If you’re even tangentially involved in the nightlife scene on Congress Street, you know that Ampersand is the place to go.
It’s the perfect location—at the corner of MLK and Congress, it’s where everyone goes to regroup, meet friends, or call an Uber. The all-glass facade hides nothing about what’s going on inside, and owner James Reese calls that both a blessing and a curse.
“People walk by and say, ‘it’s dead! Gosh, how do they even stay open?’ They come back twenty minutes later and it’s packed,” he says.
Seeing other people having a good time is always encouragement. Unlike other bars on the strip, hidden behind historic exteriors, Ampersand allows a glance at what the vibe is like before you take the leap of faith and go in for a drink.
And whether the crowd is coming or going, there’s always good music to keep you dancing.
Reese, who’s overseen the bar for a year and a half, books the live music and has three go-to DJs: Luis, Cleveland, and Leo. He met Leo when he owned a gay bar on Hilton Head and hired him as their DJ. When Reese came to Savannah, he brought Leo with him.
“Leo is really good with house music, Miami Beach, things of that nature,” Reese explains.
The house music is a surefire attraction for college kids, and unlike other clubs, Ampersand is a safe space for them to dance, which is often a key factor in choosing which place to frequent.
“We never have any fights, everyone has a great time,” Reese says. “It’s not a bad crowd. It makes the girls feel safe.”
SCAD kids are the obvious market for Ampersand because of their proximity to downtown, and Reese says that clientele came with the space.
“I’ve got a lot of kids that work for me that go to SCAD, and on the third floor we do a lot of art installations for SCAD students, a lot of shows,” he explains. “We have things that are directed towards a lot of what they do. But a lot of it is also Armstrong kids, and Army people come there. It’s really weird, the mix of people, and how it all kind of flows and goes together.”
Reese also isn’t afraid to try new things with music—he brought in Daas Unterground, a traveling DJ who plays EDM and house music.
“They brought in a whole different dynamic and a different type of SCAD crowd we didn’t have before,” he says.
Another big draw for Ampersand is that they use local spirits like Daufuskie Island Rum and Savannah Bourbon in their craft cocktails, which, admittedly, doesn’t always matter to college kids but makes a big difference in taste.
Ampersand’s ability to appeal to multiple people—the craft cocktail set and the college kids—makes it the perfect bar for any night out.—Rachael Flora
Runner-up: Congress St. Social Club