Just the Ticket: Fine Dining in an Old Art Moderne Bus Station
When residents of Savannah, Georgia, head for the former Greyhound bus terminal on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, they’re not looking to get out of town. Instead, they’re making a beeline to The Grey, an acclaimed restaurant that opened in 2015 and happens to be a first-rate preservation project. The 1938 Art Moderne building was boarded up when co-owner Johno Morisano found it, but the space is now buffed and burnished, from its restored Vitrolite exterior to its cavernous, terrazzo-floored interior. (It also doesn’t hurt that chef and co-owner Mashama Bailey’s elegant, Southern-influenced food has received national attention.) Read on for an interview with Morisano about the rehabilitation process, which included the use of federal and state historic tax credits.
What made you decide to purchase this building in the first place?
I saw the bus terminal and it was really just a mess. It was the first building I looked at. I tried to buy it immediately because you could see the Art Moderne architecture, the old ticket counter, the porthole windows. The guy wouldn’t sell. Then he came back a year later and asked if I still wanted it.
The windows were covered under plywood. If you looked past the dead cockroaches, the water damage, and all the junk in there, you could see there was something really special about that building.
I was part of a team that did an adaptive reuse of a theater in New York. So I’ve been part of this before. I thought it would be cool for Savannah, [since] it's such a preservation city.
Whom did you work with on the rehabilitation project?
The first person I met with was the preservation architect, Brian Felder of Felder & Associates. And then Parts and Labor Design in New York for the interiors. I think there was a shared vision. The general contractor, Bloomquist Construction, was also very big on preservation.
The design challenge was, how are we going to build a restaurant and not screw up the historic integrity of the place, and make it feel like it’s always been there? Keeping the footprint of entire space intact was important.
What is your favorite detail in the space?
It’s almost a cliché, but where the old ticket counter was, there’s a worn-out spot in the terrazzo floor. We repaired the entire floor but left that spot. People stood in line to get their tickets and then turned on that spot to leave.
Also, the little circles you see on the floor where the old lunch counter stools were. The lunch counter is from 1938. It was important that it be restored, [because] lunch counters were central to the Civil Rights movement.
What was the biggest challenge?
Restoring the facade back to a replica of the blue and white Vitrolite glass. It’s very American Art Deco/Moderne. We had to find someone to color the glass, cut it, and install it. We found Tim Dunn [a Vitrolite restoration specialist] in St. Louis. He’s the last remaining Vitrolite collector in the U.S.
We’re very happy with the way Savannah has received us and embraced us. We’re going to keep focused on always improving—we’re really committed.