Starting a new business is always both an exciting and challenging endeavor, and it was no different for Water Witch Tiki Bar when it opened its doors in January of this year.
And then, almost as suddenly as those doors opened, they were forced to close beginning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been an extremely long process to get us up and going,” said Brigitte Harley, who owns the space with her husband, Les. “We reopened June 8, so we’ve been trying to push through this ever since that time. And we’re still at it!”
Harley originally moved to Savannah in 2010 after having vacationed in the area and really enjoying the geography and all there is to do. And having a career in law and finance, she has the experience and knowledge needed to run a business, in fact serving as CFO for a local restaurant group prior to this current endeavor.
She says the restaurant industry is unlike any other.
“We sort of had to figure out how to make our niche in Savannah where it’s such an amazing neighborhood that has so many cool things going on and coming soon,” she said about the tiki bar’s location in the Starland District. “I think some people still aren’t aware of all the great things going on in our neighborhood, so it’s our goal to not only increase tourist traffic but also to increase our visibility to the locals, as well.”
The bar gets its name from the USS Water Witch, a Union ship burned off of Savannah’s coast in 1864 after it had been captured by the Confederate Navy earlier that summer. However, apparently sailors had for years been wary of the ship that allegedly met multiple misfortunes during its time asea.
Harley and her team blend together that local history and Savannah’s ties to the ocean and waters with the bright, airy qualities of more tropical locales that are typically associated with tiki. Some might think of Hawaii and its bright flowers, as well as wooden totem poles and bright, fruity drinks with umbrellas sticking out. The style has also become familiar to many as it’s been embraced at various times through the years by artists from interior designers to jewelers. Others may be familiar with “The Enchanted Tiki Room” at various Disney parks, with its animatronic musical performance of “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room.”
A 21 and up establishment, the Water Witch Tiki Bar is far from Disney, though you may find yourself singing like an animatronic bird after trying out a few of their signature drinks. The most popular one is the USS Water Witch (of course!), which includes rum, whiskey, citrus and ginger beer.
“It’s just a nice, refreshing cocktail,” Harley said. “And we use the witch mugs to serve that one.”
Another popular drink is the Ring of Fire – which is literally lit on fire – and includes gin, lime, mint syrup and bitters.
Harley is excited about their upcoming menu they plan to unveil by the end of October, featuring new cocktails created by Savannah-based master mixologist Sidney Lance. One of the new drinks is called the Witches Stash, which sounds like it has quite the kick.
“It has jalapeno in it, and gin and some citrus. It’s so tasty, and tastes so fresh,” Harley said, noting its “herbaceous” flavor. “Sidney is so well-known around town, and he’s come in and helped us on some of the more modern, non-tiki cocktails for the menu, too.”
They’ll also be unveiling a slightly modified, updated food menu alongside their new drinks. “Our food has always been really good, and I’m just excited what our new chef is going to bring to the table,” Harley said.
Harley does want customers to know that the experienced bartenders are able to throw pretty much any drink together – there’s no need to stick to the menu or to only expect tropical-inspired drinks when entering the tiki bar.
“Any drinks you want, whether it’s an off-menu cocktail or even something like a gin and tonic,” she said. “Our bartenders are amazing and have a lot of experience under their belts. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they’re really creative. So come in and check us out.”
Winning in the Best New Bar and Best Overall Bar categories is validation for Harley after a difficult year where they initially opened on target to hit all of their projected numbers, and then not even two months later had to close for a period of time. She does have optimism for the future, not just for Water Witch but for the entire Savannah area and Starland District in particular.
“I’m of the view that the more great businesses we have, the better off it is for everyone,” she said. “I think it only brings more people to this area. I just think this whole area is going to be booming once we recover.”
Water Witch Tiki Bar is located at 2220 Bull Street. It’s open 5 p.m. to midnight, Mondays through Thursdays; and 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
Runner-up: The Jinx (Closed)