Cutting through the fading twilight of a Savannah spring night, the giant leaping fish glows with hot neon tubes in colors so vivid that you find yourself unable to tear your gaze away from it. Whether it’s your first time laying eyes on the neon sign on West Congress Street or not, you can’t help but stop what you’re doing for just a minute and look at it…again. Even for those who aren’t aware of the metamorphosis of Sorry Charlie’s are still aware that some kind of significant change has happened in this building, and for those who have watched this building fall into a state of dark disrepair over the last decade, turning a corner and seeing the lights of Sorry Charlie’s beckoning is a welcome sight.
The menu is, of course, heavy on the seafood — especially oysters — which is long overdue for downtown Savannah. Sorry Charlie’s offers a variety of oysters, including ones harvested from the Georgia coast. Diners can feast on raw oysters served on a bed of ice and accompanied by cocktail sauce and a Cava mignonette, or, for those who prefer cooked oysters, there are several varieties of roasted oysters. As with the decor, the menu boasts items that seem simple and yet, are somehow elevated, in both taste and presentation. The low country boil tastes every bit as delicious as the ones on the water, but served in a smaller bowl, and with a blend of spices that isn’t Old Bay, it’s a different kind of deliciousness. The boiled peanuts come in a bowl of fermented hot sauce; and the hush puppies are served with a side of honey-sumac butter. The chicken and waffle is comfort food at it’s finest: a chunk of waffle topped with a crispy fried boneless chicken breast and covered in ham gravy and finished with a poached egg (I recommend sprinkling hot sauce on top of it).
With 20 beers and a housemade rum punch on tap, plus the usual selection of bottled beers and liquors, the bar is ready for action. The Fish House Punch packs quite a wallop, and since it comes served with brandied cherries and in a pint glass, consume with caution. This may be a challenge, since that punch goes down mighty easy.
The change in the building itself is enough to inspire intrigue and anticipation: the slate exterior contrasts beautifully with the turquoise doors and sleek black awnings bearing the new hand-lettered logo. Inside, the first thing that catches everyone’s attention is the bar: a gleaming chunk of slick black stone, inlaid with oyster shells. The burnished wood of the floors and the bar, which are reclaimed wood from the original building, contrast with the airy white walls and give you the best impression of being on a boat on the open water.
With this place, details matter: the menus are simply printed on waterproof white paper and fastened to boards, but a closer inspection reveals that the backs of the boards are printed with nautical charts of the Savannah coast. Dock cleats under the bartop act as hooks for purses and coats, and the nautical chart is also echoed on the back wall of the restaurant. The hand-lettered logo appears on matchbooks, coasters, and to-go cups. The atmosphere is one of tailored simplicity — everything comes together, but effortlessly so.
The work and care that has been put into restoring this building (thanks the help and guidance of the Savannah Historic Foundation) and creating a restaurant that pays homage to the past while still conveying a fresh new start is obvious. The thought and planning that have produced an enjoyable atmosphere and a menu that truly represents Savannah makes Sorry Charlies a welcome addition to the downtown area.