CITY BEAT: Taking the pulse of the downtown Savannah restaurant scene


By Bill Dawers

The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, but we’re seeing a restaurant renaissance in Savannah right now as savvy entrepreneurs, talented chefs and other industry professionals join forces.

It’s a trend we’ve been covering for years here at City Talk, and there is no sign of it slowing down. Just consider some of the recent developments.

At long last, 39 Rue de Jean seems poised to open its doors at 605 West Oglethorpe Ave. on the ground floor of the Embassy Suites.

The French restaurant’s Facebook page recently suggested an October opening date. That’s surely good news for fans of the existing 39 Rue de Jean in Charleston.

Jesse Blanco wrote recently in this paper about the new restaurant Atlantic, which will open in 2016 at the corner of Drayton Street and Victory Drive. Jesse also wrote about the opening of The Naked Dog and Reality Bites Bakery at 1514 Bull St. and about the new Maine-ly Dawgs Cafè at 205 East 37th St.

Many of us have been keeping an eye on the extensive renovations of the former Bank of America branch at the corner of Bull and 39th streets. That establishment is the latest project of the restaurant group Ele and the Chef.

The Collins Quarter at the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Bull Street recently launched its long-anticipated dinner service.

And several other ambitious new restaurants are in some stage of development. Those projects promise we’ll see exciting new openings throughout 2016 and into 2017.

How many more restaurants can Savannah support?

With tourism still on the rise, with the local population growing and with the area economy strong, we have every reason to expect continued growth in demand.

Savannah’s restaurant scene might still be a long way from getting the respect accorded cities like Charleston and New Orleans, but we’re certainly headed in the right direction.

Can current leadership make any headway on crime?

Over the last 15 years, I’ve often written about crime.

I’ve cited all sorts of crime statistics over the years and discussed various crime-fighting strategies.

For the most part, however, I’ve written about crime from my perspective as a resident for almost 20 years of the Thomas Square neighborhood.

My house is several blocks south of Forsyth Park, so I have for years walked and biked through portions of the Victorian District with high crime rates. When I first moved to the neighborhood, there was a pocket of blatant street-level drug dealing and prostitution a few blocks east on Habersham Street.

A few blocks to the west is the Jefferson Street corridor, which is legendary for its street-level criminality.

I have written often about official inaction to address obvious trouble spots like these, but I have not often speculated publicly about the roots of that inaction. I have always assumed Savannah’s history of tolerance for street-level crime in certain neighborhoods is the result of a pervasive civic cynicism compounded by institutional racism.

Sure, we were all aware that corruption could be a contributing factor to Savannah’s high crime rate, but the RICO civil suit filed recently by four former police officers suggests that corruption might have played a larger role than I feared.

No, we don’t know what will happen to the lawsuit, but I still recommend that concerned citizens take the time to read the text. Take special note of the sections that describe how individual drug squad officers were allegedly tipping off dealers who were being targeted for investigation and arrest.

Chief Jack Lumpkin, who has been on the job for less than a year, has frequently mentioned the problem of open-air drug markets, but Savannah’s political leaders have rarely acknowledged the problem as frankly as Lumpkin has.

Of course, many of our elected and appointed leaders have been in positions of power for a long time. Can we really expect that they will understand the depth of the problem when they’ve spent so many years minimizing or ignoring the most obvious forms of criminal behavior?

I don’t know what will happen in the November election, but there is a fair chance we will end up re-electing most of the incumbents running for Savannah City Council.

What happens then?

More empty rhetoric about fighting crime, even as shootings increase and police staffing further deteriorates? Or will the election process itself compel the city leadership to act more quickly to support Chief Lumpkin’s initiatives?

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City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via[email protected]. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.


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