Atlas Obscura’s Guide to Unexpected Savannah
Note: Places with an * are on The Atlas
While you're visiting Savannah, trade in some hot spots for wondrous hidden gems. We teamed up with Visit Savannah to create this curated list of 10 secret, surprising, and unexpected delights that help define this historic coastal city.
Have a drink at an 1800s-era speakeasy, check out the duellers who’ve chosen pianos over pistols, or take a walk on the dark side with a creepy collection of true crime artifacts. Each of these experiences will illuminate lesser-explored Savannah – and perhaps inspire you to explore the hidden treasures found in every city, including yours.
Explore the criminal element
Credit: Graveface Museum
Located down an old cobblestone road, the Graveface Museum is one of Savannah’s underexplored oddities. What at first glance seems like a taxidermy museum is actually a portal to the dark, mysterious, and unusual. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to photos and videos exploring the history of traveling carnivals and sideshows. But the space beyond that is the real star of the show.
The true-crime room features memorabilia from the likes of infamous cult leaders Jim Jones and Charles Manson and serial killer John Wayne Gacy— including some of their own artwork. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Graveface is also home to a selection of horror-themed pinball machines, and a souvenir shop with Graveface-designed pins, T-shirts, and assorted macabre oddities.
Address: 410 E Lower, Factors Walk, Savannah, GA 31401
Recall America’s dry days
Credit: American Prohibition Museum
From 1920-1933, during the Prohibition era, Americans had to get creative to locate liquor. The law banned the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol. The events that led up to Prohibition were a complex state of affairs featuring the Temperance movement, political powers, religious leaders, and women’s movements. Savannah’s American Temperance Museum covers all of the conflict and the post-Prohibition society of bootleggers, speakeasies, G-men, and rum-runners. The museum also showcases some of the local effects of the new law.
But this museum has a secret. Visitors who know the password are granted entry into a hidden speakeasy where you can sip on 20s-era drinks while listening to lively jazz.
Address: 209 W Saint Julian Street, Savannah, GA 31401
Enjoy a historic cocktail in a restored calvary armory
Credit: Geoff L Johnson Photography
Located in the city’s Historic Landmark District , this bar was built in 1897 by the Georgia Hussars, a cavalry unit formed in 1736. This upscale cocktail lounge takes its name from the building’s original purpose—housing the Hussars’ artillery. Though Savannah is known for its architecture, the Artillery’s stylish facade is made of terracotta with a mix of Moorish, Gothic, and Classical influences. The unusual architecture is a one-of-a-kind site in the city, and historians believe that’s because the facade was ordered through a catalog, which was a common practice at the time.
Present day occupants are much more concerned with cocktails than cannonballs. The menu includes a large, eclectic selection of wines by the glass and classic cocktails. They also have contemporary cocktails for those who want to enjoy the present while surrounded by hints of the past. Perhaps the most can’t-miss drink is the Chatham Artillery Punch, a potent blend of rum, brandy, rye, gin, and sparkling wine. The drink is a common sight in the city, with its history possibly dating back to George Washington. Though no one can confirm that George Washington sipped punch here, what is known is that the punch has been embedded in Savannah’s culture at least as far back as the 1850s.
Enjoy one in the swanky historic bar and taste a part of the city’s history.
Address: 307 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401
Get ready to dance at this musical duel
Credit: Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos
Looking for a late night party? This downtown bar with four dueling pianists is always ready for a musical showdown. And yes, they take requests. In fact, they only take audience requests. Don’t expect a quiet drink at a corner booth, this is your time to dance to your favorite song. Just write down your request on a bar napkin, attach a tip as a show of appreciation, and wait for the piano players to hit the keys.
Savannah Smiles also serves food until 2:00am, perfect for a late night snack craving.
Address: 314 Williamson St, Savannah, GA 31401
Sip tropical drinks in a bar named for a fiery Civil War ship
Credit: Visit Savannah
The sea is an important part of Savannah’s history. And like the city itself, it contains secrets, mysteries, and legends (did you hear the one about the haunted brewery?). In the city’s Starland District, the Water Witch offers curious cocktails and pays homage to an oceanic legend.
The USS Water Witch, a Civil-War-era gunboat, set sail to the American South in 1861 where it engaged with several Confederate ships. The ship was performing blockade duties about 15 miles off the coast of Savannah, when on June 3, 1863, it was attacked by the Confederate army. After a number of losses for both the Union and Confederate armies, the ship was captured by Confederates who renamed it the CSS Water Witch. But the story doesn’t end here. Fearing that the ship would be recaptured, the Confederate army set it ablaze on December 19, 1864.
These days, though, if you mention the Water Witch, you’re just as likely to be pointed to this quaint tiki-themed bar as you are to be regaled with stories of Civil War battles. The bar features an extensive selection of specialty cocktails, beer, and wine, as well as a menu of small plates and snacks.
Address: 2220 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401
Eat and drink like a pirate at one of Savannah’s oldest buildings
Credit: Visit Savannah
At The Pirates’ House, you can enjoy cocktails, history…and ghosts. Rumor has it that the pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island haunts the space. Pages from an early edition of the novel are on display.
Other parts of American history also linger on the grounds. The restaurant, which serves southern-inspired fare, was once home to Trustee’s Garden, a ten-acre experimental garden and “the first public agricultural experimental garden in America.” Because of the city’s seaside location, gardens gave way to an inn, which was a welcome sight for sailors coming to the city from all points on the globe. Unsuspecting sailors and locals who drank too much at The Pirates House would be taken through a hidden tunnel under the home and wake up on a pirate ship already out to sea. The tunnel is on display within the restaurant.
The building fell into disrepair after World War II, and was purchased by the Savannah Gas Company. Though it was slated for demolition, Mary Hillyer, the wife of Savannah Gas Company president, Hansell Hillyer, saw the beauty in the historic building and was able to save it. It was renovated and reopened in 1953 as The Pirates’ House.
Today the restaurant, one of the oldest buildings in the city, is a hub for tourists and locals alike. Where else can you be served by waitstaff decked out in full pirate garb in a space with “maps, helms, flags and skulls hanging on the walls, as well as some of the original dining sets protected in glass cases?”
Take some time after your meal to browse the gift shop upstairs. With over 7,000 items, you’re bound to find something to conjure your inner pirate.
Address: 20 E Broad St, Savannah, GA 31401
Explore your inner artist at a local hangout
Credit: LHue, Atlas Obscura User
Abe’s on Lincoln sits on a quiet corner in the Historic District. Beloved by locals and the kind of off-the-radar hangout tourists crave, it’s more than your average corner bar. It offers a combination of quintessential Savannah: history, drinking, and art.
The bar features a growing collection of Abe’s likeness on napkins. There’s Abe on a bike. Abe as a snake (Cobraham Lincoln). Abe on a lamp (Lampshade Lincoln). Old Abe. Young Abe. You name it, someone’s Abe-d it. You can add to the display by requesting extra napkins and pens at the bar.
While the bar itself is named after Honest Abe, the street it sits on is named for Benjamin Lincoln, a Revolutionary War general who fought in the Siege of Savannah in 1779.
Address: 17 Lincoln Street, Savannah, GA 31401
Get smarter by listening to morons
Credit: Visit Savannah
John Brennan and Dan Gilbert think you’re a moron. But that’s okay, so are they. The comedians, who perform locally and across the country, bill themselves as the Moron Brothers, two local guides who take visitors on a tour of the city’s wackier side. Combining improv, stand-up, and history, this 90-minute comedy tour is chock full of laughs and 300 years of Savannah history.
It’s not the history you’ll get from a book, more like the kind you’ll get from a friendly stranger next to you on a bar stool. “Obviously, we’re sending it up and roasting it,” Gilbert told Connect Savannah. “But the sketches are our take on real history, and that’s the fun of it.” In addition to the history lessons, riders are entertained with skits, musical performances, and costume changes. And with its air-conditioned trolley and a stop for drinks, it’s the perfect attraction for hot and humid afternoons.
If you can’t make it to a trolley tour, Brennan and Gilbert are also members of the Front Porch Improv Theatre, a local improv group that hosts shows and classes weekly.
Address: 250 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Savannah, GA 31401
Listen to yourself at an acoustic wonder
Credit: Casey Jones
Shhh. Do you hear that? If you’re standing in Rousakis Plaza along the Savannah River Walk, there’s a good chance you heard it a few times. There’s something a bit odd in this bricked plaza marked with an X. If you stand at the center of the X and speak, your words will echo. But even more oddly, no one outside of the plaza will hear it. This acoustic anomaly is baffling. Was it planned? Or just one of those odd little things that makes exploring the world so fun? Who knows, and when it’s this fun, does it even matter?
Address: 305 E River St, Savannah, GA 31401
Have a speciality cocktail in the hippest basement in town
Credit: Alley Cat Lounge Facebook page
Tucked inside an alleyway is an underground treasure— literally. The Alley Cat Lounge is located in a 1870s-era brick-walled basement. It feels like you’ve entered a speakeasy and stumbled on a secret. Even the menus feel like you’ve entered a club; they’re printed as newspapers—The Alley Cat Rag— with pages organized into sections. A recent menu featured a quote by Beat writer, Charles Bukowski, a reprint of an Esquire piece titled “I Drink America,” facts about the historic building, and a short essay by beverage manager Kyle Law musing on “all the blood and all the sweat, all my failures and accomplishments” he’s put into making this space feel like a home for so many patrons.
But what about the drinks, you ask? Well, the menu is full of those, too. The Alley Cat has over 100 craft cocktails to choose from. You can pick using your intuition or your preference, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take the opportunity to ask your bartender for a good suggestion.
Address: 207 W Broughton Ln, Savannah, GA 31401