Savannah Christmasby James Byous on 12/23/10
Christmas is here and Savannah is ready. The weather is unusually frigid for the South, enough to make our Northern visitors tote their duck-down and faux-fur coats up and down and around City Market and the worn slate steps to River Street. In both locations they are rewarded with great food and history and the wafting of fresh pralines and crab chowder along the lane of concrete curbs and cobblestones.
At the Olympic Cafe, Nick Pappas mans the register, barking orders to the counter and kitchen help. The menu above his head reads cheeseburgers, fries, gyros and baklavas - true Greek-American fare. The walls are frescoed with Hellenic beauties; grapes and vines, wine bottles. Framed travel photos of ancient-Greek-ruins hang beside back-lit menus; "Gyros $8, with fries 75 cents."
Above the back-bar are dozens of mini-flags signifying countries from around the world. They highlight the long list of domestic and imported beers. Passing the door is a constant stream of ball caps, tee-shirts and tennis shoes; year-round wear for the mostly-moderate Savannah climate.
On the street pigeons peck the ground and dodge the occasional size-ten while searching for morsels and crumbs among the children, cobbles and curbs. Visitors from Ohio, New York and other points north search for undiscovered history, happiness-for-the-day and a few treasures - a tee-shirt for Dad, "The Book" for Mom, or an extra snow globe for Aunt Edna, or the boss, or the grandkids, or whoever they've forgotten during the course of their travels.
It is a typical day, however cold, on Savannah's famous River Street, the short, busy route that hugs the waters of the Savannah River. Now a tourist area, it was once the commercial heart that pumped supplies and necessities of Colonial and antebellum life to the region. It still does. Not through shipments of lumber or pine-tar, or cotton, but through tourism dollars that help form the number-two industry in the city.
River Street has more than enough daytime excitement and night-life for most. Humming among the centuries-old buildings, tourism reigns supreme. Hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars are busy most of the year. But the crowds can be crushing during St. Patrick's Day festivities to the point that some business owners have considered closing down for the celebration. River Street's St. Pat's is usually taboo for kids, though the rest of the year the street is totally family friendly.
Kevin Barry's Pub is a landmark to tourists and locals alike. Kevin Gerard Barry was an Irish patriot, an eighteen-year-old revolutionary who had the misfortune during a rebel street skirmish of having his gun jam while hiding under a truck. A passerby who actually supported the rebels thought he had been run over by said truck, so he summoned the police... bad move. Barry was executed.
His execution was the lynchpin that kicked the Irish Revolution into its "Bloody" phase. It was accented by his young age and his refusal to break under interrogation and torture. So, the pub is in his honor. And the Irish do stop by - oh yeah - they do stop by. So do others who enjoy a pint from time to time - or two - as well as a wee bit o' the live Irish music.
Barry's is the main watering hole on the northern stretch of River Street cobbles just before it fizzles out into the former red-light district in the Indian Street wharf and warehouse section of town.
If you're driving along I-95, stop in and tell them, "hello" before you wander down to shop.