Restoring Timeless Charm

Popular eats provide new purpose for historic buildings that have seen it all
history, lifestyle, travel
Written By Lindsay Baslock
Photography By Terry Duthu

Past events can play into the personality of a space. In Savannah, Georgia, a city renowned for its large historic district, 18th and 19th century buildings have stood the test of time and witnessed decades of pivotal moments in America’s chronological churnings. While the purpose of a space may change, the vitality ingrained in the walls still exposes a glimpse into its former years.

For several Savannah restaurants, revived historic buildings are the perfect pairing for the bold, fresh dishes they offer in a city that prides itself on multicultural culinary influences handed down over generations. At four of Savannah’s newer establishments, the owners and chefs recognize that a restaurant is more than a means of consuming delicious food; it is about the gamut of gastronomic experiences offered in unique settings.

Atlantic

Counter stools get customers closer to the cooking.

Location: 102 East Victory Drive
Website: atlanticsavannah.com
Must-have dish: Kimchi Pancakes

Portions of Victory Drive once served as the final stretch of a grand prix road race and later morphed into a memorial for Savannah’s soldiers of World War I. The 19.8-mile corridor from Ogeechee Road to Tybee Island is said to be the longest palm-lined drive in the world.

In the 1930s, Atlantic Refinery Company stood as a last chance to refuel before heading back on the road. Nearly 90 years later, Atlantic is distinguishable by its stark white exterior. Inside it beams with original white brick walls and contemporary pops of orange and blue—a nod to the colors of the refinery. The front arching windows that gaze out to Victory Drive serve as focal points and allow immense natural light in the dining area.

Atlantic’s inviting atmosphere offers various dining options. Enjoy a plated mushroom pâté indoors with a glass of South African Mullineux. Or take a cocktail and appetizer outdoors to unwind with conversation by the bonfire.

Upscale dining does not have to feel uptight.

“It’s about experiencing great food made by passionate people,” say Jason Restivo, who opened the restaurant with his wife, Jennifer, in 2016. “We celebrate and appreciate people who work really hard for what they believe in.”

The Collins Quarter

Rustic seating adds to Down Under dining appeal.

Location: 151 Bull Street
Website: thecollinsquarter.com
Must-have dish: Avocado Smash

The quaint space on the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe streets dates to 1836 and has served as a florist shop, a brothel, and most recently, a hobby and craft shop. Every flawless imperfection along the 19th century brick walls binds a trace of charm to The Collins Quarter.

The Australian-styled café is more than just a stop for a beverage and brekkie, Aussie slang for breakfast. Since 2015, it’s the go-to place to experience traditional Aussie-style meals with zesty twists such as mango succotash and sorghum mascarpone swirl.

“We bring life’s experience so when you come here,” says Stephen Hamille, director of operations. “We give you every piece of the world we’ve traveled to.”

“We bring life’s experience so when you come here,” says Stephen Hamille, director of operations, “we give you every piece of the world we’ve traveled to.”

Owner Anthony Debreceny’s quest for the perfect cup of coffee led him to transform the old hobby shop into a bright, welcoming space, complete with a walk-up coffee window for those in need of a quick pick-me-up.

Each cup of coffee and tea is brewed with a precise technique by the extensively trained baristas. Timing is key to extracting premium flavor. One method uses a fascinating hourglass apparatus called a Coffeega, which extracts one drip of coffee at a time and can be adjusted to control the strength of the brew.

The Grey

Image By Quentin Bacon

A racer in repose.

Location: 109 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Website: thegreyrestaurant.com
Must-have dish: Foie and Grits

Art Deco meets industrial inside Savannah’s old Greyhound bus terminal. Shortly after opening in 2014, The Grey was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award and has recently been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From 1938 to 1965 travelers hustled and bustled through the Greyhound Bus Depot. Evidence of worn floors is visible in front of the ticket counter that now frames the kitchen.

“Not only did we take the renovation seriously,” says owner Johno Morisano, “we did an adaptive reuse of the space by adhering to the building’s architectural and historical integrity.”

While 99 percent of the original footprint remains intact, aesthetically The Grey transports guests back to a time when bus travel had a glamorous allure. Geometric motifs on the walls and custom-made booths and light fixtures were brought in to enhance the 1930s bus depot vibe.

The Grey pushes the envelope from food to design. While the ambiance invites guests to linger, the upscale Southern fare leaves them nothing short of satiated.

Chef Mashama Bailey seasons her menu with inspiration from her Southern roots and other cultures around the world. Her originality is found through diverse menu options from vegetarian collard greens to pan-roasted squid. And to cap off the night, one of the eight signature switchel cocktails never fails to satisfy.

The Vault

Teller windows serve up fresh orders.

Location: 2112 Bull Street
Website: vaultkitchen.com
Must-have dish: Chicken Claypot

A shiny new penny of sorts, The Vault provides patrons glimpses of its past. For more than 50 years, the building served Savannah as Bank of America.

The original sturdy white columns still accent the entryway. Inside a gleaming 3-ton steel vault door serves as a focal point and entry to an exclusive dining room.

“Every building has a history; just because we use the space differently doesn’t mean the history is gone,” says owner Ele Tran.

Interior designer Vanessa Heidersberger added other touches from the building’s past to enhance the dining experience. Safety deposit boxes serve as design elements on the wall in the shape of a bull—representing the street location—and the pastiche along the front of the bar.

Inch-thick bulletproof glass that once surrounded the teller booths now encloses the kitchen and is used as vanities in the restrooms to complement the assortment of nickels collaged on the floor.

“The idea was to create a flavor of urban fun that you might see in New York City or Seattle—but in Savannah,” says project architect Jose Gonzalez.

“The idea was to create a flavor of urban fun that you might see in New York City or Seattle—but in Savannah,” says project architect Jose Gonzalez.

While tasteful Asian-infused cuisine and a vibrant atmosphere make dining at The Vault enjoyable, what makes it all the more special are the memories it conjures for visitors. Those who used to work or bank there are now able to withdraw new memories in this chic eatery.



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