June 13, 2014

Pinkie Master's Lounge, Savannah's Best Dive Bar

Credit: Erin KKR, Flickr
Pinkie Master’s is considered the best dive bar in Savannah, and one of the best in the entire South.

I’ll start with what I know to be true: Pinkie Master’s Lounge on Drayton Street in Savannah, Ga., was ranked as the third best dive bar in the South by Southern Living in 2013. It opened in 1951, and serves extremely cheap PBRs. It has alternately been referred to as “Stinky Bastards” and “The Vortex of Savannah.”

The rest is a little bit hazy.

Apparently Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for President of the United States while standing atop the bar (he was friends with the original owner). It was a feat that proved a little less appreciated -- and a little less effective -- for Al Gore a few decades later.

But since Carter, and probably even before, the place has been a hotbed for political conversation. According to one writer, it’s “the only bar in Savannah where they turn off the jukebox for a presidential address.”

Don’t let the high-mindedness fool you, though. The establishment itself is classic dive. There’s duct tape covering holes in the bar, bizarre and kitschy memorabilia covering the walls, and the stink of cigarette smoke covering pretty much everything, even though you haven’t technically been allowed to smoke in there since 2011. (Really? That recently?!)

Credit: Atsuko Smith, Flickr
The biggest changes at Pinkie’s over the years have been the addition of trivia, open mic night, and free pizza.

There’s also a hell of a jukebox -- a mandatory element of any dive bar worth its booze -- that sits below an aging photo of Pinkie himself and pumps out '80s, soul, rock, and sneak attacks of Christmas carols when things get really wild.

Time has truly passed Pinkie’s by. For some reason, there’s still a Confederate flag hanging over the liquor bottles behind the bar, along with a photo of the notorious segregationist and Alabama Governor George Wallace when he was an amateur boxer in 1949.

Most of the town’s bar scene has moved on too, from Drayton Street to Broughton, River, and Bay streets. But despite a drop in business, and rumors of the joint closing down, Pinkie’s has changed very little. The biggest moves have been the addition of trivia, open mic night, and free pizza a few days a week in an effort to draw more patrons.

Pinkie’s aversion to change also created an opportunity: This past winter, the bar was scheduled to be a film set for "Midnight Rider,” the upcoming biopic of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band.

For his part, current owner Guy Kirk has vowed that the historic watering hole will never close. Here’s to hoping for another patron to scale the bar and declare his candidacy for President of the United States.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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