Ask any local where Savannahians eat, where to get the best burgers, the best fried shrimp or the best peach cobbler, and you’ll get the same answer: The Crystal Beer Parlor.
Affectionately known as “The Crystal,” Savannah’s oldest restaurant sits on the corner of Jones and Jefferson Streets. From its unassuming exterior, you might not expect the cozy red-leather booths, the wide selection of local craft beers, or the special “Beers of Our Fathers” list—hard-to-find brews from the past. Most unexpected are the photos covering every wall, displaying scenes from Savannah’s past and several of the city’s more famous—and infamous—citizens.
Opened in the early 1900s as the Gerken Family Grocery Store, the building was later sold to William “Blocko” and Connie Manning in the early 30s. Rumor has it Blocko ran illegal hooch and operated a speakeasy out of the basement. When The Crystal opened in 1933, it was one of the first American eating establishments to serve alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition.
Jon Nichols, The Crystal’s current owner, owned a catering business when he found a flyer in his mailbox advertising The Crystal Beer Parlor as a piece of Savannah history—and his childhood—for sale.
“My father would bring me here to pick up a takeout order when I was very young,” says Nichols. “He always came out with that big brown paper bag with grease stains on it and I’d say, ‘We’re gonna eat good tonight!'”
The menu is solid American fare—with a little twist here and there, but it’s the food locals grew up eating. Burgers, made-from-scratch onion rings, and old-fashioned fries are the most popular, but it’s hard to choose just one favorite from the menu. Nichols’ top choice: the Greek wings.
“We take chicken wings, and we marinate them in my mother’s Greek salad dressing,” he says. “Then we throw them on a char grill to mark them, and then we fry them and serve them with Tzatziki sauce and cucumber slices. Man, they’re good!”
Locals tell Nichols The Crystal has the best friend shrimp in Savannah, and maybe the best in the state. But they face fierce competition from The Crystal’s deviled crab, chicken cordon bleu sandwich, crab dip and, of course, the burger.
“I think we have one of the best burgers around,” says Nichols. “It’s a classic American burger: ground chuck, salt and pepper, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise. That’s the way I love them.”
Don’t forget about dessert! The newest addition to the sweet offerings is a fried pound cake, served with vanilla ice cream and your choice of caramel, chocolate or strawberry sauce.
“The peach cobbler’s probably the most popular dessert, but the pound cake’s catching up,” says Nichols. “People tell us our peach cobbler is better than their grandmother’s.”
People have thanked Nichols for “saving the old Crystal” and making it better than it’s ever been. In addition to a menu that blends old and new, a best-kept secret is that half of the bar is original to the building, while the other half is a seamless reproduction. It all comes together in a historic landmark serving some of the best food in town.
“I think the appeal of a place like this is that it reflects a time in American history when things were a lot slower paced, easier, and more comfortable,” says Nichols. “People looked forward to the future. This, I think, stirs those memories.”
The Crystal Beer Parlor is located at 301 W. Jones St. For more information, call (912) 349-1000 or visit crystalbeerparlor.com.