WHEN IT comes to this city’s Thursday night hustle, the struggle to keep up is real.

The last evening of the workweek has always been plenty stacked, and now that the heat index has dipped from broiling to merely sweltry, the calendar boileth over with enough happy hours, artsy openings and charity events to confound even the most seasoned social butterfly.

click to enlarge The Savannah  Thursday Night Hustle
Bobby Zarem, Jane Fishman, Liza Judson and Brian Judson were bowled over by art at Laney Contemporary.

You’d think with so many on items on Savannah’s dance card at the same time, I would’ve been smart enough to wear more comfortable shoes. Instead, I paired my killer vintage Fluevog heels with a gorgeous silk dress recently scored at fashionistas Stephanie Raimes and Anna Quinlivan’s front porch sale, and the only thing better than rocking a look that’s totally lit is knowing you only paid five bucks for it.

Naturally, the weather gods felt the need to humble me with a quick rainstorm, lest I thought I was going to show up anywhere around here sans swamp hair.

But the silk dried out and the dark clouds moved on as my Thursday Savannah social sojourn began at the grand opening of Laney Contemporary Fine Art, the stunning new gallery space and professional home of curator and changemaker Susan Laney. Fusing the legacy of legendary photographer Jack Leigh with a focus on the region’s tremendously talented artists, Laney Contemporary is already attracting national attention. (Even if that Vogue article about Savannah being “the next Brooklyn” wasn’t my favorite, it did get a few things right.)

click to enlarge The Savannah  Thursday Night Hustle
Photo by Maggie Harney
The Creative Coast’s Coco Papy (r) and Mark Lubbers of Gauge Interactive commune at the #MadeinSAV Kickoff Party.

The ‘80s Brutalist-inspired building on Mills B. Lane (also occupied by Susan’s contractor husband Frank Ellsworth and his design partner Matthew Hallett as well as Matthew's actual partner, artist Daniel E. Smith) tends to be described as “off the beaten path,” but it’s less than ten minutes from downtown—literally a straight shot out W. 52nd Street—and it won’t take long for it to become a (if not “the”) definitive destination for Savannah’s art scene.

I mean, what other gallery can boast mirrors on the ceiling and the 1970 on ice?

Beverage goddess Ikeda Feingold’s celebrated infused vodka cocktail flowed—garnished with edible flowers by bar mistress Jane Fishel—as more than five hundred art appreciators and aesthetes came to admire Katherine Sandoz’s magnificent marshscapes, Betsy Cain’s exquisitely shredded canvases, Marcus Kenney’s riveting found-object collages and Todd Schroeder’s haunting polka-dot shadows. More works by Pamela Wiley, Stephanie Howard, Benjamin Jones, Elizabeth Winnel and Will Penny rounded out the show, giving glimpses of Laney’s vision of contemporary Southern art along with never-before-seen selections from her exclusive collection of Leigh’s timeless images.

I couldn’t list all the beautiful familiar faces in attendance if I tried, but I did exchange kisses Bobby Zarem and buddy Jeremy Scheinbart, international maker and author Lane Huerta, and the always-elegant patrona Lily Lewin wearing a textile by SCAD grad Mariana Langley.

“It’s just amazing how much talent is here, but the best part is how everyone supports each other,” remarked avowed “lover of all things local” Kathryn Taylor Day. “Savannah is the busiest, coolest little city in the world.”

That reminded me that it was time to jet over to Made in Savannah Campaign Kickoff Party at Bull Street Labs, another architectural marvel recently resurrected for modern use by the Creative Coast, Inc. The second floor now buzzes at all hours, and if you’ve been confused about the Creative Coast is and what it does, those days are over.

“We’re an entrepreneurial incubator, we’re a networking hub, we’re a co-working space, and we’re a shared resource,” defines the non-profit’s new community manager and human rocket turbine Coco Papy. “This is the umbrella under which Savannah’s creative economy is able to grow.”

The #MadeinSAV campaign celebrates and connects the astounding breadth of innovation originating from the 912, which not only includes fabulous things like digitally-printed designs from 13 Bricks and delicious caffeine roasted by PERC Coffee but also homegrown ideas like public data sourcing through Open Savannah and ecommerce services by Gauge Interactive.

It’s also a veritable social action magnet: Cruising through Bull Street Labs’ spacious rooms, it was a delight to raise a glass of Ghost Coast Distillery goodness with architect power couple Michael and Reshma Shah Johnson and share a piece of Jennifer Lawver’s delicious birthday cake with Jenny McCord and Erin Roma of the Voices for Schools crew that’s filling the void on vital information about our public education system.

Over the hummus I rubbed elbows with more civic superstars, like political dynamo Amanda Hollowell—recently named one of Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40—and State School Superintendent Candidate Otha Thornton.

But because Thursday night in Savannah, it was impossible to document even a fraction of movers and shakers, and anyway, DJ Basik Lee had them dancing too fast. Good thing the #MadeinSAV movement is ongoing, designed to expand Savannah’s global brand as a tech-capable, creative platform to build a business.

“We want the world to know we’re not just ghosts and pralines,” iterates Coco. “Not that there’s anything wrong with those things!”

Oh for sure, there’s not, and I helped myself to a praline or three at the next stop on my whirlwind agenda, John Davis Florist. Even though my Fluevogs had my dogs barking something fierce, I couldn’t miss feting John for 30 years in business—he decorated the chuppah with Gerber daises at our wedding 19 years ago, and I’m a huge fan of his brilliant bride Jennifer Abshire. The ghosts of the fire that gutted the Abercorn storefront in 2010 and forced operations into the back warehouse have been banished, and the reworked space of reclaimed wood and lush fresh flower bar have JD’s spot blooming once again.

As the bright half moon rose over the city, the beaten path led me straight back to Laney Contemporary (in less time it takes to find a parking place downtown, thank you very much) to catch Will Penny’s uber-cool geometric light projection in the pine trees.

Away from the hubbub and chitchat for a moment, I contemplated the hundreds of hugs and handshakes I’d received over the course of the evening, each one from someone doing something amazing and sharing it with others. The term “socialite” doesn’t do Savannah’s party people justice—these are social heavies, folks who hustle to make and do and elevate and enlighten, yet can still toast and boogie so hard we have to frontload the weekend with an extra night.

Until one of them invents a time-turner, however, there still isn’t enough time for it all. I regret not being able to pop into Thursday’s millionish other worthy events, like the showcase at Drayton Glassworks, Savannah Tree Foundation’s Fall Frolic and Dancing with Savannah’s Stars benefit for CASA.

Heels and toes blistered to hell, I still couldn’t pass up ending the night at The Original Pinkie Masters—which I believe we can officially go back to calling Pinkie’s now—where I caught professional social heavy Jamie Smith Arkins, cooling her heels in a booth. It seems this particular Thursday had exhausted even this Savannah circuit regular.

“Whew! Stick a fork in me, I’m done,” said Jamie, suppressing a yawn that quickly turned into a grin. “I mean, until next week.”

Yep, just checked, and it’s gonna be another breakneck Thursday. I’m already plotting my route but I’m breaking out the flats, because Savannah isn’t slowing down any time soon. See you out on the town!



Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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