5 bartenders, 5 bars, 5 cocktails

Meet five local bartenders recommending five local bars and their favorite cocktail

The Banana Spliff at Water Witch, just one of the five cocktails recommended by the five featured bartenders.
The Banana Spliff at Water Witch, just one of the five cocktails recommended by the five featured bartenders.
Among the many symbolic meanings of triple 5 is that big change is coming soon. Savannah typically has its last cold spell in March, but as spring arrives warm weather is a big, albeit predictable, change. For the sake of local business, it would be great to see throngs of tourists make their way here. That would be a big change to celebrate. Who doesn’t want a recovery of bachelorette parties and their adorbs matching t-shirts all over downtown?

These and more are inexorably tied to perhaps the mightiest of all Savannah institutions, drinking. We do it right here, and we should be proud of it. Additionally, the finding a new friend while having a drink at a Savannah bar is almost as reliable as the impending heat and humidity. The variety of establishments is so broad, you will find one or more that you love, or you just don’t like spending time in bars. To our municipal credit, we even let you walk around vast parts of the city while consuming your delicious adult beverage. Savannah assumes you’re a responsible adult, so why shouldn’t you?

As we head into spring, five bartenders at five popular bars share their thoughts on the subject, each offering a cocktail recipe that pairs well with warmer weather, sunny skies and tribes of women in matching t-shirts.

Bartender: Jules Houghton

El Rocko, 117 Whitaker St.

“Springtime day drinking means I might lose my job,” Houghton laughs. “Walking around with a cocktail, great grub everywhere and no bugs yet.” She sums up the onset of roadie culture simply: “it means freedom.”

click to enlarge 5 bartenders, 5  bars, 5 cocktails
Photo by Frank Ricci
Bartender: Jules Houghton Bar: El Rocko, 117 Whitaker St.
Splitting her time between the El Rocko and the legendary Pinkie Masters, Jules knows the Savannah scene better than most. She’s excited that Atlanta’s New Realm Brewing Company is opening a distillery and bar across the street from El Rocko at the former scene of the Savannah Spirits Chophouse catastrophe. “It would be great to get that back-and-forth energy The Jinx and Hang Fire had,” she said.

Two of her favorite bars in town are O’Connell’s Irish Pub, 42 Drayton St., “the ultimate hole in the wall;” and Six Pence Pub, 245 Bull St., “such a beautiful bar, and the food is great.” A 20-minute drive from El Rocko lands you at Houghton’s favorite recent discovery and a perfect location for spring drinks, Bubba Gumbo’s, 1 Old US Hwy 80, on Tybee Island’s Lazaretto Creek. It has “local fish right off the boat, cheap drinks and a cast of characters,” Houghton said.

The recipe: Goombay Smash

Two parts white or gold rum

One part coconut rum

Splash of orange juice and a squeeze of fresh lime

Top with grenadine

Shake and serve over ice

click to enlarge 5 bartenders, 5  bars, 5 cocktails
Photo by Frank Ricci
Bartender:Matt Garappolo Bar: Pinkie Masters, 318 Drayton St.
Bartender: Matt Garappolo

Pinkie Masters, 318 Drayton St.

After five years running one of America’s iconic dive bars, fixing problems from the previous owner that you don’t even want to know about, Matt has a focused take on what drinking in the spring means. “Gin … gin and tonics, ice cold light beers and Mexican beers,” is his prescription.

Before taking the reins at Pinkie’s, Matt won awards for world-class Old Fashioned preparations while running the bar at the dearly departed Sapphire, one of Savannah’s best fine dining restaurants whose quality standards were astronomical.

What’s new at Pinkie’s these days? “The new thing is everything’s the same. We’re open every moment we can be,” he said. On his way home, Garappolo likes to stop at Lone Wolf Lounge, 2429 Lincoln St., a pitch-perfect recreation of the “Wisconsin grandpa bar” the owners envisioned.

He also lauded the recently opened Common Thread, 122 E. 37th St., for their interesting cocktails and excellent food.

“Try the small plates, they’re all great,” he said.

On the Southside, Garappolo offers a ying-yang recommendation: Jerry’s Lounge, 1209 E. Montgomery Cross Rd. This bar offers pool, darts, incredible value and the best cheeky sign messages in town. The old school lounge vibe contrasts well with the lively dive scene at Captain’s Lounge, 8414 Waters Ave., a five-minute stroll away.

The recipe: Coochie Cutter

1 oz. 1970 vodka – local brand

½ oz. orange juice over ice

Top with Eastcider Blood Orange cider

A trend develops here as Garappolo’s Coochie Cutter includes a clear spirit, citrus and ice, similar to Houghton’s offering. If her Goombay Smash sounds intriguing, Pinkie’s usually has a slushie version of it. As with all Pinkie’s slushies, go slow or have bail money ready.

click to enlarge 5 bartenders, 5  bars, 5 cocktails
Photo by Frank Ricci
Bartender: Kellyé West Bar: Artillery, 307 Bull St.
Bartender: Kellyé West

Artillery, 307 Bull St.

To Kellyé West of the emphatically upscale Artillery, drinking in the spring conjures thoughts of cocktails that are “light and effervescent, with a floral profile and a nice balance of sweet and citrus.” Her nearly poetic observation matches the gorgeous interior of Artillery. It’s definitely the fanciest bar on this list — and possibly in the entire city — but it’s as welcoming and friendly as Savannah itself. This is where you come to break up the monotony of whatever kind of dive, neighborhood, sports or karaoke bar funk you might find yourself in. When you do, be sure to dress for the occasion.

Artillery has an upcoming spring cocktail menu that West is putting her mark on. One libation features lychee tea, while others are still being tested and refined.

“I created them to match the season,” she said.

Like Houghton, Kellyé also extols the virtues of daytime drinking.

“There’s no rush to do things before it’s too hot out, it’s an easygoing season,” she said.

She’s a regular at Savoy Society, 102 E. Liberty. “That’s my go-to, for sure. I also love the Lone Wolf.”

The recipe: Artillery Negroni

1 ½ oz. London dry gin

1 oz. Cocchi Americano

¾ oz. Bruto Americano

Orange twist

Served on the rocks

“It’s like a Negroni without the sweet red, instead it has a floral profile,” West explains. For beer-shot-highball zealots, Cocchi Americano is a quinine-flavored aperitif wine and Bruto Americano is a domestic bitter liqueur rich in herbs and botanicals.

Bartender: Anthony Mastropolo

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Photo by Frank Ricci
Bartender: Anthony Mastropolo Bar: Sea Wolf, 106 S Campbell, Tybee Island
Sea Wolf, 106 S Campbell, Tybee Island

The drive to Tybee Island from the middle of downtown Savannah is an easy, breezy 25 minutes. Visually, it’s a world away, but beach towns have a bar culture of their own.

A newer addition to Tybee is Sea Wolf, the unexpectedly ambitious beach bum cousin of the exceedingly popular Lone Wolf Lounge. Drinks in the spring mean “crushing a really refreshing white wine or gin cocktail on a patio; maybe tequila and some citrus,” to bartender Anthony Mastropolo.

Besides the location, the other major difference is Sea Wolf offers a surprising menu of very interesting selections.

“Oysters, champagne and hot dogs is a new and interesting concept,” he said. “We did a Pepsi challenge to pick the hot dog. It’s wagyu beef from a Texas supplier.”

It also may be the best hot dog in the area, and a great excuse to cruise out there and have one of their excellent cocktails.

Back in civilization, Mastropolo is also a fan of – you guessed it – Lone Wolf Lounge. And at this point, who isn’t? He’s also a fan of The Wyld, 2740 Livingston Ave., a perfect locale to enjoy “a frozen painkiller while watching dolphins, weather permitting.” A review of historical meteorological data confirms that spring weather in Savannah typically permits.

Anthony also cites Common Thread as “my new favorite for fine dining,” and heaps praise upon Cotton and Rye, 1801 Habersham St. “Zach [Shultz] is a great owner,” he said. “Both are reliable spots for great drinks, food and service.”

The recipe: Mezcal Last Word

Equal parts:


Green chartreuse

Luxardo Marachino - plus a LM cherry

Lime juice

Served up in a coupe

click to enlarge 5 bartenders, 5  bars, 5 cocktails
Photo by Frank Ricci
Bartender: Josh Stuart Bar: Water Witch, 2220 Bull St.
Bartender: Josh Stuart

Water Witch, 2220 Bull St.

“Anything with mezcal is a spring cocktail for me,” said John Stuart of the tiki-themed Water Witch in the Starland District.

As the more complicated agave-based liquor grows in popularity, John is doing his part to spread the good word. Once dismissed as simply “smoky” tequila, he is finding new and interesting ways to get it into your belly.

Water Witch recently added Josh’s latest cocktail, the Banana Spliff, to the menu. While the name may emphasize smoke, the flavor is unexpected. It blends mezcal, banana liqueur, bourbon and bitters, served like an Old Fashioned over a large cube.

Protecting trade secrets keeps Josh from revealing the proportions, but my assessment concludes it’s two parts delicious and one part awesome. You’ll enjoy watching it being made as a combination of hickory, chicory, alder and cherry wood are smoked at the bar before infusing it in the liquid.

If you’re not yet tired of hearing about it, Stuart also loves Lone Wolf Lounge. Other favorites are Savoy Society and Moodright’s. He makes special note of Blade and Bull, an indoor axe-throwing range on location at Southbound Brewery, 107 E. Lathrop Ave., where you can “get a pitcher and throw some axes.” How this isn’t already the most popular thing in Savannah remains a mystery.

The recipe: Smoke Show

1 ½ oz. Slane Irish whiskey

½ oz. Banhez mescal

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. simple syrup

Shake and pour over ice

Top with Barritt’s Ginger Beer

Spring has arrived, and whether you’re up to the task of mixing up any of these fine cocktails at home or content to have a happiness delivery professional make one for you, we Savannahians are fortunate to have such options. The establishments mentioned here just scratch the surface of this big cocktail party that doubles as a city, and it takes effort to get out there and not find yourself a good time. It’s easygoing season, so take advantage.