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Wednesday, October 23, 2019
   
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Crystal Beer Parlor Has Strong Third Act

Category: Hospitality & Tourism

SBJ Staff

11/23/2009 - After owning a few Savannah restaurants, John Nichols figured sticking with just a catering business suited him just fine.

That made it easy to toss away a real estate flier touting the availability of the Crystal Beer Parlor. But by the next morning, Nichols found himself retrieving the flier from the trash.

Today he’s still a caterer, but he’s also back in the restaurant business, having teamed up with brother Phillip to reopen the iconic Crystal Beer Parlor at 301 W. Jones St. and keep alive what has been a gathering place for generations of  Savanniahns.

Since the 1930s, people have headed to the corner of Jefferson and Jones for food and drink. Now, a year after the former owner closed the Crystal, the Nichols brothers have them doing it again.

A recent late Saturday afternoon saw an early arriving crowd that stayed steady into the evening. They opened on Oct. 26 and got a story in the local daily paper the next day. “It’s been crazy ever since,” John Nichols says.

Customers have been coming to re-experience the parlor and to see what changes have been made. “And they’ve come to check the food out,” he says.

The Nichols brothers have extended the old-timey bar by more than 16 feet and restored the rear dining room to its early openness. They created the extra space by removing a restroom that had been between the rear dining room and bar area and its line of high-back booths.

Photos of well-known Savannahians of the past – and not so well-known ones – still line the walls, along with front pages of the late Savannah Evening Press from the 1930s and ’40s.

The menu has some of the same classic American offerings it had 75 years ago, including the Crystal’s trademark hamburger, oyster sandwich, crab stew and handmade potato chips and hand-breaded onion rings.

The Nichols brothers are Savannah natives who often dined at the Crystal with their parents. “It was always the burgers and fries,” John Nichol says of his menu favorite.

On the beverage side for the newly opened beer parlor, there’s a complete liquor selection and a beer list of nearly 85 varieties.

The restaurant closed last winter after former owner Suzanne Kosic concluded the establishment situated a couple blocks south of the civic center could no longer compete with Broughton Street eateries.

"In this economy, the mom-and-pop restaurants are being killed by chains,” she said in an interview with The Savannah Business Journal.

“There are so many restaurants on Broughton Street people can just walk right into. Back in the day, we were the only restaurant downtown, with the exception of one or two others.”

John Nichols, whose restaurant experience includes ownership of John and Linda’s in City Market and Clary’s on Abercorn Street, says he thinks he can overcome competitive challenges with good food, drink and atmosphere at reasonable prices. And the location is a strength – not a detriment, he insists.

“I think it’s a plus,” he said. “We’ve got 40-plus parking spaces. Downtown that’s unheard of.”

Plus, the neighborhood has been transformed with new high-end dwellings whose residents are likely to stop in frequently at the eatery.  Also, people attending events at the civic center will find their way to the Crystal, he says.
The restaurateur expects to have a strong lunch business by attracting workers from the courthouse and offices a short distance away. As a draw, he will be offering a blue-plate special for under $10, he says.

A Sunday brunch also is planned, John Nichols adds.

The brothers say they eventually will put in some outside seating and perhaps add a deck to the newer rear part of the building.

John Nichols has kept his hand in the food-service business as the owner the last 11 years of John Nichols Catering. He says he’ll continue to run that business. The Crystal’s large kitchen gives him a handy place for food preparation, he notes.

The reopening of the Crystal marks a homecoming of sorts for Phillip Nichols, a restaurant veteran who has spent the past few years as a finance manager at a car dealership. “I’ve always been a restaurant guy,” he said. “This is our fourth restaurant together.”

This fourth one was not suppose to happen, John Nichols said. “I had vowed I wouldn’t get back into the restaurant business” after John and Linda’s.

When he saw the real estate flier offering the Crytstal, “I said ‘Forget it.’”

But in the morning, he found himself fishing the flier out of the trash.

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