For a guy who doesn’t drink, I love a proper pub.


In Savannah, no place fits that bill better than Crystal Beer Parlor (CBP), the historic corner bar that opened during The Great Depression and that is now surviving perhaps the most challenging economic circumstance since.


What were owner John Nichols and general manager Paige Brown to do, having been entirely closed since March 19 and still chiefly concerned about the health and safety of their staff and their patrons?


Simple: Canopy the parking lot under a tent and start serving outside, like Oktoberfest with the brews and food brought outside for the first time since CBP’s original owner, Blocko Manning, hosted car-hopped oyster roasts.


The 40’ inch by 80’ inch white big top takes up the whole lot with 25 tables set at more than a safe distance for drinks and dining underneath, enough to seat almost 100 people.


"I’ll tell you," said a clearly gleeful Brown in a telephone interview this past Sunday, "seeing our food back on the plates, you might as well have given me a million dollars. That was the best feeling."


She added, "The first customers (regulars Lisa and John Schaeffer) were so sweet. They were thrilled. We were thrilled.


"Paige and I were concerned for our staff’s well-being, for their families’ well-being," Nichols said of the sensible decision to close down operations completely on March 19.


During the remainder of March and all of April, May, June, and July, CBP’s doors remained shut, its kitchen quiet, its bar stools and booths empty.


The estimable eatery reopened, albeit outside, on August 4 with slightly altered days and hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays only). A week later, diners were welcomed indoors, at half-capacity and strategically seated at an every-other-booth distance. The only actual furniture that has been temporarily removed are the few high top tables near the bar.


Even with the diminished accommodations, the restaurant can still serve nearly 70 diners at one time inside, plus another 8 at the spaced-out and coupled bar stools; if a party of three wants to belly up, no problem: a cautious gap is then set between it and the next stool.


All told, there is room for about 170 guests at any one time.


Nichols and Brown are deeply committed to safety, first and foremost, and anyone who comes to CBP for the foreseeable future better be wearing a mask, unlike that couple who visited one night last week, clearly not eager to eat but looking to cause a scene.


"The health and safety of our 85 employees are of the utmost importance and the safety of our customers," Brown averred without hesitation. "We don’t want to have to fight to serve people and do what we love so much.


"We’re trying to navigate these treacherous uncharted waters as best we can and still maintain quality, service, and a love for what we do."


STILL THE HOME OF PUB GRUB GALORE


Like many Savannah restaurants have experienced over the last few months, CBP’s resurrection has come with a prudently pared-down menu, though one that remains chock-full of favorite fare.


In the beginning of the reopening efforts, Nichols explained that availability and prices of products on the kitchen’s shopping list drove the decision to streamline the copious carte.


"We were just concerned that it was going to be hard to produce our menu for outside service," he said. "We were concerned about timing."


"It was the best idea we had," Brown chimed in, with Nichols agreeing in turn. "We’re able to maintain [the smaller menu], maintain the product, and maintain the quality that we expect of ourselves."


Truth be written, a "pared-down" CBP menu is still voluminously delicious, numbering five starters, two daily homemade soups, five salads, eight sandwiches, four burgers, chicken fingers, shrimp, flounder, ten sides, and three desserts.


Fans need not fear. The onion rings, the Crystal crab stew, the pimento pig, the fresh-made in-house veggie burger, the baked southern deviled crab, the ocilla slaw, and the hand-cut potato chips are all there waiting for you, plus a dozen more must-haves.


If you somehow manage to pace yourself on your return visit, the Savannah Mudd pie, Gawgia peach cobbler, and fried pound cake have missed you, too.


Cue the rumbling tummy.


SAFETY FIRST, THEN SOME ONION RINGS


"We want everyone to feel safe," said Brown, who admitted that neither she nor Nichols are choosing to go into other restaurants right now.


"We hope people feel safer [knowing] that we’re taking all the precautions. We’re wiping down. We’re sanitizing. We’re doing the best we can to keep everyone safe. That’s our number one priority."


According to CBP lore, many years ago, the parking lot was covered in oyster shells, and Blocko Manning hosted al fresco oyster roasts. A car hop would come to a guest’s parked car and take the orders. Nichols informed me that, with the advent of television, Manning had one installed in the parking lot - which is not even close to The Best Part...


Parents would leave their kids in their cars to watch TV and eat, the carhops taking care of the kids' orders, while their parents were inside, presumably having a few adult beverages.


Nichols promises that the tent and the red-and-white checkered tables are not going anywhere soon. For starters, none of us knows what the coronavirus has planned for the remainder of the year, but even if It is around come December, what could be nicer than sitting near a propane patio heater under a giant tent while downing a giant pretzel with beer cheese sauce?


Nothing - but don’t leave the kids in the car, yeah?