Beautiful and interesting landmarks flourish the world over, but the most intriguing destinations consist of more than scenery alone. The special places lure you in with culture, cuisine, and most importantly, people. The most memorable aspects of any trip are those larger-than-life individuals who seem to effortlessly embody the essence of wherever you might be visiting. They are the reason you stay up too late, drink too much, laugh too loud, and, more often than not, feel like hell the next day. They show you places you would have never discovered, and ultimately, they are why you cannot wait to go back.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with coastal Georgia. Maybe you know all about the two island-gems hidden away near its southern corner. Even so, humor me. Sea Island is a resort as fine as any. With two properties (the Cloister and the Lodge) consistently named among the best worldwide, it pays homage to southern luxury and hospitality at the highest level. Frequented by political figures, celebrities, and any who wish to enjoy a distinctly southern paradise, Sea Island has been exceeding expectations for decades. Running just a creek’s width away from the resort is St. Simons Island, which in many ways is everything the resort is not. St. Simons is an islander’s haven, complete with world class fishing, fresh-off-the-boat seafood, and the kind of dive bars you only wish you could find back home. This is the world of F. Griffin Bufkin, and whatever your past experience of these wonderful neighboring islands, we’re recommending you shake things up a bit next time. This is an opportunity to break out of your normal routine, and live like a local for a night. But before things get out of hand—I mean, before plans are made—introductions are in order.
Native to St. Simons, Griff is salty, colorful, and every bit a renaissance man. After years of formal study in design and photography, he built a career in the music industry, then shifted his creative attention to the culinary world. Alongside Pitt Master and business partner, Harrison Sapp, the two collaboratively engineered Southern Soul Barbecue. The spot has been a favorite among southerners in the know and has been featured by TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters, Garden & Gun, and Southern Living among others. (Their smoked ribs and brunswick stew are not to be missed!) With a love for the open waters, clear skies are invitation enough to find Griff in aboard a bay boat with bait, beverages, and music in the background. Highlights are shared freely via @fgriffinbufkin on Instagram. And while you’re at it, follow @southernsoulbbq, as well. The images will not disappoint.
Now that everyone knows each other, it’s off to a few of Griff’s hand-picked haunts. First up, a little patio pre-gaming at Catch 228. This locals’ favorite delivers fresh seafood multiple times throughout the day. Happy hour (4 - 6 p.m.) offers the perfect opportunity for longnecks and a couple dozen oysters. At .75 a piece, the taste and quality of the half shells make them easily the best buy on the island. Coming closer to 4 is also a good idea. The seats fill up fast and the wait can get nasty. For now, it’s a warm sun with a cool breeze, but pace yourself. Cocktails, dinner, and maybe even a cigar are waiting on Sea Island.
The Cloister is an architectural beauty that exudes elegance. The magisterial Mediterranean design makes an immediate impression. You may even feel the need to stand a little straighter; head up, shoulders back. Despite the refinement and careful attention to detail, the atmosphere is never rigid or stuffy. If anything, walking through the grand foyer seems to lift the spirit. And with River Bar just around the corner, good spirits abound.
While there are several worthwhile dining options on Sea Island, none offer a better bar experience than River Bar. With a thorough collection of small batch spirits and a menu of inventive craft cocktails, even the most discriminating of guests will find themselves in good hands. Chef Eric Fullem’s French offerings include fresh caught fish, crispy duck breast, and a roasted lamb loin that waters the mouth upon recollection. A stunning sunset, a couple/few more drinks, and it’s back to St. Simon Island. It’s been a great evening, but something a little more rowdy is in order for the final course.
Murphy’s Tavern is a staple of the island community, operating for more than thirty years. Its legendary status is well-attested by the crowd that has gathered there for liquor, domestics, and nothing short of a party. Immediately through the door, cigarettes and rock and roll administer a healthy dose of shock to the senses. Did someone just order a round of shots? The first of several no doubt, and good on ‘em! The band is killing it, and the crowded shuffle to the bar has awarded you two new best friends with whom you have promised to stay in touch. There’s no place to sit, but Griff knows a guy. Suddenly, a “V.I.P.” table emerges. Shouting has become the normal mode of communication, and you haven’t had this much fun in a decade. It’s going to be a long night, but if you’re lucky, you might end up with a group of friends at Griff’s very own private bar listening to old and new tracks by none other than the Monkees. Stranger things, right? Don’t forget to Uber.