The older I get the more I realize that stories that start with the phrase “I remember when…” usually have a point to make. My story is about Tybee Island, one of the barrier islands off the coast of Georgia, USA. A place where “nature lovers mingle with movie stars, bird watchers [and] good ol boys”. I’m sure you’re wondering how I ever found myself in such a place.
Turn the clock back to the early 1990s. That’s when I visited Tybee Island for the first time. My brother was living just 18 miles up river in Savannah, GA. I lived in California (and still do), but I’d spent some formative time in Georgia. So I used my bother’s place of residence as an excuse to return. In those days Tybee Island was a beautiful but odd place where tacky t‑shirt shops lined a 3 mile stretch of buff colored sand– simply referred by the locals as Savannah Beach.
I remember small cottages and bungalows laid out in a grid just steps from the Atlantic ocean. Many were turn of the century clapboard houses with a vaguely Victorian vibe. Others were very Southern in style with wide wrap-around screened porches. Mish-mashed between these were simple 1950s cement block homes. The mix of styles gave the area a very funky charm. The only activity in those days (besides the beach and ocean) was an old lighthouse (original structure c.1736), a small military monument, and ice cream parlors every which way you turned. Barely drinking age myself, I remember watching locals pedal through the short main drag that passed as town with beer holders affixed to the handlebars of their bicycles.
I’d done a little research on Tybee before I arrived that long ago summer. So I knew it hadn’t always been just a sleepy little beach community. Way back before I could possibly remember it was a well-known Southern resort town– Tybee.
This historic barrier island gets its name from a Native American word for salt– Tybee. Which is probably how it became a very fashionable place in the 1800s for the genteel set to take the salts cure for all that ailed them. Resorts were built to accommodate the visitors. A railway was put in, followed by a paved road in 1923. These improvements made access to the island as easy as the ocean breezes that kept the summertime heat and humidity at bay. The Tybrisa Pavilion, with its famous crystal ball, big bands, and dances became a popular destination. Tybee Island flourished. By the time the Tybrisa Paviliion burned down in 1967 the island had drifted into a quiet period and became a place mostly enjoyed by the residents of nearby Savannah.
All of that info is the “I remember when…” part of my story. Because today Tybee Island is an entirely different place. It retains its free and easy attitude. The homes are as funky and charming as ever, but it’s become one of those truly great American beach towns again. The kind of places that are a traditional part of the summer months on both coasts (and some lakes and rivers dotted in between). These spots serve as emblems of our God-given right to get too much sun– and to eat and drink whatever we damn well please. Yes, that means fried food.
However, the resurgent popularity of the island also means the island fare has gotten far more interesting. Of course there is still fried food and a lot of ice cream parlors. Warm portable beers are (probably) still allowed on the main drag. But as America’s tastes have evolved, so have Tybee’s. These days there are places like Tybee Island Social Club, a sophisticated but casual “shack” of a place that honors the summertime tastes of folks like you and me. Simple is fine. But delicious is better. Simple and delicious (while wearing flips) is of course the best. Tybee Island Social Club serves gourmet tacos, upscale burgers and fresh seafood (some of it fried) in a casual beach bungalow atmosphere. If they have them, don’t miss the peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp from coastal Georgia are special. They’re part of the “I remember when” part of my story.
They also serve cocktails. Creative cocktails. I’ve got one from their menu that features basil, grapefruit and gin. Little Tybee Latitude. GREG