the third “Best Dive Bar in the South” and by the Daily Beast as one of the “Bars That Made America Great.” Francine Holleman, who has worked there as a bartender for 20 years, graciously let us in the Savannah institution where Jimmy Carter famously stood atop the bar to deliver a presidential campaign stump speech on St. Patrick’s Day in 1978. Though the antic didn’t work so well for Al Gore a few years later, Pinkie’s nonetheless persevered with cheap PBR, darts and a well-stocked jukebox. 318 Drayton St.
2. Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home
Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Mary Flannery O’Connor lived in this Lafayette Square house from her birth in 1925 until 1938. Guided tours of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home include access to the Bruckheimer Library and to the courtyard and garden where a six-year-old O’Connor once taught a chicken to walk backwards. Each year in late March, the home sponsors the Flannery O’Connor Parade and Street Fair which features local authors, vendors, live music with a peacock feather-adorned bandstand and revelers dressed in vintage attire. 207 E. Charlton
3. The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
With its imposing twin steeples and dazzling French Gothic architecture, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is one of the most visited sites in Savannah. Flannery O’Connor and her family attended the church, which is just around the block from her childhood home in Lafayette Square. While the Cathedral was built in 1873 and restored in 1899 after a fire, the parish was organized in the late 1700s by immigrants fleeing turmoil in Haiti and France. The Cathedral serves as Mother Church for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Savannah. 222 East Harris St.
4. Angel’s BBQ
Thank goodness, Geoff introduced me to the heavenly joy of Angel’s BBQ. Nine years ago, Chef Andy Trice left behind his fine dining career in San Francisco and he and his wife Aileen opened Angel’s in a tiny carriage house in a Savannah alley. The pulled pork sandwich with Chef Andy’s famous “Voodoo Juice” BBQ sauce has been featured on Man vs. Food Nation and Andrew Zimmerman’s Bizarre Foods. A friend of mine swears by the fried BBQ bologna sandwich with coleslaw and I’m now a bonafide believer in the collard greens & peanuts—a West African take on a Southern standard—which was so delicious, I could have sworn I heard I harps playing with each successive bite. 21 W. Oglethorpe Lane
5. Roots Up Gallery
Geoff introduced me to a fellow “LL,” Lesley Lovell, who opened Roots Up Gallery with her husband Francis Allen just over a year ago. Longtime personal folk art collectors with a passion for the “non-traditional,” the pair has roamed the Southeast to curate a selection of works from artists including Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Michael Banks, Josh Cote, Willie Tarver, Howard Finster, Missionary Mary Proctor and Savannah artists including Betsy Cain, Panhandle Slim and Rudy Bostic. Great selection, great prices and warm, welcoming Southern hospitality await visitors to the parlor level of this 1854 mansion. 6 East Liberty St.
6. The Olde Pink House
The Olde Pink House endeared itself to me permanently earlier this year while I was traipsing about town in a post-Savannah Music Festival concert haze of hunger. With seemingly every restaurant closed, I was thinking a pack of Lance’s Toast Chee crackers were the inevitable end to an otherwise amazing night, when the lights of the Pink House beckoned and the angelic hostess ushered my friend Doug DeLoach and me down to the bar where the kitchen was still serving. Built in 1771, it’s a Savannah landmark and destination for ghost-hunters, but more importantly, it’s home to “Southern Sushi,” a mouth-watering concoction of smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted Nori. 23 Abercorn St.
7. Collins Quarter Café Bar
With its coffee lab, wine bar and farm-to-table café, Collins Quarter interjects a little bit of Australia into Georgia’s First City. Inspired by historic Collins Street in his native Melbourne, Anthony Debreceny has charmed locals with his coffee-centric café and dishes like the Smashed Avocado breakfast featuring Capra Gia Farms feta, heirloom tomatoes, micro-herbs and shaved radishes topped with poached egg and served on Beaufort Artisan Bakery toast. If you’re pressed for time, check out the sidewalk service window. 151 Bull Street
8. Gryphon Tea Room
A SCAD graduate, Geoff suggested we stop inside the Gryphon Tea Room, a café operated by Savannah College of Art and Design students and located in the former A.A. Solomons & Co. drugstore. Hand-carved mahogany bookcases and original apothecary drawers, Tiffany glass globes and white-clothed tables create a charming, European atmosphere. Stop by for an afternoon pot of tea and scones with Devonshire cream and jam, tea sandwiches and petits fours. 337 Bull St.
9. Lucas Theatre
Over my ten+ years of attending the annual Savannah Music Festival, I’ve seen some of my favorite shows at the Lucas Theatre, from arresting Portuguese fado singer Mariza to the 2015 performance by Kodo, the Japanese drumming and dancing corps. Also operated by SCAD, the theatre, built in 1921, presents concerts, movies and Broadway hits throughout the year. 32 Abercorn St.
10. Jones Street
Lined with live oaks, paved with cobblestones and dotted with architectural gems, Jones Street is simply beautiful. Among its landmarks are the Eliza Thompson House (5 West Jones St.), a luxurious (and reputedly haunted) boutique hotel located in the first home built on Jones Street back in 1847, and Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (107 West Jones St.) where each morning at 11:00, Monday through Friday, customers begin lining up to be placed with strangers at one of the large tables-for-ten. For just $20 per person, guests are served heaping platters of fried chicken, cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins, biscuits, daily specials and old-fashioned Southern desserts.
You’ll likely see Geoff, camera in hand, on Sat., Sept. 12, at Revival Fest, a day of music, craft brews, bourbon and Southern fare at the paint shop and adjoining grove of the Georgia State Railroad Museum. Presented by MusicFile Productions, the folks behind Savannah Stopover, it’s the perfect reason to visit the acclaimed Hostess City this fall.