I dont know about you, but the next time I decide to go out to dinner it will probably be to downtown Savannahs Firefly Cafe.
Theres easy parking (once the St. Vincents Academy girls are gone for the day).
Its casual; I can come straight from the garden, all covered with grass stains and dirty knees.
The music is benign and non-offensive. Always a plus.
I can sit outside under the sprawling oaks in the company of a friend or the silence of a book.
I can be served. Always a pleasure.
If Im brave I can venture away from my usual, the pasta Lorraine, a lovely dish of portobellos, caramelized red onions, grilled leeks, goat cheese and roasted red peppers.
Nothing I couldnt put together at home, mind you, but once again, its that serving part. Always a pleasure.
Would that this sweet experience on a charming square in a lovely restaurant with people who know how to cook and how to serve will be allowed to continue. Would that someone as smart and as hardworking as these owners will decide to open something similar one day in my
neighborhood. I should be so lucky.
Because aside from the service, the food, the convenience, customers such as myself who come and go, who eat outside, represent yet another pair of eyes on the neighborhood, another possible deterrent to the miscreant behavior that seems to plague our have/have not city.
The last time I visited the Firefly, I met Danny Rose, an octogenarian dog, listened to other customers greet someone back from her travels, ran into a woman I hadnt seen in a long time. It was friendly, neighborly, communal, public. Just what you want.
And because Im over 21 and can afford to, I had a glass of wine with dinner, served in a cafe-style glass, not a wine glass. A pinot noir, as I recall. And because the dinner was so good, the experience so pleasant, I may have ordered a second glass.
But that was cutting it close, because the hands-on owners -- cognizant of the neighborhood setting, aware of its early-to-bed customer base, anxious to preserve their own sanity (they open at 11 during the week, 9 on the weekends, and stay open all through the day) -- close the cafe doors at the conservative, old-fogyish hour of 8:30 (9:30 during the weekend).
Nothing radical here, folks. No customers running amok with their one- two- or, heaven forbid, three-glassses-of-wine dinners. No loud music. No dancing in the streets. No pool tables, video games, live music.
No history of any brawls. No donnybrooks. No melees.
And yet, there is a group of people in our fair city who stand opposed to this radical policy. A group of downtown people -- some live in the immediate vicinity of the cafe, some do not -- who are arguing the domino effect, that if one cafe on one corner is allowed to sell wine then the practice, like kudzu, is apt to spread.
This group, the newly formed Landmark District Residents Association, is claiming the illegal use of spot-zoning, which by definition occurs when a small area of land in an existing neighborhood is singled out and placed in a different zone from that of neighboring property.
Restaurants, they say, are not compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood. The wrinkle with the Firefly Cafe is that it is grandfathered into the space.
The City Council voted 6-3 in favor of allowing wine with dinner.
In the same way that a few years ago people argued against outdoor seating on Broughton Street -- which today is a very common, very inviting, very harmless occurrence -- this group is arguing that serving wine will change the character of the neighborhood, disrupt traffic, devalue property.
Hogwash. But since this group is formed and interested in downtown --
and bankrolled -- I personally can think of many other directions they could go, although telling people how to spend their money is always delicate.
For starters, how about fighting to hold owners of rowdy establishments like the Frozen Paradise or any number of City Market bars responsible for what happens on their property? There are residents in and around Broughton Street who have paid big bucks for their residences. How about protecting their peace of mind?
How about working to strengthen ordinances that would make property owners responsible for drugs that are sold out of their buildings?
What about holding SCADs feet to the fire to build parking lots for their students? If were going to talk compatibility with a residential neighborhood, cars of part-timers would not be it.
But corner cafes serving wine with dinner? Thats a good thing.
The only thing I object to are the cafe-style wine vessels. Stemware is much more elegant.
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If I left, how far inland would I have to drive to be safe? How hard would it be to find a motel that would take in my cat and I? How would my cat act all that time in the car? She gets very unhappy in just the five-mile drive to the vet.
The ordinance was written by and for the entrenched interests of downtown property owners, seeking to preserve their dominance in the short-term rental market, and hoteliers seeking to limit the growth of new, competing supply in a market where they are already concerned with over-building.