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Written by Emily Earl, Photographer, Co-founder and Executive Director of Sulfur Studios

When I started my photo series, Late Night Polaroids: Photographs by Emily Earl back in 2012, I set out to document the thriving nightlife scene of downtown Savannah, GA. I’d grab my Polaroid ProPack camera and black and white instant film and head out, starting on one end of Congress Street, following the crowds along the streets and sidewalks until I got to the other end. Then I’d turn around and go back, retracing several times throughout the night. Over the years, there have been a lot of amazing bars that have opened in other areas of the city, like the Starland District. About halfway through working on my project I decided to start documenting these new spots too. Follow along with me as I take you from one end of Congress to the other, and then wander southward and through Starland.

Hang Fire

Bar – Currently ClosedMost nights I would start out at Hang Fire, a bar that used to be on the corner of Congress Lane and Whitaker Street. Hang Fire was a great place to run into friends, drink cheap beer and see amazing music. The staff there was really incredible – here is Andrew, one of the bartenders, hard at work making their famous Scorpion Tea, a dangerous concoction made with bourbon, raspberry and ginger beer.

El Rocko Lounge

Lounge

After closing Hang Fire, a local favorite, co-owner Wes Daniel opened up a new spot at 117 Whitaker Street. El Rocko Lounge has the same crew of regulars, but it is decked out in 1970’s gold, with mirrored walls, orange bucket seat bar stools and playground spring horses. They are self-described as ‘a quiet neighborhood oasis for barrel-aged cocktail-fueled sexual dalliances… A welcome respite from the humdrum grind of life…”

One night during Halloween weekend, I got this photo of two people taking a break from dancing, and then for some reason licking the window. It was so crowded and steamy inside; you can see their breath creating fog on the window!Here is another photo of some of the crew at El Rocko Lounge, posing on the bar.

Street Style

Downtown SavannahI probably most enjoy taking photos outside of bars. Since you can drink within the parameters of Historic District Savannah, there’s always something interesting going on outside the different clubs. I’ve seen a lot of great moments while walking between locations, like this one, that I’m very glad I caught. I was walking from The Jinx to El Rocko Lounge and just so happened to look in the open doors of the Persepolis Lounge. These two were on a date and just as I clicked the shutter, she started laughing and reached out and put her hand on his knee. I knew immediately I had gotten the shot.  One night I was on the same corner and saw this guy standing in this doorway talking with some friends. He looked so incredible I went up and interrupted them so I could get this shot.
Almost in the exact same location one night I saw these two making out in the middle of Whitaker Street. I love the contrast of the classy satin glove and her grip on her cellphone – the completely black background allows you to really get enveloped in their moment.

Waiting to cross Broughton Street to head back towards Congress Street, I saw this guy walking towards me with a group of friends. I worked up the courage to ask him for a picture – I knew the black leather would look good against this white stucco wall. I typically don’t like for people to pose for photos, but he swung his pinstriped jacket over his shoulders and struck this pose and it was just perfect – a little sexy and a little off-putting all at once.You run into all kinds of interesting things happening downtown, even in the alleys. Here are some performers from The House of Gunt back in 2014. They graciously posed for a few photos one night in between sets during their performance at Hang Fire.

One New Year’s Eve, 2015, I was walking down Congress Street just after midnight. Everyone was pouring out of the bars to head to the next place. The sidewalks were filled, and it was kind of a chaotic moment. I saw this guy leaned up against this parking meter, very calm and staring at one of the clubs, waiting for someone. I don’t think he saw me take his picture and I never saw who he was waiting on to emerge from inside.

The Jinx

Bar – Currently Closed

Just further down the street is where The Jinx used to be, at 127 West Congress Street – so many good memories there! I had been going to see music in this ‘boozery and music cavern’ since I was 15, when I had to have a giant black X drawn in Sharpie on my hand, showing that I was underage and only there for the music.  In operation from 2003 to 2020, they were famous for being the only real live music club in Savannah, the home to many emerging punk, metal, hip hop and country bands – and for their love of Wild Turkey. I took a lot of photos for this project (and others) inside and just outside The Jinx.

For me, it was the place to stand outside, and people watch while enjoying a beer or two after getting off a late shift at work. Every year on Halloween they would serve up a whole weekend of festivities – always featuring fake blood wrestling one night, and cover bands on another. In 2012, some friends got together to do a Runaways cover band and I got this photo of two of the band members leaned up in the doorway next to The Jinx during a set break.

This photo of Miss Luna Noir from the Sweet Tease Burlesque troupe was taken on The Jinx stage, the chevron stripes leftover from a past years’ Twin Peaks Halloween theme. The Jinx closed this past year, but luckily the owners have opened Conjure, a ‘metaphysical odditorium’ that features handmade jewelry by some of the former bartenders (made with rattlesnake vertebrae and alligator claws!), paintings and other oddities just down the street on Montgomery Street.

Ghost Town Tattoo Studio

Tattoo Parlor Conjure, a ‘metaphysical odditorium’, sits next door to Ghost Town Tattoo Studio, where I took this photo in 2013 of an aspiring model, I met one night – she was showing me her favorite pose to strike in photo shoots. I told her to walk over next to the window, thinking that her black and white striped shirt would look good with the shop’s lettering and barred window.  I love how the tip of the “T” in Tattoo peeks out from behind her head like a little devil horn, it certainly adds to her mischievous look.

The Fat Radish

Restaurant

Continuing our walk down Congress Street heading West, we run into what is currently The Fat Radish on the corner of Congress and MLK Blvd. Previously, the space had been home to several bars over the years. My favorite, The Sparetime, featured incredible and inventive cocktails, an amazing staff and was where I was first introduced to Fernet. Here is one of their bartenders one night around 3AM – the bar was just closing and the employees were about to throw down some cash to bet on a round of arm wrestling. I love all the gesturing hands, sideways glances, and dollar bills.

Savoy Society

Restaurant / Bar

After the Sparetime closed, I continued to check back in to see what was happening over on this busy corner, and got some more great shots during Ampersand’s stint at 36 MLK Blvd.  Luckily Jane, one of the owners of the Sparetime has opened up Savoy Society this past year at 102 East Liberty – incredible cocktail menu with amazing food, and their kitchen tends to stay open late, which I love. They make the best martinis in town, plus their Modern Love cocktail is one of my all-time favorites – a boozy drink with tequila, Campari and grapefruit. I also love their take on the famous Chatham Artillery Punch; using yaupon tea, made from yaupon holly – a tree native to the southeastern US.

Mata Hari’s Speakeasy

Lounge / Bar

If you feel like wandering a little closer to the river, walk down the cobblestone path to Mata Hari’s Speakeasy, but first you’ve got to find a friend who’s got a key to this member only club, hidden down on Factor’s Walk.

Alley Cat Lounge

Lounge / Bar

My favorite place to end the night when I’m downtown is Alley Cat Lounge – this lively, ambient basement bar has an extensive menu that fills an entire newspaper, literally. Of their over 150 classic and original cocktails, my personal favorite out of their 10th edition of their menu, the Alley Cat Rag, is the Forty Niner – rye whiskey, lemon, honey, bitters.

Pinkie Masters

Lounge / Bar

Wander a little further south to Savoy Society on Liberty Street, and half a block down on the corner of Drayton and East Harris is The Original Pinkie Masters, one of the oldest bars in Savannah. The ownership has changed in the last several years, but the place has retained every ounce of its charm – you can count on Pinkie’s for an interesting talk with a stranger, $3 beers and strong slushies.

Post #135

Lounge / Bar

Now let’s take a walk down to the Starland District, where a bunch of fun new bars have opened in just the last couple of years. Just half a block over from Forsyth Park at 1108 Bull Street we’ll start at an old favorite though, the American Legion Post #135, which has been around since 1946 and to this day has the cheapest, strongest mixed drinks in town. They also have great burgers & fries in the neighboring Betty Bombers, plus a nice little patio. This photo was taken in the upstairs ballroom one holiday season at a 1920’s themed party. When I walked up to the bar and saw this woman in this gorgeous dress and headband, I knew I had to ask for a photo. At first, she was skeptical, but after we talked for a minute she agreed. I noticed the guys in the background at the other end of the bar and knew the flash would make them into beautiful silhouettes.

The Wormhole

Bar / GrillAs we make our way down Bull Street, we find the Wormhole Bar, nestled between Sulfur Studios and Chadel’s liquor store. A cozy cave in Starland, the Wormhole features all kinds of entertainment from comedy and lively trivia nights to some passionate karaoke. They’ve hosted some surprising acts over the years like Dick Dale and Jonathan Richman. They’ve also got a large patio painted with a glittery space scene that’s a great place to sit and talk for happy hour.

The Lone Wolf

Lounge / Bar

Across the street at 2220 Bull Street, the Water Witch tiki bar opened just last year, plus there’s Sey Hey on Bull and Two Tides Brewing Company & Starland Yard (which has a full outside bar, revolving food trucks and Vittoria’s Pizza) are just past Graveface Records on 40th Street. Meander a few blocks east and you’ll find one of my favorite bars, the Lone Wolf Lounge which opened in the summer of 2018. The perfect neighborhood bar, with a rotating menu that heavily features tiki cocktails, they recently just added a game room and have also opened their sister bar, Sea Wolf, out on Tybee Island. Lone Wolf’s 1970’s wood paneling reminds me of my childhood home, and the staff couldn’t be sweeter.  Their cocktail menu is filled with beautiful watercolor illustrations of each drink – try the Knights in White Denim or the Zippah – gin, absinthe and lemon, yum!

I hope you enjoyed wandering the streets with me and getting a glimpse into some of my favorite places to eat, drink and be with friends. Remember to always tip your bartenders, they depend on your generosity to survive, especially in these tough times, and always use a rideshare service or take a nice stroll to get around town for drinks. To see more work from my Late Night Polaroids series, go check out my #art912 solo exhibition on display at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center, on view through April 4th 2021 – or visit aint-bad.com to order my recent monograph, which features 75 images from the series. Thanks for coming on this drinking & photography tour with me – Cheers!
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