Savannahians After Dark

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As the heart of the city keeps beating around the clock, meet six locals who help take care of Savannah from the late hours of the night to the early hours of the morning

Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK

Man standing on a dock with a container ship in the background

Harbor Pilot, Savannah Bar Pilots Association

From the captain’s bridge of lurching, gigantic cargo ships that come in and out of Savannah’s ports mostly at night, the city appears to be asleep. 

“It looks like nothing is going on simply because without binoculars, the people are so small,” says Rob King, one of Savannah’s 20 harbor pilots specially trained to safely captain international ships in and out of the Savannah River. His schedule is similar to that of a doctor’s — being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a time — as time zones do not bind the globe-crossing ships he shepherds into the harbor.

“Inside the wheelhouse, with the doors closed, you don’t hear anything,” he says. “But when you go outside, you start hearing the festivals and the bands playing. It’s like having your TV on mute while watching a party and then un-muting the TV and realizing, ‘Hey, they’re having a really good time out there!’”

We know those who line River Street at night are in awe of these hulking ships. They wave, yell and scramble to take pictures — their enthusiasm usually earning a blow of the ship’s whistle. But King, who started piloting back in 1999, can attest to the excitement that the captains have as they encounter our city front, blowing their whistles without pause. 

“They like that people see them,” King says of the crewmembers who come from around the world to the Port of Savannah. “As a seafarer, nobody usually gets to see those guys. Typically, when they’re in a port, they don’t get to go ashore, and if they do, the terminals are so far away that there is nothing for them to do.” Savannah, however, is unique in that a 15-minute taxi can connect weary seafarers with the city’s bustling nightlife.

King notes that the port has become busier and busier, and the ships have become bigger and bigger over the years. “There’s just no margin for error anymore,” he says. “Today, if you stood the biggest ship on its end, it’s probably equal to one of the top 50 tallest buildings in the world.”

And while the nighttime vantage is stunning from such heights, King says the favorite part of his job is getting to experience the cultures and traditions of the international crews that come to the port. “It’s like the world comes to your door,” he says. “I get to talk to people about what it’s like to live in Pakistan or India — and as someone who really likes people, that’s one of the best things for me.”

— Andrea Goto

Woman in an industrial kitchen baking scones

Owner, Savannah Scone Company

Anyone who’s had a scone from Savannah Scone Company can attest to the following — they’re addictive. Moist and full of flavor, the scones, which owner Sara Graham first started selling out of her house in The Landings during the pandemic, have attracted a cult following. Now when Graham opens the doors to her Medical Arts storefront at 8 a.m., she often has a line of devoted scone-heads waiting to see what flavors are being offered that day. “I see the same faces coming into the shop every day, and they’re so excited,” she says. “This town has been so good to me.” 

The early days of starting her small business, however, weren’t all smooth as butter or sweet as sugar. Graham, who has no formal training as a baker (her former career was in sales), makes each scone by hand, and bakes eight at a time. After establishing the storefront in February 2022, she quickly found that if she didn’t wake up at midnight, and work for seven hours before opening at 8 a.m., she would sell out in 45 minutes — her skills as a home baker couldn’t keep up with the demand from a growing fanbase.

“If our scones are the reason why you can smile at the end of your shift, it’s all worth it.”

Sara Graham

She baked alone, with only her husband, who handled the website and social media, for the company. “We really had no life,” she recalls. “We would go to bed at 3:30 in the afternoon, wake up at midnight, work until 2 p.m., then eat, take a shower and go back to sleep.” The only people they regularly saw besides customers were the patrons of Aqua Vitae Lounge, a cocktail bar in the same shopping center that stayed open until 4 a.m. 

Graham eventually reached a breaking point. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could continue working hours that stripped her of the ability to see friends and family and enjoy a golf cart ride on a nice day. Then, in July of 2023, Christmas came early in the form of two seasoned employees — a formally trained baker and a cashier. With their help, Graham has been able to keep more traditional baker’s hours — she sleeps until 3 or 4 a.m., and with the help of the other baker, has enough product to keep the store open until the early afternoon. 

Graham has a lot of new offerings in the works — among them, gluten-free scones and lunch options including soups. In the meantime, she relishes in the joy she brings to her customers, many of whom are night shift workers including nurses, police officers and firefighters. “If our scones are the reason why you can smile at the end of your shift, it’s all worth it,” she says.

— Brienne Walsh

Man in reflective gear standing in front of a street sweeper

Crew Chief, Street Cleaning Division of the Sanitation Department

For the past 29 years, Nate Castle has started work at 8 p.m., when most people are home on the couch with their families streaming their favorite TV show. Now a crew chief for the street cleaning division of the sanitation department, which polishes the Hostess City when most residents are asleep, Castle knows every corner of a place that he says has grown rapidly in the past decade. “People who had 10 neighbors now have 200 neighbors because a condo went up next to their house,” he says. 

The sanitation department, Castle notes, has grown with the city, and covers 22 routes from River Street all the way out to Pooler. That’s approximately 36,000 miles of curb streets. His crew includes not only street sweepers, but also dump truck drivers and citation officers to ticket cars that are in the way of cleaning crews.

“The one thing I take pride in is that I want everyone on my crew to make it home safe and sound at the end of the night.”

Nate Castle

His job is not always easy, depending on the weather. “Seasons dictate this department,” he says. In the winter months, when it’s cold and dark, people tend to stay home with their families. But in the summer, people stay out drinking and socializing, and may be more likely to protest a parking violation ticket written at 1 a.m. 

“You can’t please everyone,” he says. “That’s part of the job.” If anyone on his crew feels threatened, Castle notes, the rest of the team will communicate over the radio and gather to show each other support. “The one thing I take pride in is that I want everyone on my crew to make it home safe and sound at the end of the night,” Castle says. 

Much more common than a belligerent resident are the regulars his crew sees walking their dogs in the early hours of the morning. “They give us gratitude,” he says. “They know that Savannah is going to be a better place because of the work we’re doing.” 

Even despite all his years on the job, Castle has never gotten entirely used to the night shift. “When you work at night, it requires a lot of fortitude, heart and skill,” he says. “I gave up a lot.” 

Most of all, he sacrificed time spent with his four children, who are all grown now. But his children, he says, respect his work. “I talked to my daughter recently, and she said, ‘Dad, it wasn’t easy, but we understood what you were doing,’” Castle recalls. 

Next year, Castle will have 30 years on the job. Only two other city employees in the history of the sanitation department have ever worked the night shift longer. Although he could technically retire in 2025, he thinks he’ll probably stay on the job. “I want to have a normal life, but I don’t know normal anymore,” he says. “The biggest thing is that I feel like I’m doing this city a wonderful service.”

— Brienne Walsh

Nurse standing outside in front of a hospital emergency room sign

Float Pool Registered Nurse at Memorial Health

Nikki Scott has worked the night shift at Memorial Health for the past nine years. What surprises her most about her job is that the hospital is as busy at 3 a.m. as it is in the middle of the day. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things you see on the night shift,” she says. 

Scott worked in banking and real estate before going back to school to become a nurse in her early 40s. Currently, she is a float pool nurse, which means that she works for whatever department — emergency or oncology, for example — needs her the most on any given night. In that position, she sees it all. “I love the pace and community,” she says. “The night shift is a smaller crew, so we really have to rely on each other.”

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things you see on the night shift.”

Nikki Scott

Anything that you hear about on the news, Scott says, trickles over to the hospital. Car accidents, shootings, weather events and bar fights are common occurrences. In March, when Savannah welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Scott sees a lot of patients dressed in green.

“When there are big events going on in the city, some naughty people are going to end up at the hospital,” she laughs. This includes guests who mix bar hopping with the cobblestones on River Street. “There’s always going to be a night or two when people are having a little too much Savannah fun,” she says. No matter what sort of shenanigans someone has gotten up to, Scott says that the hospital staff will treat them with dignity. “We pride ourselves on being kind people,” she says. 

Although Scott is a natural night owl, it takes planning and dedication to work multiple night shifts in a row. “God meant for the body to be resting from 2 to 3 a.m.,” she says. The night before she works a 12-hour shift from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., she stays up late and then naps the following morning. To stay satiated overnight, she’s careful to eat a big dinner, although that big dinner often comes right after a long day of sleep. “When you work the night shift, you eat on the opposite schedule of everyone else in the world,” she says. Sometimes, when she gets off at 7 a.m., she has just enough energy to go for a walk or hit the gym. Other times, she just crashes.

Even despite the challenges, the job is worth it. “Savannah is so pretty during the day, but it has a beautiful, spooky kind of night,” she says. As a night shift worker, she relishes the view.

— Brienne Walsh

Bartender serving a drink

Bartender at Perry Lane 

Noah Wolcott prefers to start his workday as other people are wrapping up theirs.

“What I enjoy about hospitality is making connections,” Wolcott says. “That becomes a little bit easier in the evenings, especially in the hotel environment. People have been traveling all day, working or at school, then I see them relax. Their schedules get more flexible. They are able to sit and enjoy a glass of wine. The stress levels go down, and it’s easier to connect with them.”

A Colorado transplant, Wolcott relocated south during the pandemic while another Sage Hospitality-managed hotel where he worked was closed. “I came on what was supposed to be a temporary staffing relief position since COVID restrictions were a little lighter here,” he recalls. What started as a six-week visit extended into four years and counting.

“There is a romanticism that is unique to Savannah, especially after dark with the gas-lit houses in the Historic District.”

Noah Wolcott

He works until close, which could be 10 p.m. or midnight depending if he is tending bar at The Emporium or The Wayward. Compared to Colorado nightlife, he says Savannah’s open-container law ups the party ante, but the city’s beauty and history are the real draw when taking a drink to-go.

“There is a romanticism that is unique to Savannah, especially after dark with the gas-lit houses in the Historic District,” Wolcott says. 

When it comes to his own glass, one of his go-to favorites is his own creation: The Perry Boulevard, a riff on the Boulevardier. “To go with Emporium’s French-themed food menu, I use Brenne French single malt whisky aged in cognac barrels, then add Aperol and Lillet Blanc to give it a nice, approachable version of the bitter classic.”

Just as creating the perfect cocktail requires a balance between sweet, bitter, sour and strong, Wolcott aims to maintain a balance between his work and personal life — which isn’t always easy. “For most of my friends and family, vacations and holidays are all planned around evenings and weekends, but those are the times I’m needed the most,” he says. 

Still, he takes advantage of his alternative schedule — booking mid-week ski trips when the lines are shorter and flights are cheaper. And this May, he will graduate from Cornell University’s inaugural Executive Master of Management in Hospitality program. The degree will help him to expand his career beyond the bar.

“To be frank, there are some pitfalls in bartending,” he says. “It can be challenging at times, but I think that’s what we all enjoy about it.”

— Colleen Ann McNally

Woman standing in front of the front desk at a hotel

Lead Concierge, Thompson Savannah

“When people ask me to describe Savannah, I always say, ‘If Charleston and New Orleans got together and had a baby, that baby would be Savannah,’” says Amanda Marks, lead concierge at Thompson Savannah who has more than 25 years of experience in the city’s hospitality business. “We have the history that Charleston does, but we also have the party-side that New Orleans offers. It’s what makes Savannah so much fun.”

Savannah’s nightlife certainly does sit at the intersection of revelry, history and nostalgia. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the recommendations Marks gives to tourists looking for a “Savannah experience.”

“The great thing about Savannah is that you have to look at her from all aspects,” Marks says. This means exposing visitors to the city’s mix of “elevated” and “ground-level” experiences, literally and metaphorically speaking. 

“I want people to remember their time here and see that Savannah is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day.”

Amanda Marks

For the elevated experience, Marks recommends Savannah’s downtown rooftop bar scene. “We have over 13 rooftop bars in this city – and of course our Bar Julian here at Thompson Savannah is fabulous,” she says. “You have The Lost Square at The Alida, Electric Moon Skytop Lounge and Moon Deck, Myrtle and Rose at Plant Riverside District, Peregrin atop Perry Lane Hotel … It’s so interesting getting up that high and seeing Savannah from a completely different level.”

But flip her custom-made, rooftop bar map over and you’ll get a comprehensive guide to the city’s best dive bars. “I think that’s a good, all-encompassing picture of what Savannah has to offer. Because who doesn’t like to go have a PBR at Pinkie’s?”

Marks is also quick to recommend any number of the city’s ghost tours – “They’re a lot of fun, especially for people with kids. Savannah’s haunted side is also part of our charm” – as well as performances at the Savannah Theatre. “There aren’t many places that have live shows,” she says. “You also get the bonus of being in one of the oldest theaters in the country.” 

For Marks, the best part about her job is being able to make memories and experiences for her guests. “I want people to remember their time here and see that Savannah is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day.”

— Andrea Goto

Find this feature and much more in the March/April issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!