Savannah, GA, has long been known for embracing merrymaking. Brightly colored plastic cups filled with boozy slushies are commonplace on its sidewalks, the city’s laws allow for open containers, and lively patio bars beckon visitors to kick back and have fun. The town even has a museum dedicated to the era of Prohibition, and that Savannah, one of the largest ports on the eastern US seaboard, openly ignored it and continued drinking.
So, when the owners of the highly successful Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar, located on Ellis Square in the heart of downtown, decided to expand their business in 2019 to fill the rest of the historic three-floor building they owned, they knew they had to do something different to standout. Besides adding an event space, and a rooftop bar, a must-have in a city dotted with them, they also created something entirely unexpected. Tucked into the second floor, just above Sorry Charlie’s, is The Bamboo Room, an authentic tiki bar that is quickly becoming one of the city’s worst-kept secrets.
Over the last few decades, the tiki bar has experienced a rebirth in America. By the 1990s, the vibrant scorpion bowl of cultures that had enthralled the public since their creation in the 1930s was almost nonexistent. The returning veterans from World War II that helped spread the gospel of the Pacific through the country were slowing down. For a newer generation, the bamboo and oceanic-themed concept seemed a relic of the past.
But, as has been shown time and again, something uncool can suddenly be embraced at retro and hip. The tiki bar’s comeback occurred on the back of the craft cocktail revolution of the 2000s. The public’s thirst for authentic and exciting beverages led to many bartenders digging through old recipes for cocktails that they could resurrect. The ripple effect of this shift in public tastes is evident throughout the alcohol landscape today. Bourbon and tequila evolved and exploded. Mixologists came into being, speakeasies popped up everywhere, and tiki bars were given a new lease on life.
It was with an eye towards the future, and a genuine love for the tiki culture, that led the ownership team behind Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar to commit to creating an authentic Polynesian paradise inside their four walls.
“We knew that we wanted to create a space that added something different to the Savannah landscape. Something that would speak to our customers and highlight our commitment to delivering the best experience we can to them,” says Harley Krinsky, co-owner of Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar. “We all loved tiki bars, so we decided to dive into that. We went a little overboard and spent months traveling across the country, going to legendary ones like the Tonga Room and Archipelago. A whole subculture revolves around them, and we fully immersed ourselves in them. We sourced historic and authentic materials to create a one-of-a-kind place we are quite proud of. It was a labor of love.”
The bar itself tells a story to visitors. Walking through its doors, you are immediately immersed in a tale told from its floor-to-ceiling menagerie of artifacts. Wrapping around a broad horseshoe bar are two smaller areas flanking the Bamboo Room’s main room. The story spun is a classic one. A castaway sails to an island, then lives at peace with its inhabitants before the islanders decide it’s time for the interlopers to leave under threat of death. Massive wooden tiki gods lurk in corners, a pair of 600-year-old fertility-themed doors stand out, paper lanterns fill the sky, and there is bamboo everywhere. It’s a sight to behold.
Anchoring the entire project is a beverage menu that centers on the Bamboo Rooms rum list that features over 150 different bottles. A top-notch cocktail program offers twists on popular cocktails like the Kingston Negroni and Trinidad Sour, while classic tiki beverages like the Mai Tai and the Zombie shine. By focusing on craft cocktails, the team behind the project is aiming to attract both the curious traveler in the street and the more focused cocktail aficionado.
The Bamboo Room and the two other spaces above it, the Gibbon’s Hall event space and The Rooftop, opened in late 2020, just as the pandemic bloomed. According to Krinsky, all were shuttered for months, and the entire project was in peril. But they prevailed, and the spaces opened full-time in early 2022. While the rooftop bar and the event space quickly saw business, the tiki bar has had a slower startup. Tucked above Sorry Charlie’s, with no outdoor signage, it is gaining customers through online reviews and word of mouth.
“We always wanted the Bamboo Room to have this mystique around it. It’s not designed to be a rollicking late-night party bar but more of an intimate spot that people could soak up,” says Krinsky. “But more people than ever are starting to discover it, which is fantastic. We want this to become a must-visit spot in town. I hope that more folks than ever will stop into our tiki bar and go away with memories of something wholly unique. That’s what a visit to the islands is supposed to do.”