The city of Savannah is known for its rich stock of architectural styles, from Federal and Italianate houses to Greek and Gothic Revival churches, and now one of its long shuttered, Art Moderne marvels, the former Greyhound Bus Depot on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has been reborn as an elegant bar and restaurant, aptly named The Grey. Owner and managing partner Johno Morisano teamed up with chef Mashama Bailey, who spent much of her childhood in the Spanish Moss-filled city, to open the local eatery.
New York–based studio Parts and Labor Design (PLD), collaborated with local firm Felder & Associates, also the architects of record, to rehabilitate the 1938 bus terminal, originally designed by architect George Brown. Through a meticulous restoration—including such measures as preserving and recreating the facade’s blue and ivory Vitrolite panels—to designing new modern furnishings, decorative lighting, and details, the designers revived the space. They captured the era’s streamlined geometric forms and preserved the unique history of the building—all while gracefully avoiding the glib gestures that could have gone the direction of kitsch. Maintaining the original terrazzo floors, save patching up a few holes, PLD kept the divot in the floor from where people once stood in line for tickets.
“We wanted to pay homage to the design style, but do it in our own way,” explained Jeremy Levitt, principal at PLD. “It is all very nostalgic and recognizable.”
The bus depot, made up of a labyrinth of rooms, has been transformed into a gracefully meandering series of spaces to eat, drink, and socialize. A casual diner at the front—anchored by a bar made of blue vinyl, white oak, and zinc—leads into an expansive dining area, which was formerly the main terminal (note the gate numbers recreated on the walls above the windows). Decorative, water-jet-cut stainless steel panels are mounted to the original Masonite panels, and are a nod to the art deco roots of the building.
Upstairs on the second level, the female bus drivers’ shower room, featuring the original mint green tiles and clad in oak paneling and stainless steel, has been converted into a private dining room. Downstairs, the men’s bunker is now the wine cellar, and the boiler room serves as another intimate private dining room that Levitt referred to as a “man cave.” Doors from the main dining room open up to the yard where buses used to pull up, which is now an outdoor area for live music, oyster shucking, and pig roasts.
Instead of skirting around the terminal’s complicated history, Morisano and PLD thoughtfully weave remnants from the building’s Jim Crow-era past into the space, serving as a powerful reminder of the South’s racial segregation and discrimination pre-Civil Rights. The “Waiting Room” (the words still etched on the wall) once designated for African American passengers is now a vestibule and restrooms displaying the photography of Jerry Harris, whose work Levitt characterizes as “racially charged but appropriate” of the African American experience in Savannah, some related to segregation.
“To be a woman a part of this, to be a black woman a part of this, and to be in the south in a Jim Crow-era building, it is beyond, it is amazing. I don’t think my grandmother or my great-grandparents would have even dreamed that this day would be possible,” said Chef Bailey, in an interview with Eater.