There’s weird, and then there’s Pinkie’s.
The notorious downtown Savannah bar is shutting down over the holiday weekend. Its ultimate fate is unclear, but the story involves a late-night stabbing, ownership disputes and an apparent plan to remove a metal plaque bearing the image of a former U.S. president from a bar and relocate it across town.
The dingy watering hole at the corner of Drayton and East Harris streets has been a part of downtown’s identity for decades. It’s been around since 1953, and it’s got a reputation for having a killer jukebox, the occasional Hollywood drinker and heavily exaggerated stories about Jimmy Carter.
Photos of customers line the walls next to run-down booths. The cash-only bar’s not the kind of place people go for swanky cocktails. Everything’s served in plastic cups, and the dimly lit bar has a reputation for being the place to go for people watching while sipping a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The man who’s been running Pinkie Master’s Lounge for the last 10 years, Guy Kirk, says his last day in business at 318 Drayton St. is Saturday. He had previously said Dec. 31.
In the long run, Kirk plans to relocate, and another local bartender is set to open shop at the current Pinkie’s spot as soon as possible.
Whatever happens, a local landmark is changing.
“Pinkie’s isn’t just a Savannah icon,” Kirk said Monday, before sitting down for a brief interview in a booth at the 62-year-old dive. “It’s a national icon.”
A long time in business
Granted, “bar in coastal Georgia” probably isn’t on par with, say, the bald eagle in terms of icons, but Pinkie’s had a good run.
In 1953, Luis Christopher Masterpolis — better known as Pinkie Masters — opened the bar as Pinkie Masters’ Rainbow Room.
Over time, it became something of a hub for folks with political aspirations. Easily its most famous customer is Jimmy Carter, who visited the bar before, during and after his presidency. A tall tale occasionally makes the rounds that Carter stood on the bar and announced his bid for the White House. That’s not a true story — Carter’s announcement happened in Washington. But the Georgia Democrat did stand on the bar and give a speech. It was St. Patrick’s Day in 1978, and he’d been president for about a year.
A metal plaque commemorating Carter’s speech was fixed into the horseshoe-shaped bar right where the president stood. According to archived stories, Carter came back in 2002, stood on the bar again, gave another speech then asked for a Bud Light.
The bar, over the years, has become local legend — a place folks tend to either love or hate. It wound up as the setting for many an odd late-night Savannah story.
The beginning of the end, it seems, started in July when an argument between a former bartender and a weekend bouncer of sorts escalated to blows. The ex-bartender, Jonathan “Catfish” Staggs, was banned after the late-night fracas, which spilled outside the bar.
But the feud wasn’t settled. Staggs came back late one Saturday night a month later. The bouncer, Leonard “Nard” Scriven, stabbed him inside the bar, according to police reports.
Staggs didn’t die. And Pinkie’s being Pinkie’s, folks kept drinking.
Scriven went to jail on an aggravated assault charge. Staggs went to a lawyer, and he sued the bar, Kirk and the building’s owners, Marty and Coleen Hogan.
Kirk didn’t have insurance for the bar — he claims he was told he didn’t need it — and he filed for bankruptcy to stay the lawsuit.
But about a month after Kirk filed for bankruptcy, a letter from the Hogans’ lawyer came in the mail: Pinkie’s had to go. Kirk wasn’t locked into a lease, and the bar would have to close at the end of the year.
Pinkie’s, being Pinkie’s, announced the matter and various updates through a series of signs taped to the bar windows. In early November, a TV station ran a story about “Save Pinkie Master’s” Facebook and GoFundMe pages being created to raise about $60,000 to help the establishment relocate. The Facebook page was deleted, and, as of Wednesday, the GoFundMe page had raised $10.
Kirk on the move
Kirk, 56, has to be out of the building by Tuesday.
He wants to reopen near River Street as soon as possible. He said “everything you see” in Pinkie’s belongs to him, and that he’ll be packing the decor for the move.
He said he plans to remove the PBR sign outside the building and relocate it, along with most of the photos on the walls, a small Christmas tree that’s more than 50 years old, and a dusty Confederate flag that has been at Pinkie’s since Jim Crow.
He also said, at least twice, that he plans on removing the Carter plaque from the bar and hanging it at his new location.
“I’m going to saw it right there,” Kirk said. “And in my new bar, I’m going to take hooks, and I’m going to hang it up in the new bar about 4 feet up and then people will say, ‘That’s where Jimmy Carter stood.’”
If he can’t prove legal ownership of the establishment, removal of such fixtures could prove problematic in court.
In 2014, for example, the former owners of Doc’s Bar on Tybee Island were charged with felony theft after police said they took items from the property and vandalized it when their lease wasn’t renewed.
On Tuesday, Kirk applied for a liquor license at 305 Lower Factors Walk. The earliest he could petition City Council for approval would be Feb. 4.
Some Pinkie’s regulars — and there are a lot of those — weren’t too keen on the removal and relocation of memorabilia from the walls for a new bar. Many items were brought to the bar by patrons over the years, and a few of the items, it seems, may have come down as keepsakes in recent days.
Either way, Kirk says he wants his new bar to have the same feel as the old Pinkie’s.
“It’s not going to be fancy,” he said. “... I don’t want it to look like a Ruth’s Chris steak house. It’s a dive bar. It’s going to look nice because it’s new, but I don’t want it to look snazzy. It’s Pinkie’s.”
Some ownership disputes
The ownership of Pinkie’s has been, seemingly, under dispute for a while.
Kirk says he owns it. But, over the years, so has former Chatham County Commission chairman Pete Liakakis. The building, according to property records, is owned by Coleen Hogan.
Calls left at a number listed for the Hogans were not returned. Earlier in the month, Marty Hogan sent a reporter a message indicating lawyers advised him not to talk on the record until the matter was resolved.
Kirk has been running Pinkie’s and acting as owner for 10 years. It’s been run by the Kirk family since 1989, when Kirk’s mother, Ruby, said she was given ownership of the bar by Liakakis, who bought it from Masters’ widow. Among the many photos on the walls is Liakakis and “Gator” star Burt Reynolds, for whom the former worked as a bodyguard.
But Liakakis, who’s been registering a Pinkie Master’s Inc. business name with the state for the last five years, says lawyers tell him not to talk about the bar.
New life on Drayton
Meanwhile, local bartender Matthew Garappolo is trying to start a new watering hole in the current Pinkie’s spot.
Garappolo registered the business name Pinky’s with a “Y” LLC with the state in November, and on Dec. 16, he applied for a liquor license at 318 Drayton St. for his proposed new business. Garappolo said Wednesday he’ll come up with a different name for the bar.
Garappolo’s lawyer, Dana Braun, said the former’s lease begins in January, immediately after Kirk’s departure.
Garappolo, 35, manages the bar at upscale West Congress Street restaurant Sapphire Grill. He didn’t offer any speculations on what the new bar might offer, but he said it wouldn’t be off-putting to regulars.
“It’s going to be a proper bar,” Garappolo said. “It’s going to be a well-run, proper bar, and that’s as it should be... It’s going to be as welcome to whoever was there before.”
Kirk found out about those plans when he opened a letter that arrived at the bar — one he insists didn’t have a name on the envelope — and discovered information about the liquor license application inside. He wasn’t thrilled, to say the least, and says people are trying to steal the Pinkie’s identity from him. In 2010, Kirk filed trade name paperwork in Chatham County court to secure local registration of the business names “Pinkie Master’s,” “Pinkie’s,” and, just in case, “Pinky’s.”
Kirk said he intends to explore legal options against any business operating in Chatham County using any variation of those three names.
Braun said Garappolo wouldn’t necessarily operate the proposed new business using the same name as the LLC. Garappolo said he’s not even sure what he’ll call the bar yet.
Normally, the current Pinkie’s spot on Drayton would be too close to a church, per city ordinance, to be a bar. But Pinkie’s was in operation before the ordinance, so it was allowed to keep pouring.
Now, because of that, as long as someone opens up a new business there within one year, he or she won’t be automatically denied a liquor license based on proximity to a place of worship, said city spokesman Bret Bell. But that doesn’t guarantee approval, either: Ultimately, City Council still has to decide whether a business can sell booze.
City Council is scheduled to hear from Garappolo and Co. on Jan. 21.
Garappolo’s won acclaim for his cocktail-mixing skills, but it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to get rid of the staples.
“Every bar has PBR,” he said.