What happened to Savannah’s downtown dive bars?

In my Man About Town column in Do today — Jim Collins reunion, or, when a bar was more than a bar — I say a bit about dive bars in Savannah:

[Jim Collins] was a dive in the best senses of the term — inexpensive, unpretentious, frequented by an incredible diversity of locals. [. . .]

We have some very comfortable bars around downtown these days. One or two of them can lay claim to the sort of diverse crowds that used to attend Jim Collins.

But a wave of gentrification and renovation has had a two-pronged effect.

More expensive apartments have limited the diversity of those who can afford to live in the downtown area. And more expensive commercial space has largely precluded businesses as casual and as inexpensive as Jim Collins.

When I came to Savannah, there were a number of other places I’d call dives, if I remember them correctly — including the Office Lounge, the Downtown Lounge, the Whitaker Street Saloon, Pinkie Master’s.

Some people would argue that Pinkie’s still qualifies, but if they take another look at the current clientele and the drink prices, they’d likely change their minds. Some might think of The Jinx, one of my haunts, as a dive, but for the most part its latenight clientele fits into a pretty narrow age range.

I don’t want to romanticize this too much, especially since some alcoholics can decimate their own lives if there are cheap bars in the neighborhood or — even worse — not in their neighborhood so they end up driving drunk.

Still, unpredictable and diverse clienteles combined with late hours and inexpensive drinks have a way of fostering community. The lounge at the American Legion Post #135 is by no means a dive — it’s an American Legion with some pretty strict rules, after all — but it has played the role of a community gathering point for years for those of us who live in the general vicinity of Forsyth Park. Last night, some local and visiting film professionals were on hand after another long day on set, and so were some of the audience from last night’s Psychotronic Film Society offering at The Sentient Bean. A few older regulars like me showed up too — in my case after a lovely dinner at Sol not far away. There were a number of guys playing pool, and some new faces, including some who recently moved to the area. There was lots of good conversation and laughter.

I will say that many of downtown Savannah’s bars have some pretty incredible diversity even if they don’t count as dives. I’m thinking of a few other places I frequent, like Circa 1875, Hang Fire, and The Sparetime.

But the dives are pretty much all gone. And that seems like a shame.

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