The Alley Cat Lounge in Savannah Serves Over 100 Craft Cocktails, and Each Comes With a Story
Walking into this moody, dimly-lit Savannah, Georgia, bar feels like stepping into a 1940s film noir scene. Enter through a door tucked in a back alley (hence the name, Alley Cat Lounge) and descend a set of stairs to the basement. Inside, hundreds of liquor bottles are backlit against burgundy brick; guests sit in red vinyl booths with newspapers spread out before them, the cover stamped with Alley Cat’s motto: “For pleasure.”
The Alley Cat Lounge has the cool, collected feel of a speakeasy, but without any haughtiness or pretension. The menu comes in the form of a literal newspaper, printed on thin, waxy paper and creased down the middle. The Alley Cat Rag has seen nine editions, its pages organized into sections like “Infusions and Originals,” “Tiki Time,” and “World Cocktails.” Between anecdotes about the history of the drinks (80% of the cocktails on the menu date back to the 1800s), helpful dialogue bubbles pose suggestions—“if you like an original Old Fashioned, you might try an Oaxacan Old Fashioned”—and pie charts map drinks on a spectrum of sweet, sour, bitter, or spicy.
Here, choosing a cocktail is not only an art, but a challenge. Sometimes, it’s best to let fate choose for you: If you’re feeling indecisive, you can order a cocktail based on your horoscope. Capricorns, whom the menu duly compliments for sharing a sign with Michelle Obama and Dolly Parton, can enjoy the Poinsettia, a holiday-inspired cocktail made with cranberry, curacao, and sparkling wine. The bullish Taurus can order the Bullfighter.
Although the bartenders try not to choose favorites, a few cocktails stand out as visitors’ top choices. The 1806 Old Fashioned—made with Rye whiskey, Demerara sugar and a duo of bitters—and the 1934 Zombie, “a Don The Beachcomber classic combining five different rums, citrus juices, cinnamon, pomegranate, falernum, absinthe and bitters,” remain constants through the biannual menu overhauls.
“Our goal is to offer our guests great cocktails and a little piece of history to go with them,” says owner Jimi Smith. The menu is punctuated with stories that dive into the history of certain cocktails or spirits. In the 8th edition of the menu, there’s an entire feature on Chartreuse (“a spirit infused with 130 different herbs and spices,” its recipe is a closely guarded secret among the monks of the Order of Chartreuse). The Alley Cat’s space itself reflects these small touches of history—the bar top and shelving were crafted from the building’s 19th-century rafters, and the brick walls are all original.
As with any good restaurant or bar, the personality really comes from the people behind it. If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the menu, which comes with its own Table of Contents, ask one of the pin-sharp bartenders to guide you. “We don’t take ourselves very seriously,” Smith says, describing the staff’s tendency to belt out the lyrics to whatever Prince song is playing. “But we are very serious about hospitality. If our guests are having a good time, we’re having a good time. And if we’re having a good time, nine times out of ten so are our guests.”
For a place that takes cocktails so seriously, Alley Cat also delivers a clever, refreshing dose of humor. The 9th menu edition features an ABV thermometer ranking cocktails on their potency. You won’t find any bar snacks here: Alley Cat offers “100% booze that’s accompanied with the occasional slice of fruit,” Smith laughs.
At the end of the day, Alley Cat remains committed to creating an inclusive, welcoming space. “We don’t judge people for what they drink, [whether] it’s a $250 pour of cognac or a vodka and Red Bull – we leave any hint of pretension at the door.”
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According to Smith, the bar’s goal is singular: “You will leave Alleycat learning something about a spirit or cocktail than you knew before you walked in our doors and we pride ourselves on that."