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Savannah's Pinkie Master's: The rest of the story

  • Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News file photo Pinkie Master’s Pabst Blue Ribbon sign is lit up on 318 Drayton St. in December.
  • Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News file photo A plaque in recognition of Jimmy Carter’s visit to Pinkie’s displayed in the corner of Pinkie Master’s Lounge.

If you blinked, you might have missed it — a ripple in Savannah’s scenery.

For a little less than two days last week, there was no glowing Pabst Blue Ribbon sign at the corner of Drayton and East Harris streets beckoning to the weird and weary.

It’s back. But Pinkie Master’s Lounge, the storied dive bar that occupied 318 Drayton St. for 62 years, is not.

The man who operated Pinkie’s for the last 10 years was kicked out. And, true to his word — but apparently against the wishes of the building’s owner — he packed up the bar’s memorabilia and hauled it to a new spot near River Street, where he plans to resurrect the watering hole.

When the PBR sign briefly disappeared, so did the “Pinkie Master’s” nameplate that had long been fixed beneath it.

When it reappeared, the nameplate was gone. Instead, the sign bore the name of the new bar that’s planned for 318 Drayton: “The Original.”

 

Sign of the times

In the days before Guy Kirk had to be out of 318 Drayton for good, he vowed to take it all with him — the photos on the walls that had accumulated over the years, a plaque with Jimmy Carter’s face on it that was affixed to the bar and most other things regulars would associate with Pinkie’s.

And, in the end, he did just that.

One of the building’s owners, Marty Hogan of Fourteen X LLC, tried to stop Kirk. He called police on Jan. 3 — the day after the bar’s last night — and told officers he was worried Kirk would damage the building while moving out.

Hogan was especially worried about the PBR sign and the building’s awnings, and he told police the decor Kirk was grabbing “belonged to multiple third parties and that they were on loan.”

But because Hogan couldn’t provide proof Fourteen X owned the items that weren’t fixed to the building, the police didn’t stop Kirk and told Hogan he would have to involve the courts for help dividing the property.

Kirk claimed everything he was taking was his. The police, in turn, told him he should probably leave the PBR sign and the awnings.

“Despite this advice, Mr. Kirk repeatedly stated that he would be taking the sign,” a Savannah-Chatham police officer wrote, documenting what may have been the officer’s oddest call of the day. The next morning, according to Kirk, he got someone to come and remove the sign.

No one really wants to go on record about exactly what happened next, but here’s the gist: A 911 call was made; the sign came down because no one at the scene could prove Kirk didn’t own it; a lawyer for Fourteen X later proved the sign most certainly did not belong to Kirk; it made its way back to its longtime perch.

While the sign was on vacation, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against Kirk, barring him from removing or damaging any fixtures from the physical bar, the window, the door awnings and, of course, the PBR sign.

 

Last call

On Tuesday morning, a pot of red flowers sat outside 318 Drayton, wilting in the chilly air. They were all that was left of a small floral memorial friends of Pinkie’s had left for the shuttered bar.

It’s unclear what became of the bouquet and Virgin Mary prayer candle also left as remembrances.

“It was like if Elvis had died or something,” Kirk said of the display. “I thought it was so sentimentally sweet.”

Kirk, who didn’t have a lease, learned he was getting kicked out in October. It was about a month after he — and the building’s owners — were sued by a former bartender who was stabbed by another employee during an altercation inside Pinkie’s in August.

Fourteen X sent word to Kirk — who didn’t have insurance for the bar because he claimed he was told he didn’t need it — telling him he had to leave at the end of the year.

Christian Steinmetz, a lawyer for Fourteen X, said Friday that Kirk was given notice to vacate so the property owners could pursue “a new and better business opportunity.”

Kirk declared bankruptcy to stay the suit and said he’d shut down Dec. 31.

But he stayed open on Jan. 1-2 after applying for a state alcohol license for 318 Drayton for just those two days. He printed out online paperwork that he says law enforcement examined and allowed him to keep pouring on New Year’s weekend.

“We did so much money that last day,” Kirk said. “We had one case of Amstel Light left.”

Despite a court order, a notice from Fourteen X not to remove certain items from the property and advice from police that he could face charges, Kirk says he’s not worried.

“Charges on what?” he asked Monday, saying he hadn’t left the property damaged in any way. While he previously said he planned to “saw” the Carter plaque from the bar top, he now says he “just took the screws out and took it.”

Kirk said he paid someone $100 to go in and tidy up the building so it didn’t look bad after he got everything out and took care not to damage the bar itself to avoid a lawsuit.

He said he’s confident no one will try to get anything back from him.

Kirk never wanted to go, but once he knew it was inevitable, he wasn’t going to just walk away.

“All (Hogan) had to do was offer me what it was worth, and I would have kindly bowed out,” Kirk said.

The building owners, through lawyer Steinmetz, released a statement Friday saying its members had been “maligned” by Kirk and have refrained from comment to avoid escalation.

 

Some history

The reason Pinkie’s is a big deal is because Savannah’s kind of a drinking town, and Pinkie’s was kind of “the” bar. The place opened in 1953 and survived shutdown rumors a time or three over the years.

Its proximity to the old DeSoto Hotel led to its being something of a political hot spot. Customers didn’t just include local politicians like former Mayor John Rousakis but folks from the state level, too.

One of them was former president Jimmy Carter, who, in his early days as a state senator, would reportedly stop by the bar on occasion. And he apparently knew the bar’s namesake, Luis Christopher Masterpolis, aka Pinkie Masters.

Masters died in 1977. A year later, Carter, then the president, was in Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day. He stopped by Pinkie’s and climbed atop the bar and delivered a brief speech, paying tribute to Masters.

“This is the first time I ever heard Pinkie’s bar quiet,” Carter was quoted as saying in a Savannah Morning News report of the event.

A metal plaque — which was removed Jan. 2 — was worked into the bar where Carter stood. It bears an image of the former president’s face and the date — March 17, 1978.

Somehow, the real story became convoluted and transformed into a Savannah-style urban legend that Carter went back in time and actually announced his presidential campaign atop the bar at Pinkie’s. The story persists despite the fact Carter’s real announcement before the National Press Club in Washington in 1974 is well documented.

A spokeswoman for Carter, now 91 and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, said she could not work questions about Pinkie’s into the former president’s calendar. It’s been a while since political bigwigs hung out at Pinkie’s. Over the past few years, the average person would be more likely to run into a random celebrity filming a movie in town or a musician who had just played a show.

The items on the walls in Pinkie’s were placed there over several decades — many of them donations from customers themselves. And a lot of folks in town have at least some kind of story about a drink — or drinks — they had at the run-down, cash-only dive.

So when it shuts down after 62 years and something else gets ready to move in, people tend to notice.

 

Ownership headaches

A Bankruptcy Court order sorts out some of the details. That PBR sign, for example — it was deemed to be a fixture. And Steinmetz, the lawyer, says it technically belongs to Pabst Brewing Co., which apparently doesn’t have a problem with it being at 318 Drayton.

Last week wasn’t the only time authorities have had trouble figuring out who owns what at Pinkie’s.

After Masters died in 1977, the business went to his widow, Mary Masterpolis. A year later, a private eye named Pete Liakakis and his mother bought it.

“My daddy and Pinkie’s daddy were first cousins, and Pinkie and I were second cousins, and that’s the reason why I originally got it,” Liakakis said Tuesday.

Liakakis has been a busy guy. He owns an investigations and security firm, he was a bodyguard for actor Burt Reynolds, he was a member of Savannah City Council, the chairman of the Chatham County Commission and now he’s chairman of the Chatham Area Transit Authority board.

Someone else managed the bar through most of the 1980s before Liakakis appointed Guy Kirk’s mother, Ruby, to the role. At some point, the bar’s lease and liquor license wound up in Ruby Kirk’s name, and she became known as its owner.

In 1997, just days before St. Patrick’s Day and while he was on City Council, Liakakis sued the Kirks. Liakakis and his lawyers claimed Ruby Kirk inappropriately transferred the lease and liquor license to her name, and they challenged her to provide a bill of sale.

Liakakis wanted a judge to declare him the rightful owner of Pinkie’s. The Kirks, more or less, claimed Liakakis had abandoned the business.

Long story short, the suit never really got anywhere. It was dragged out for years before a judge suggested mediation. Then the suit was stayed in 2008 after Ruby Kirk declared bankruptcy before being dismissed in 2011.

Guy Kirk assumed operation of the bar from his mother in 2005 and ran it until Jan. 2. He claims ownership of the Pinkie’s identity and intends to open his new bar under the same name. In 2010, he filed trade name registration paperwork in Chatham County court for the business names “Pinkie Master’s Lounge,” “Pinkie’s,” and “Pinky’s.”

That same year, Liakakis registered a Pinkie Master’s Inc. business name with the state, something he’s kept up since. In a phone conversation, he said it was in case opportunity arose, but wouldn’t elaborate and said lawyers advise him not to talk about Pinkie’s.

Liakakis indicated he might have something to say before the weekend but, reached Friday, said he had nothing to report.

Throughout the entire saga, no one who’s run or claimed ownership of Pinkie’s has actually owned the building: Not Masters, not Liakakis and not the Kirks.

The current building owners said in a prepared statement Friday they are looking forward to whatever’s next:

“Now that Mr. Kirk no longer occupies the property, Fourteen X LLC is pleased to announce it has entered into a lease agreement with a new tenant and proprietor of the premises who has great plans to open a new and better establishment in the near future.”

 

New/old businesses

Kirk said he plans to open a new Pinkie Master’s at 305 Upper West Factors Walk in the coming months.

He says he’ll put up all the old photos and most other memorabilia and try to make it as close as possible to the original spot.

“(Pinkie’s was) an old, dilapidated, dress-as-you-want, speak-as-you-want type of place, and that’s the exact kind of ambiance you’re going to have if you go to the new place,” Kirk said.

The only familiar old item — besides that PBR sign — that won’t be present at the new Pinkie’s is a Confederate flag that had been behind the bar since the 1950s.

“We figured once we left there it lost its rights,” Kirk said.

He says he’ll open shop on Feb. 4, the earliest day he can get on the docket for City Council to decide whether he can sell booze there.

Meanwhile, longtime Sapphire Grill bar manager Matt Garappolo just got his hands on 318 Drayton. He’s tentatively set to go before City Council on Jan. 21 to get approval for a liquor license.

“The Jimmy Carter plaque is gone but the bar is there,” Garappolo said Friday.

Garappolo registered the business name Pinky’s With A “Y” LLC, but plans to call the new bar The Original, an homage to PBR’s old logo.

He’s still figuring a few things out, but he hopes to be open sometime in February. Garappolo says there’s not really any damage to the interior, but there’s a bit of sprucing up to do. And it’ll need a paint job.

“We’re not planning on doing anything crazy,” he said Friday. “It’s kind of an old school corner bar.”

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