Having reopened recently in November 2003, Crystal Beer Parlor is part of the resurgence of the historic district where students, tourists and locals mingle freely. Owner Suzanne Kosic, a transplant to Savannah herself, says part of the charm of the area is the dedication to local landmarks and experiences.
"What I'm looking for and what I've found is that customers who have been coming to the Crystal Beer Parlor since it opened, many since they were kids and who have brought their kids, grandkids and even in some cases great-grandkids, they tell me about how they grew up at the Crystal Beer Parlor," she says. "They have such fond memories and I just want the tradition of the Crystal Beer Parlor to continue."
Located at 301 West Jones, Crystal Beer Parlor opened in 1933 when the original owner and his wife operated a liquor store and restaurant parlor that served burgers with wonderful homemade French fries and potato chips, as well as other favorite local dishes. The restaurant stayed in the family until 2000 when disaster struck in the form of an attempt to open a second location.
"When the second location failed, for whatever reason, the family lost this location as well because they had used it for collateral on the second venture," says Kosic.
"It's a sad story. It had been in the family for three generations."
However, Kosic, who has owned and operated two other restaurants in her career in Columbia, S.C., laughs when asked how she decided to take on the task of reopening a local landmark.
She smiles and says, "I hadn't actually intended to go into the
restaurant business here. When we moved to Savannah, my husband and I had been looking to open a health-foods store. But when I came in here, I opened the door and looked inside. I fell in love with it, not knowing the love (locals) had for this place, but I felt it when I opened the door."
Serendipity strikes in the oddest moments, and for Kosic, the inability to find a job at the pay level she wished has led to the resurrection of a downtown classic.
The décor is original, with updated paint on the walls and the cleaning of a building that had been left standing empty for almost three years. However, only one of the murals in the large dining room was able to be saved, since they were painted on wallpaper.
But, if the murals couldn't be saved, the menu could. Kosic says when she went to reopen Crystal Beer Parlor she tried to bring back as many of the former servers and staff as possible.
While Monroe, a fixture at the establishment for years, is retired and gone, Miss Shirley, responsible for reproducing many of the memorable recipes is back and still going strong after 30 years of association with the restaurant.
While the menu is the same -- thick burgers, homemade fries, crab and Brunswick stews and excellent seafood -- Kosic is beginning to put her own stamp on the restaurant. With a more health-conscious population, seafood that used to only be fried can now be broiled, vegetarian dishes are slowly being added to the menu and Kosic plans the addition of an Italian night once a week with rotating dishes to suit her mood.
"I'm a gourmet cook and we're branching out because I want to put some of my dishes on the menu," she says. "The core menu will always be here, but we're ready to branch out."
Coming to the Crystal Beer Parlor is like coming home for so many people, and Kosic plans to keep it that way.
"The ambiance is still the same, the menus are still the same. We're just trying to give the customers back what they lost when Crystal Beer Parlor closed three years ago, but better. That's kind of our slogan, a Savannah tradition -- again." w
Crystal Beer Parlor is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10
p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until midnight, with a featured New Orleans-style Dixieland band on the weekend. To make arrangements for large groups, contact the restaurant at 443-9200.