The Hometown Honkytonk
...and the New Neon Cowboy
By Jonathan Moody
Photography by Lindy Moody
THERE'S SOMETHING about drinkin' and story-tellin'. Where there's bars, there's folks; and where there's whiskey-bent folks, there's some feller making those folks believe his tall tales by shootin' off his bazoo rather than his six-shooter. Unfortunately, gone are the days where people used that vernacular, grabbed their horrifically oversized belt buckles, and kicked their dusty cowboy boots up on rickety tables before taking long pulls off of hot beers. But, the idea of the saloon has transformed into modern times with roughly the same business model: a place to drink and talk. People absolutely love to drink and talk.
Savannah's bar scene has quite a story of transformation of its own. About two decades ago, the gritty nature of the downtown scene began to transform into something—different. If there is a word for the gentrification of a bar scene, that's what I would use to describe that shift in the city's local libation stations.
I'm 35 years of age now, but when I was sneaking into bars here, the move was always seeing local live music at Savannah Blues, Mercury Lounge, or the Velvet Elvis. The River Street scene was chaotic and beautiful with seedy dark bars, dodgy characters nestled in the corners, faces alight with the orange glow of burning cigarettes. When LiveWire Music Hall closed its doors in 2013, the fate of the western end of River Street seemed sealed as the next site of commercialized whitewashing that has now become synonymous with Savannah.
When the parking garage where Ellis Square now sits was demolished and plans to rebuild the Square was released, the imminence of Edison bulb and subway tile suffering was upon us in City Market. The downfall of Hangfire followed 9 years later, making the SCAD kids sadder than they already were. The pièce de résistance, the nail in the coffin, the proverbial last straw on the camel's back—and the one that really pissed me right off—was when the Jinx shut its doors for the last time in 2020, which broke the hearts of many and left only remnants of Jack Daniels-soaked memories of one of the most proficient pieces of pique in City Market.
Half-hearted hyperbole aside, Savannah is a great place for tourists, and in a lot of respects, the face-lift it's been getting has been long overdue and much needed. Ellis Square is beautiful. The aesthetic of a maze of gorgeous hotels on West River Street looks much better than the dilapidated SEPCO energy plant that used to be there. As much as it pains me to say it, Downtown Savannah's plans for beautification and improvement have been quite a glaring success. Granted, its visual enhancements haven't done anything to make those tourists any safer, but that's a different article.
"But," you are asking yourselves, "what about us?" What's to become the local who enjoyed cheap whiskey and the blues more than a $10 vodka soda and a top 20 Spotify playlist?
One thing about drinkers is that they are quite the adaptive bunch, in addition to their story tellin'. So as residents ran from what people think of as the Historic District and looked for new places to imbibe, the Starland area began to emerge as the front-runner for the leader of the true local's den. Businesses formed, licenses were obtained, and drinks started flowin'.
And that, pardner, is where this ole hideaway's story starts.
Off of Victory Drive and Abercorn Street, Chris Moody (no relation to the author) cooked up a plan for the old Music Haus store. With an eclectic and modern Western style of his own (and quite a handsome mustache to boot), Moody wanted to open a spot that mirrored his first vision—Moodright's—but was a country-and-western-themed neighborhood tavern. And, of course, a bit out of the shoulder-to-shoulder bustle of "downtown."
If you've been to Moodright's, you'll know that easing next into a Western-themed bar may be a bit difficult when the abstract is best described by Moody as a "honkytonk on acid." But, as all great bars tend to do, the establishment quickly began to write and tell its own story independent of whatever original direction Moody had.
Walking into Moodright's feels like you're visiting a distant relative's home in another state; a feeling of odd familiarity is complemented by old Miller High Life signs and vintage needlepoint in frames. The bar menu sitting above rows of well liquor hails from an old bowling alley. All that's missing is your drunk uncle hammering cowboy killers under the yellow glow of the pool table light.
Over Yonder was the second phase of Moody's vision. Just walk past the bathroom line of Moddrights, sander through the swinging saloon doors, and you will be transported to an unconventional roadhouse. The saloon/eatery/honkytonk attached to the back of Moodright's that was cooked up with the help of David Eduardo of World Famous in Athens, Over Yonder is serving up first-class chuck and skinkin' suds beneath the light of a neon moon.
The neighborhood bar vibe has brought a lot of different regulars to belly up to its lacquer top. Alex Raffray, flannel-mouthed bar dog and Tonto to Moody's Lone Ranger says, that there are bikers that come in, but "none of them are affiliated with each other," and Moody added that "there are a lot of SCAD kids. There are a lot of bros."
Raffray continued, "There are some goth girls that come in and shit. It is a nice spot. There are some different subcultures that come in, but I think they come in because Over Yonder is definitely more if you like the cowboy shit." Moody finished, "It is eclectic, and pretty much anyone can feel welcome."
He is right about that. The regular crowd consists of both young and old, suits and streetwear, high heels, and combat boots—it's a diverse crowd.
The beauty of the place is how the line between patron and staff is blurred, allowing everyone to be exactly who they are when they walk in the door. Without sacrificing professionalism, the staff and patrons interact much like old friends, tradin' war stories, and the like. Much like a saloon in the Old West, the bar's regulars and staff make the lifeblood flow through Over Yonder in a playful way that décor can't.
As you'd imagine for any bar lined with longhorns and a backlit roadside sign announcing the night's performers behind the stage, Moody and crew told me that they "like [their] well tequila. For the price, it is kind of hard to beat—Cimmaron." Moody likes his with a Lone Star beer or Tecate.
You don't have to be a full-blown cowboy to saddle up to the bar at Over Yonder. Moody said, "I am no cowboy...it would involve growing up as a legitimate cowboy or westerner, but I feel like the South can relate somewhat to the western/cowboy culture." He continued by saying he can't wear a cowboy hat: "Cowboy hats are for cowboys. I don't think we can pull that off, but it is fun to wear them occasionally. If you want to wear a cowboy hat, hey, who gives a shit?"
If a true Savannah cowboy exists, which I am assuming it does, Moody describes them as such " I feel like you would have to be a coastal cowboy around here. Sunburned, hats, they have the glasses and the raccoon eyes from getting too much sun. Slightly buzzed, but they never stay out too late because they have to get up early to work. They work, then go out in the boat, have too much fun, then go home. Out on the water, living the good life."
The food is exactly what you'd expect from the group—perfectly quirky. The menu has a welcome breath of fresh air from usual bar food with items such as a General Tso's Vegetable Box and Shawarma. Yet, Over Yander still serving hearty chuck such as the Doublestack and Crawfish Etouffee Poutine for the corned cowpoke who may have lassoed one too many Lone Stars. The food is served until folks stop ordering it, which is pretty late by industry-populace standards.
As for the music, Moody likes the steel guitar, but Over Yonder ain't runnin' off no other hombre off the tack piano. They just hosted T. Hardy Morris for HalfAth Fest, welcoming a solo indie performer to a packed house, and they plan on continuing to bring in diverse musicians for all tastes.
Like any good cowboy, Moody is set in his ways and still likes his old country and western: "I like the galloping beat that makes you want to dance and have fun. It is kind of like blues music; it is something for anyone. Most people have felt what you hear in a country song...It is easy to relate to."
A lifelong fan of punk music, Raffray shifted in his combat boots and piped in, "It is good to drink to."
"It is good to drink to," Moody agreed through his sudsy mustache.