Doing Beats Seeing When You Go Retro in Savannah, Georgia USA –A chat with Mark Thomas, The Thunderbird Inn, Savannah, Georgia
Against its background of staid and important history, Savannah, Georgia also offers a fun, relevant and appealing retro layer, showcasing some of the fun remembered from the mid-century. Best part? This is action-oriented fun, better done than seen.
“Retro is full of vitality rather than passive here,” informs retro travel champion Mark Thomas, general manager of The Thunderbird Inn. “”We’ve got history but we’ve also got neon!”
Start with the stars! You’ll find them under a neon marquee and beneath crisscrossing searchlights in the sky. Presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Savannah Film Festival (October 25 – November 1, 2014) is on Broughton Street in SCAD’s Trustees Theatre, right next door to the nostalgic Leopold’s Ice Cream. Honored guests for the 2014 festival include Gena Rowlands, Renee Zellweger, Matt Bomer, Asa Butterfield, and Analeigh Tipton.
Retro tastes good, too! Take your seat in Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room next to whomever Fate sends your way and chow down on the classic Southern cooking that kept farm hands working in the Depression. Save room for a sundae with freshly made chocolate fudge at Leopold’s Ice Cream, which boasts a circa-1920s pedigree. When asked for his retro breakfast recommendation, quickly Mark names Clary’s Café, renowned for plate-size buttermilk pancakes, thick southern ham slices, and made-to-order omelets. You may remember it from the book and movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” but it predates that fame by decades.
What about lunch? Mark favors the Crystal Beer Parlor where nostalgic Savannah photographs line the walls and titillating tales of the Prohibition-era Speakeasy swirl. As famous for its fried chicken as its barbecue, Johnny Harris Restaurant is where Capitol Records’ co-founder and “Hooray for Hollywood” lyricist Johnny Mercer liked to dine when he was at home in Savannah. Located on Victory Drive near Grayson Stadium, diners can eat-in-the-kitchen or dine in the ballroom ‘under the stars’ (in the ceiling). Grayson Stadium is where the New York Met’s minor league affiliate Savannah Sand Gnats play baseball April through early September. And, the grand ole stadium where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke November 18, 1933, when he and his mother came to celebrate Georgia’s 150th year celebration.
Take in a performance in a place where you really ache for the walls to talk – be it the lively musical productions in the historic Savannah Theatre or a performance of the Savannah Philharmonic in the Lucas Theatre’s carefully restored Jazz Age glory.
Mark adds, “Have you met the Forrest Gump impersonator featured by Old Savannah Tours, or the dapper tour guide, Savannah Dan, who wears a seersucker suit, walking through the streets and squares of the National Landmark Historic District telling his stories? People are in search of human contact, don’t you think?”
More don’t-miss spots opened with a vintage spirit — The Distillery (showing silent movies), Green Truck Pub (featuring grass-fed beef and organic, homemade condiments), and Back in the Day Bakery, THE place for 1950s décor, artisan breads, banana pudding and brownie desserts. The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day boasts weeks on the New York Times best seller’s list.
The Thunderbird Inn – located in the ‘Canal District’ and known as the “hippest hotel in Savannah”™ — is getting some new, hip neighbors. They include Chatham Area Transit’s (CAT) free downtown shuttle and Greyhound Bus station – both in the newly renovated CAT hub. “International travelers adore bus travel, train travel, and cycling – those things Americans consider retro. The Savannah bike share rental program and Amtrak travel are gaining in popularity. Like running, cycling is also abuzz, thanks in part to Savannah’s flat terrain and village-like setting downtown. Over the last few years the Georgia Railroad Museum has also enjoyed new interest, much like SCAD’s restored Streamliner Diner (West Henry Street),” said Mark.
Can things get any better?
“Oh, yes!” Mark adds. “Wonderfully surprising, Savannah’s retro experiences are very affordable! Plus, the mischievous-little-beach-town vibe of Tybee Island is due east, 20 minutes from downtown.”
ABOUT MARK THOMAS AND THE THUNDERBIRD INN
General Manager of The Thunderbird Inn was voted among Savannah’s 40 Under 40 young professionals, a graduate of Leadership Savannah and recently beamed when acknowledging that The Thunderbird Inn — @TbirdInn on Twitter — was named to USA Today’s “Top 10 Best Retro Hotels in the USA” (July 2014). “What perfect timing for this inn’s 50th birthday year – 1964-2014!” Mark adds.
“Groovy geeksarrive for GeekEnd (November 13-15, 2014) annually, SCAD students, parents, Baby Boomers, artists and the pop culture crowd adore this place. They boast about our southern MoonPie® and RC Cola ® among in-room treats, hot popcorn on arrival, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme® doughnuts in the morning” and the big neon sign that sports groovy messages. “The intersection of Yes, Ma’am and Dude” and “Run, Forrest Run” are among the ones we receive the most comments and grins.”
Recommended by Southern Living and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazines, the Thunderbird Inn was built and opened in the Swingin’ Sixites (circa 1964). “Sure, it’s changed. Like retro, this place is in vogue again. Plus, we are going green, and we’re uber dog friendly,” the preppy manager explains.
In 2014 the retro inn’s 50th birthday celebration joins more famous milestone celebrations – the first USA performance by The Beatles, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passing (73-27 vote), and the first Ford Mustang was produced ($2,368 base price).
It’s too close to Halloween to bypass telling you that ‘Bewitched’, ‘Munsters’, and ‘The Addams Family’ premiered on TV in 1964, too.
It’s late now. “Say goodnight, Gracie,” George Burns would say. More retro stories tomorrow. “Goodnight.”