There are some buildings that give you a true sense of its history and importance. Over time three adjacent structures converged to become such a place. The historical significance of such a whereabouts may be marked by who went there and what happened there or other notoriety for some activity that makes it famous. Notoriety such as the presence of spirits of the departed and their interaction with patrons within its accommodation . At 307 East President Street in Savannah Georgia stands a structure that is the oldest Inn in Savannah. The structures, built in 1790, were combined between 1820 and 1880 to become 17Hundred90 Inn and Restaurant.
A testament to its time, this remarkable building, with its 18 inch thick brick walls and heavy wooden doors, is located among the oldest buildings there were part of the earliest settlement times in Savannah history. When I walked in the first time around 20 years ago and every subsequent time thereafter, I could feel this building calling to me. As if in echos of the sounds of patrons from 100 years ago, the restaurant is a distinguished dark structure with low ceilings and rests on the first floor with the rooms of the inn above. People who work there and long time patrons also show this reverent respect which the building commands. 17Hundred90 is revered.
On the morning I came to 17Hundered90 to talk with Patrick Godley the sun was illuminating select sections of the interior of the restaurant. Patrick and I sat in a small room adjacent to the bar. The mid-morning sun cut through the dark wood and stone and produced a bright light across the table where we sat to discuss Patrick Godley, this restaurant and inn, and what it is like to be the Innkeeper of one of the oldest and the most famous Inns in the country.
When you consider an Inn that has operated for more than 100 years clearly the person who is in charge is the boss and the protector of this immortal place but only for his watch. Over the years a number of people have owned and managed the establishment. The previous owners were not on site and 5 years ago Patrick Godley became the new owner and accepted the challenges ahead.
It is fitting that someone in the Godley family would become the owner of 17Hundred90. After all, it was Patrick’s great grandfather who owned a timber farm near Savannah so they are a native Savannah family with a history of its own. This timber farm loaded wood on the train at a stop that became commonly called Godley Station even though there never was a real train station. Today that cleared land houses a community baring the name Godley Station with shops and outlets in this rapidly growing area At the time his great grandfather was making his mark- the 17Hundred90 was also thriving in Savannah and would be known for fine dining.
Patrick Godley, the son of a minister and a Savannah native, graduated from UGA with a degree in Journalism. He left Savannah to venture to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the movie industry. Ironically, this great grandson of a timber farmer found one of the biggest deterrents to continuing there was the fact that is the proverbial concrete jungle. He missed the trees! So Patrick re-established his roots in Savannah and worked for his father in real estate. The real estate market was not exactly flourishing at the time and so Patrick chose to supplement by working in restaurants. After all, the cell phone bill for a real estate agent is a big bill so, if nothing more, the extra work would help to pay for the cell phone alone. He worked for awhile at Jenny Orr’s “Fannies on the Beach” restaurant cooking. Then the day came when he dressed up in a suit and interviewed at a slightly more intimidating place- the front desk at 17Hundred90. Little did he know 2 years later he would end up owning it. After all the years of working in restaurants he said he never wanted to do it again. Look at him now.
The prior ownership was not present and there were some signs of neglect. Nothing that could not be remedied. Over the years of continuous operation time, age, and wear took its toll on this landmark property. For example 6 of the 14 rooms were without functioning air conditioning. Overall the building was solid and most of the fixes were easy just requiring some elbow grease to make it happen. Patrick found the most pragmatic approach was to be on site. He lived at the Inn. He lived for a period of time in each room. What better way than to experience it in the same manner a customer would experience staying at the Inn? He would live in a room and make a “punch list” then move to the next while repairs were accomplished until all of the rooms were covered, After making repairs and getting the rooms in order it was time to focus on the restaurant.
One observation was the regulars at the bar had dwindled away. He even witnessed some asking the bar tender where to eat and noting that his own restaurant right there adjacent to the bar, was not even mentioned. People still came for special occasions but the steady crowd that he enjoys today was not there. Patrick is a keen observer. Patrick nodded as he spoke and said the challenge included getting good people to come on board to make the service outstanding. He paused and said with a smile, some of the good people he knew came on board to help him because he guaranteed they would make a living He is hands on and has done the work himself before, so he set out to make some changes that would bring the restaurant back to the status this establishment should have.
He noticed that in the spring and fall when the heavy wooden doors were opened and the light came in they experienced more business. Clearly they could not leave the doors open in the hot or cold weather and removing them for glass doors would be out of the question on an historic building. So Patrick had glass doors installed inside the doorway (with the 18 inch walls there was plenty of room) so the wooden doors could be left open. He added additional beers to the bar and started offering menu samples during happy hour. There still needed to be more “wow” factor. A new chef with the empowerment to take initiative and add changes was the next step. Soon the regulars were back and now the restaurant is full for dining with or without a special occasion.
Today Patrick spends time doing what all successful business owners do, keeping the customers satisfied even if it means working late and personally meeting their needs. Some people come the 17Hundred90 for the quaint charm of the Inn. Many come to possibly experience the undeniable paranormal activity centered around this place and room 204, which prompted CNN to list it as one of the 9 haunted spots across America. Perhaps the infamous paranormal activity draws some people but the great food and good service is the key ingredient. They come for the food, the inn and the ghosts. Patrick does not deny anything regarding the ghosts, however it is clear to see there is much more to this place than the reputation created by the media of stories of ghosts in the building.
It is paramount to a good stay to leave a place satisfied with every aspect of the experience. People come to Savannah and the 17Hundred90 expecting exactly that. They leave and are not disappointed knowing they had that experience with the Inn that Patrick Godley owns.