When you walk into the new Savannah Taphouse for the first time, you'll probably be as surprised as I was by the dramatic makeover of the space at 125 East Broughton St.
Well before my time in Savannah, the building was the lobby of the Avon Theater. Moviegoers entered under the marquee on Broughton Street but had to pass through the lane to get to the actual theater.
Historical information available online indicates the Avon opened in 1944, which was of course during World War II, and closed in 1970 when downtown businesses were facing stiff competition from new commercial corridors in the suburbs.
The Lucas Theatre and Weis Theatre (now Trustees Theater) continued to show movies for longer than the Avon, but both closed within a decade.
For many years, City Lights Theatre Co. occupied 125 East Broughton St. The nonprofit did some excellent productions over the years before the building was turned into a series of restaurants, including Lime Grill, Seasons of Japan Bistro and R.O.S.E. Public House.
I liked all of those establishments and wrote about all of them in this column.
The Savannah Taphouse has made more dramatic changes to the space than the previous restaurants did.
The ownership team, which is aiming for an "upscale sports bar atmosphere," has knocked out a big chunk of the first floor ceiling - a bold decision that emphasizes the height and scale of the building.
Wide steps near the entrance lead to the seating on the second floor. The ground floor has a long bar on the eastern wall, booths on the western wall and comfortable high bar tables in the middle of the room.
Some of the brick walls and the Avon's original floor have been exposed, and the new interior design aims for a warm, contemporary, even somewhat industrial feel.
It's an impressive buildout.
And before I talk about the food and drink, I should add that Savannah Taphouse has a lot of televisions.
Of course, you would expect televisions at a self-described sports bar that emphasizes the beer menu and is co-owned by Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but you still might not expect the TVs to dominate so much of the wall space.
Sitting at the bar, patrons are faced with a bank of six large-screen televisions with no space between them. There's a similar arrangement on the second floor, and each booth has its own television. The Savannah Taphouse website says there are 28 total TVs.
It seems like Savannah Taphouse is shooting for some of the folks who patronize spots like Wild Wing CafÃ© and World of Beer, but the 100 block of East Broughton is pretty quiet at night. Sure, it's just a few blocks away, but the new restaurant and bar will still have to figure out how to lure potential patrons who are headed to the City Market area.
Savannah Taphouse features several dozen beers on tap, including some good local options. On my first trip last week, I enjoyed a couple of drafts of Coastal Empire Beer Co.'s Praline Amber Ale.
There are of course many more beers available by the bottle and other drinks available from the bar. The premium cocktails are less expensive than at many downtown bars.
The food menu offers lots of options too.
I started with the build-your-own chopped salad ($7.99), which could easily be turned into a meal if you add a protein for an extra charge. The base price includes a good-sized bowl of greens with five toppings chosen from a list of 30 options.
Next I had the Santa Fe Burger ($10.99), a hearty option with Angus beef, bacon, smoked Gouda and a side of chipotle mayo. My dinner companion had the Reuben ($10.99). Both the burger and the sandwich were served with big portions of nicely seasoned waffle fries.
In addition to the burgers and sandwiches, the Savannah Taphouse menu also has some tempting entrees, including several chicken dishes and pasta dishes. All are priced under $20.
And Savannah Taphouse offers a beer club with a variety of benefits for a one-time membership fee of $20.
Savannah Taphouse is a similar concept to the six metro Charleston locations of King Street Grille, which are also co-owned by Roethlisberger and restaurateur Scott Kier. The two men also appear poised to open a King Street Grille location in Pittsburgh.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.