Easily the largest influencer in the evolution of Savannah’s hotel scene, developer Richard Kessler is turning heads again with the opening of the Plant Riverside District at the Savannah riverfront’s west end. He’s given new life to the city’s original 1912 power plant, now reborn as part of The Kessler Collection of hotel properties.
A Savannah native, Kessler partnered with JW Marriott to create a luxe lodging experience, and further upped his game by developing an entire entertainment district around the hotel. Twelve restaurants and lounges—from rooftop extravaganzas to chic outdoor bars along the water—are complemented by an underground spa, performance stages, green spaces, a quarter-mile riverfront promenade, tiny shops, and museum-quality exhibits.
The visionary Kessler—who’s also behind Greenville’s in-progress Grand Bohemian Hotel bordering Falls Park—takes utmost care to respect the settings of his properties, saving worthy historic structures, maximizing views, and building in a style relevant to setting, often with reclaimed materials.
My check-in at the JW Marriott kicks off a weekend packed with experiences, from soothing to stimulating. With map in hand, I learn that the Plant Riverside District, and the hotel itself, is divided into three buildings, each with a distinct theme: beauty, power, and water. My room is in the Three Muses building flanking the power plant, where European elegance in the form of marble, twinkling chandeliers, and fine art delights at every turn. In my room I find more marble, a crushed-velvet headboard, charging stations, and luxurious robes. I somehow postpone diving into my amazing bed, and instead head out to explore.
The glittering ground floor holds tantalizing boutiques, but the sight of the river bathed in late-afternoon light lures me outside. Despite knowing that Kessler loves fusing old and new, I’m nevertheless surprised to discover I’ve exited a Savannah-like wharf structure punctuated with lofty arched windows above a stone and reclaimed-brick façade. This exterior gives way to a handsome steel and glass companion—more of the hotel—as I stroll toward the heart of the district, passing acrobats setting up for a performance, an alfresco sushi patio, and a biergarten with live music.
At the iconic Power Plant building, I step back inside, utterly unprepared for what I see. Filling this vast industrial steel-beamed space is a sparkling symphony of ancient geodes and crystals from around the globe—many of them larger than a person, all artfully lit and displayed—each speaking to a different kind of power. A lobby boutique resides inside a sparkling glass jewel box of its own, adding another layer of light, color, texture, and surprise. Suspended above it all is a testament to vision, history, and art, all Kessler trademarks. A 135-foot-long chrome replica of Amphicoelias fragillimus, one of Earth’s largest dinosaurs, spans the full length of the soaring space overhead. It’s all a lot to take in, and I’m having fun trying.
A metal door to an original coal room leads to the dark and inviting Baobab Lounge, an exotic venue featuring African-inspired small plates. I sip a Mazagran cocktail (a blend of bourbon, vanilla syrup, and French-pressed chilled coffee, smoked tableside), peruse an alluring South African wine list, and admire the visible connection that well-traveled Richard Kessler obviously feels with Africa.
The elevator to the Power Plant’s Electric Moon Skytop Lounge is nearby. This two-level adult playground presents a choice: Will it be a quiet outdoor table or the lively industrial bar with its massive windows? Hunger drives me back down to the riverfront, where I snare an outdoor seat at District Seafood, just as a local band is warming up on the adjacent stage. Pairing a steaming bowl of seafood gumbo with a Georgia stout, I settle in to people-watch past sunset.
After a luxuriously slow start the next morning and a little shopping, I head up to Myrtle & Rose, Rooftop Garden, dreamy in both concept and execution. Patrons can “chase the green fairy” (order a traditional absinthe drip) or stick to small plates like ahi tuna crudo and fried green tomatoes with blue crab. After checking out the spa and enjoying a long riverfront walk, I join the weekend crowd devouring tacos at the hotel’s Savannah Tequila Co., soon losing count of the rare bottles adorning the restaurant’s vivid bar.
August of this year will see the district’s third and final building open. Christened The Atlantic, the section will flaunt a nautical theme. This new west-end anchor to the district will feature a rooftop pool, more hotel rooms, more spots in which to play, and a large parking deck (until then, plan on efficient but pricey valet service). Like the entire lineup of district buildings, The Atlantic will offer stellar views of the Savannah River and nearby access to the free water taxi.
A waterside show of nightly sunsets and the sheer awe of watching the passing cargo ships are just a few of the perks that come with immersion at Plant Riverside. You choose what kind of a getaway you want in the district, and the district delivers.
Baobab Lounge: Dive into African-inspired food and drinks at this unique lounge; muhammara might just become your next obsession. Power Plant building, 400 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/baobab-lounge
Electric Moon Skytop Lounge: Take in the music and the rooftop views from this high-energy nightspot, then slide down—literally—to the Moon Deck for lawn games. Power Plant building, 400 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/electric-moon-skytop-lounge
Myrtle & Rose, Rooftop Garden: Come the weekend, be sure to book a table for the Sunday jazz brunch at this lush garden atop Three Muses. Three Muses building, 300 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/myrtle-rose-rooftop-garden
Stone & Webster Chophouse: Architectural elements of old and new fashion a sexy vibe in which to enjoy an enviable shellfish tower. Power Plant building, 500 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/stone-webster-chophouse
Check the daily entertainment schedule, near the check-in desks, for live music and performances.
Poseidon Spa: In 4,000 square feet of serene space, Poseidon Spa pampers with signature HydraFacials and custom massages, plus nail services, waxing, and skincare. Power Plant building, 400 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/poseidon-spa
The Ultimate Dinosaur Adventure: Kids will have tons of fun on this immersive dinosaur hunt led by Dusty the Dinosaur Ranger (Sat, 10:45am & 1pm; Sun, 1pm). Generator Hall, Power Plant building, 400 W River St, Savannah. plantriverside.com/venues/the-ultimate-dinosaur-adventure