Best New Bar, Best Beer on Tap, Best Restaurant Beer Selection: The Distillery
416 West Liberty Street
As packed full of quality food-and-bev places as Savannah can seem, there has been a hole in the market.
“Savannah is looking for something other than fast food or gourmet dining,” says Michael Volen, owner of The Distillery, which is located in, well, a former distillery.
And unlike, say, Charleston, “most pubs and bars in Savannah don’t have a lot of good food," he says.
Volen and Chef Matt Kubiak have addressed that dilemma in their own unique way -- but in typically Savannahian fashion -- starting with the drinks end.
“The general premise is to bring a craft beer bar to Savannah, so that people’s palates are expanded,” says Volen. “We offer a full compliment of ales, IPAs, stouts, ciders – a wide variety and range of beers that are well-known throughout the country but are typically not carried here.”
On top of that is Kubiak’s adventurous approach to the menu.
“He has full reign to build the menu around the craft beers,” says Volen. “We’ve infused a lot of beers in our menu, for example, in sauces or in the glazes for a ham sandwich.”
Insisting that “people will come if you feed them well,” Volen says the menu also offers hand-cut meats and Georgia wild shrimp.
But entertainment is also a big part of the Distillery’s appeal, including the classic (and often rare) silent films that are in near-constant loop while the bar is open.
With never a cover charge, the Distillery is also working to build the live music component, including an open mic night with well-known local singer/songwriter Gregg Williams. -- JM
Runner-up, New Bar: bar.food
Runner-up, Beer and Tap: Moon River
Best Overall Bar, Best Martini: Jazz'd Tapas Bar
52 Barnard St
Good service, great menu, spacious, friendly bar and delicious martinis all combine for key wins here.
Runner-up, Overall: Hang Fire
Runner-up, Martini: Lulu's Chocolate Bar
Best Bartender: Paula Letcher, bar.food
With an intriguing combination of self-effacing shyness and a warm, inviting personality, Paula Letcher has garnered quite a following at the new midtown hotspot bar.food, along with business partner Johnny Baker.
While she's quick to credit Baker's vision for making the place a reality -- "he's a force to be reckoned with," she says admiringly -- it's clear that she is a vital component as well.
Like Baker, Letcher ascribes bar.food's success to its strongly neighborhood character.
"This is the kind of place people can walk to, ride their bikes to, and come see their friends," she says on a busy Friday evening, already hopping at 7 p.m. "Most of the people in here right now are regulars that we see at least once a week."
Runner-up: Kristen Smith
Best Bar Staff: Wild Wing Café
27 Barnard St
A dedicated crew keeps this City Market spot hoppin'.
Runner-up: The Jinx
Best Downtown Bar, Best College Bar: Hang Fire
37 Whitaker St
Wes Daniels and company have amassed great karma since opening on Whitaker Street several years ago and being in instant hit with hipsters, students, and cool people in general.
Runner-up, Downtown: The Jinx
Runner-up, College: Wild Wing
Best River Street Bar, Best Irish Pub: Kevin Barry's
117 W River St
One of the waterfront's oldest and most revered watering holes is also one of the best Irish pubs in the country.
Runner-up, River Street: Wet Willie's
Runner-up, Irish: Murphy's Law
Best Southside Bar: Spanky's Pizza Galley and Saloon
308 Mall Way
A venerable name in local nightlife circles racks up another win.
Runner-up: Sandfly Bar & Grill
Best Islands Bar: Britannia Pub
140 Johnny Mercer Blvd
Actually one of the coolest bars in town, and a real piece of the old sod on the marsh.
Runner-up: Oyster Bar
Best Tybee Bar: Doc's Bar
10 16th St
How could it be otherwise? The last oasis left of old Tybee's eclectic, eccentric spirit. Note there wasn't even a runner-up.
Best Westside Bar: Robins Nest
101 Godley Station Blvd
A friendly place in a newly revitalized Pooler-area neighborhood.
Best Neighborhood Bar: bar.food
4523 Habersham St
Very impressive start out of the gate for this new Habersham Village-area spot opened by local caterer and restaurateur Johnny Baker and his partner Paula Letcher.
"We're just a neighborhood bar, and we're packed every night based on word-of-mouth," says Baker. "Our European wine list has really taken off."
After years of working in Savannah, Baker has learned the hallmarks of a winning recipe here. "We keep it simple, low-budget, but really nice looking." -- JM
Runner-up: Pinkie Masters
Best Happy Hour, Best Margarita: Jalapenos
Quietly but persistently one of the up-and-coming bar scenes in town, chiefly for its awesome Margaritas.
Runner-up, Happy Hour: Mellow Mushroom
Runner-up: Margarita: Carlito's
Best Retail Beer Selection, Best Retail Wine Selection: Habersham Beverage
4618 Habersham St and 7927 Abercorn St
These perennial winners have a neighborhood location in Habersham Village and a superstore on Abercorn with everything and anything you might want in the beer and wine department.
Runner-up, Beer: World Market
Runner-up, Wine: Johnny Ganem
Best British Pub: Churchill's
13 W Bay St
Memories of the old location on Drayton have faded away as the "new" Churchill's closer to the waterfront has carved its own successful niche in a competitive market.
Runner-up: Six Pence
Best Billiards Hall: B&B Billiards
411 W Congress St
They quietly but firmly rack up another win in this category. Get it? Rack ‘em!
Runner-up: Southside Billiards
Best Dance Club, Best Gay/Lesbian Club: Club One
1 Jefferson St.
Hard to argue with the pedigree of the perennial victor in this category. They're fun, they're loud, and they have the best taste in music evah.
Runner-up, Dance: Club 51
Runner-up: Gay & Lesbian: Venus de Milo
Best Latin Dancing: Tantra Lounge
8 E Broughton St
Weekly salsa lessons in this sexy environment have been a hit.
Runner-up: Club Extacy
Best Hookup Spot: The Bar Bar
219 W St Julian St
Fun, dark, sexy, and populated with young hotties.
Runner-up: Venus de Milo
Best No-Frills Bar: The Rail Pub
405 W Congress St
A fun little watering hole just off Franklin Square. We hope they survive the development coming to that end of town.
Runner-up: Pinkie Masters
Best Sports Bar: Coach's Corner
3016 E Victory Dr
The Hendersons' spot on Victory Drive takes partying seriously, and sports even more seriously.
Runner-up: Wild Wing
Best Adult Entertainment: Uncle Harry's
12 N Lathrop Ave
Technically a Westside institution, but in reality just a quick jaunt from downtown.
Runner-up: The Gold Club
Best Music Venue: Live Wire Music Hall
207 River St.
We asked Brenden Robertson, the sound engineer at Live Wire Music Hall, what makes a good live music club. “Atmosphere,” he said.
“It’s all about the people that come to see the show, really,” says the 22-year-old Savannah native, who holds a BFA in sound design from SCAD. “It’s the audience. The talent of the band always varies, but as long as the people that come to see the show have good intentions – they just want to be entertained – everyone’s happy.”
The crowds have been pouring in – and, yes, leaving happy – ever since Live Wire opened its doors in March of 2008. The site of the old JJ Cagney’s, a vintage 1820s cotton warehouse building with the River Street power station right outside its front door, was leased by Roberston’s father Daniel as an extension of Live Wire Sounds, Inc., his sound reinforcement business.
He wanted to bring the family together under a single roof.
Brenden, a part-time musician who’s created sound palettes for dozens of bands both in town and on the road, was the logical choice to wire the place and operate the soundboard.
His brother Daniel Jr., with years of experience in restaurant and bar management, is the club’s general manager.
Cherise, their mother, worked on the interior design – three months of dead-serious renovations including tearing up lots of tacky carpet and acid-washing the original concrete floors, painting everything, re-lighting and re-dressing the walls of all three floors.
Live Wire has three full bars, video games, art gallery space, a dance floor and a café menu (well, that’s still in the works, but should be coming soon).
At the end of the day, however, it’s all about the music. A good percentage of the coolest national acts who’ve played Savannah over the last year – from jam bands to reggae stars to blues guitar heroes - did their thing on the Live Wire stage.
“We get really good feedback from our bands as far as their sound goes, and our hospitality, and the appreciation of people that come though here,” says Robertson.
“Overall, our success rate is as good as it possibly can be as far as the bands that play here.” -- BDY
Runner-up: The Jinx
Best Karaoke: McDonough's
21 E McDonough St
The Michael Jordan of this category, absolutely the best for as long as we can remember and likely to remain so into the future.
Runner-up: Club One