Sweet Savannah: That Midnight house and the Gryphon restaurant

Gryphons at Gryphon restaurant, Savannah GA

Even before we left Knoxville for that sweet Southern town of Savannah, we knew two places we wanted to see: Mercer Williams House Museum and Gryphon. But it was not until we arrived that we found the two were fairly close to each other in the historic district — and even better than we imagined!

The first, Mercer Williams Museum House, was the actual residence of Jim Williams, antiques dealer, preservationist, and central figure in the very popular book by John BerendtMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, published in 1994. Originally, the building of Mercer House, an Italianate villa, was begun in 1860 by General Hugh Mercer, great grandfather of the famous lyricist Johnny Mercer, but the Civil War delayed the construction. The house was finally completed in 1869, but it changed hands, fell into disrepair, and later restored by Jim Williams in 1969.

Mercer Williams House Museum, Savannah GA

This stately mansion built with classic rose-colored bricks known as “Philadelphia Reds” offers an elegant 15-foot tall entry and floor-to-ceiling windows. Jim Williams added elegant tiles in the entryway as well as his signature art, fabrics, and antiques which are still on display today. Tours are available, but photos of the interior are not allowed.

Inside, our favorite details included the spiral staircase to the second floor, the stained glass window above the stairwell, and the movable walls that could open rooms for large-scale entertaining. But outside, we were smitten with these glorious windows, most of which pair with ornate iron balconies and sport sculptural hood molds of cast iron.

But, if you ask us, it’s the book that brought us to the house, not just the amazing details and collected beauty of Williams’ possessions. Before we left home, we checked out an audible version from our own Knox County Public Library and set off for Savannah. Told by a reporter (John Kelso) on assignment in Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil chronicles not only the society parties Kelso was sent to cover, but also the murder (or was it self-defense?) of young Danny Hansford, an employee of Williams, as well as side stories of the Lady Chablis, a black drag queen, and Minerva, a voodoo priestess. The cover of the book features a statue of “bird girl” originally photographed in Bonaventure Cemetery, a photo so popular that many tourists wanted to “visit” her in the cemetery. So many, in fact, that city officials moved her into the Telfair Museums for safe keeping!

Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil book jacket

When we returned home, we immediately rented the movie version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Kevin Spacey (Jim Williams), Jude Law (Danny Hansford), John Cusack (John Kelso), and Lady Chablis as herself! After all, we wanted to see the interior of the Mercer Williams House Museum as the backdrop for this movie — and we weren’t disappointed!

Midnight in Garden of Good & Evil movie
Trailer for the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is available on YouTube.

But after a tour like this, you, too, might be looking for a unique place to eat! So we went in search of a restaurant we had both loved on a previous trip: Gryphon.

Gryphon restaurant, Savannah, GA

Renovated in a space once used by a pharmacy and a library, Gryphon is run by students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and it boasts touches of both its former inhabitants.

Gryphon restaurant wall, Savannah, GA

The name comes from the two gryphons that flank the clock on one side of the restaurant. (See photo at the top of this post.)

Touches of the pharmacy can be seen on the labeled wooden drawers.

Gryphon restaurant remnant of pharmacy cabinet, Savannah

Stained glass windows feature mortar and pestle central motifs.

Gryphon restaurant stained glass, Savannah GA

But perhaps what charms old book lovers like us the most is seeing good books repurposed. Impressive groupings of books arranged by color and flanking tomes re-opened in artful ways just made us smile.

Gryphon restaurant book display, Savannah GA

If you love history, be sure to tour Mercer Williams House Museum. And if you love good food (and large pots of tea) in an artful place, try Gryphon. Who knew Savannah would have so much history, art, and whimsy rolled into one intriguing place to visit!

Travel historically,

Rusha & Bert

Photo credits:

  • Cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil — Amazon
  • Photo from movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil — YouTube

17 thoughts on “Sweet Savannah: That Midnight house and the Gryphon restaurant

  1. Pingback: Sweet Savannah: Foodie Finds – Oh, the Places We See . . .

  2. dawnkinster

    I have only been to Savanah once, and I remember it being beautiful. But hot. Really really hot. We must have been there in summer. I should go back, I’m sure there is much that I didn’t see in my one afternoon there. Your pictures are beautiful.

  3. Sharin Frankenberg

    We have been in Savannah all this week! Loved your thoughts and photos. What beautiful, charming place.

  4. Toonsarah

    I’ve never read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or seen the film but you have me intrigued to give them a try. The house looks beautiful – a shame you couldn’t show us the interior too. And I love the decor of the restaurant 🙂

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks for your comments! The book is interesting— a page turner even today. I wish I could have shown you the interior — so many portraits, antiques, and architectural features. Hope you get to Savannah. Both places are great to visit.

  5. maristravels

    All quite just as I imagined Savannah and I love those Philadelphia Reds, what a glorious colour for a house. I read and enjoyed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and enjoyed, to a lesser extent, the film.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’re right! Books are usually better, and in this case as well. The movie makers took liberty with content. But it’s still good, and you get to see the interior of the house . . . a little.

It makes our day to hear from you.