I think reiterating my ignorance about the South is in order here. Being a dyed–in–the–wool Yankee, I had a lot of impressions of the South rummaging through the recesses of my mind. I had very little idea of what to expect from this place. Luckily for me, it didn’t take long to see just how skewed my perceptions really were. I usually don’t use the word “beautiful” when describing hotels, but The Bohemian is truly a beautiful work of art–a brick and mortar jewel on the Savannah riverfront. One has to see it to understand what I’m referring to here.
Richard Kessler, the man behind the two hotels, is an avid art collector, and has packed more original art, paintings and sculptures in his hotels than most museums. It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but one simply has to see it for themselves. The reception area, every hallway and every room is a showcase for gorgeous original art. The lush pieces of furniture are works of art in and of themselves, paying homage to British campaign furniture–fi tted with fi nely grained wood, brass and leather. One almost doesn’t want to leave, but one look outside and that sentiment changes rather quickly.
Rocks on the River Modern Grill and Rocks on the Roof Modern Lounge
My only exposure to southern cooking was the occasional fried chicken and waffles I get in D.C. I didn’t really know what to expect. Savannah is so tied to its past, I thought that the food would be overtly traditional. What I found was a city that prided itself on its innovative cuisine. Everywhere you go in the historic Savannah you are confronted by restaurants and chefs that push the envelope in what Southern cooking can be.
The first of two restaurants at the Bohemian is The Rocks on the River. Located at the base of the hotel on River Street overlooking the Savannah River, the Rocks on the River is a perfect spot to enjoy delicious refreshing drinks and signature dishes created by executive chef Jonathan Massey. Make sure to try the ribs here. A full rack of them smothered in honey bourbon BBQ sauce with a side of blue cheese slaw is a slice of heaven. Like the rest of the hotel, the Rocks on the River has an impressive collection of original art, creating a warm and casual atmosphere that is both inviting and beautiful. There’s that word again.
The second restaurant at the Bohemian is the Rocks on the Roof Modern Lounge. I had my breakfasts here in the morning and enjoyed great live music and plenty of drinks at night. Judging from the crowd vying for a spot at the front door, Rocks on the Roof is one of Savannah’s hottest spots for people who want to be seen. Th e open balcony area was a special treat at night. With the city on one side, lushly lit up and buoyant, and the Savannah River on the other with its old steamboats passing slowly by, Th e Rocks on the Roof is a perfect place to spend a night out with friends and loved ones whilst taking in the ambiance of the city.
Mansion on Forsyth Park
Like other Kessler properties, art is central here. With over 400 pieces of original art, the Mansion is an experience more than a hotel. Opulent and stunning, the Mansion defines Southern hospitality and luxury. No detail was overlooked, and it is clear that no expense was too great for Richard Kessler. My suite, although smaller than my room at the Bohemian, was gorgeous. Each wall was adorned with more beautiful pieces of art. My view was stunning, overlooking the Forsyth Park, which I found to be eerily inviting at night with giant tree branches hanging low, covered in Spanish moss.
I was lucky enough to dine at three of the six eclectic dining rooms at Mansion’s restaurant, 700 Drayton. Th e food was superb on each occasion, but it was the last meal at the hotel that really showcased Chef Michael Grove’s talents. A phenomenal Cashew Crusted Salmon Sriracha served with a mandarin glaze, red chili sauce, baby bok-choy, over a bed of basmati rice was delectable. Hospitality being central to everything they do at Kessler hotels, and Savannah in general, Chef Michael came out on a busy Friday night to say hello and make sure that everything was up to their exacting standards.
Savannah is a city like no other in the United States. Coming in, I had more than a few reservations about the city, (think deep fried butter sticks, and a raucous Paula Deen clawing at my chest) but was utterly and completely enchanted within a few hours of being there. Savannah is steeped in history; every street and every building has more than a few tales to tell.
The storied graveyards, the gorgeous Victorian mansions that make up the city’s historic district, the people and their indelible spirit of hospitality left a lasting impression in my heart.
Art is central, not just in Richard Kessler’s two superb properties, but in the city in general. Being home to the Savannah School of Art and Design and countless galleries and museums, creativity and a certain bohemian outlook is prevalent amongst the locals. Th e food scene is one of the most lively I have yet to encounter. Dynamic and original, the chefs in Savannah have one foot in the considerable Southern traditions and the other in innovation. The outcome is a uniqueness that is all their own. Not that you need any further enticements, but here’s an added bonus: you can drink cocktails on the streets. Just stop by one of the many local bars, and ask for a tall one, to go.
ALI VONAL is the editor for both I AM Modern and Modern DC Business Magazines. When not writing, editing and being a general nuisance to everyone at work, Ali spends his days reading, watching soccer and being a general nuisance to his wife of 12 years, Daphne.