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  • Clara Fishel

Fine Locations: Cafe Metropole Savannah

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Twenty-five years ago today (September 12, 1997), 109 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Savannah, GA 31401, which was originally built as a Greyhound Bus Station that then became Paul & Andy's Auto Shop, took on a new purpose as Café Metropole. This was the first commercial lease I signed for the first business I opened. My business partner (aka boyfriend) and I decided to open a restaurant just a few months after relocating to Savannah from San Francisco.

When we stumbled upon this building with a for lease sign in the window, we immediately fell in love with the beautiful design and materials - terrazzo, aluminum, steel, garage doors, crazy high ceilings. The rich history of the place made it even better. Although it was about four times bigger than what we had envisioned and, according to everyone we told about it, on the wrong side of the tracks, we were hooked and determined to turn it into a place for locals.

We didn't know anything about the renovation process - how much work we needed to do to convert the bus station/auto shop into a restaurant or that we needed an architect and a licensed general contractor before we could even begin. We didn't know anything about the process of opening a business - all of the required paperwork, licenses and inspections or which department to go to for what. We didn't know anything about anything really, and we had no money. We did have some very generous and talented friends and clutch financial support from family. Fortunately, rent and everything else was so relatively inexpensive at that time, we could afford to make mistakes and learn along the way.

Twenty-five years ago today Café Metropole opened without fanfare, without a social media account, without a sign on the front door. It's a wonder we survived more than that first day. It was a special place that opened during a special time in Savannah. A time when regular people could afford to open businesses downtown without a million dollars ++ in the bank, a time when the City itself was edgier, more open, less touristy, and eager for something new.

While the business did not last beyond five years, the building has stood the test of time, recently benefited from massive capital investment, and now houses one of Savannah's most lauded restaurants. The location, which many saw as super risky back then, has seen new hotels and restaurants pop up and significant development is in progress as I write. Yamacraw Village is slated for redevelopment in the coming years and as the Arena/Canal District becomes more of a reality, connections to the western edge of the Historic District will only grow stronger. It will all progress as it does in Savannah... slowly, and 25 years from now, it will feel like the blink of an eye.


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