I hadn’t been on the ground in Atlanta for five hours and I’d already been bitten by a dog, offered cocaine in a public restroom, and given $20 by a begrudging stranger for no discernible reason. Before my head even hit the pillow that first night I had serious doubts about surviving the weekend.
Luckily I had my editor, travel compadre, and resident ATLien, Austin L. Ray, as my guide and caretaker. He had promised to show me the best his city had to offer while also keeping me alive. He was present for two of the three above incidents. Before his head even hit the pillow that first night, he also had serious doubts about me surviving the weekend.
Shortly after I checked into my shipping container, Austin dropped by with a wheelie suitcase full of beer. (Imagine reading that sentence to someone 20 years ago.) We crushed a few Creature Comforts Athenas together and talked about some of the conceptual themes in the previous week’s Atlanta.
Shortly thereafter, we began our evening in earnest, at Kimball House. Google describes Kimball House as a “sleek eatery & raw bar” that “serves farm-to-table entrees with French flair.” All those words are true. The place is excellent, owned and run by punk rockers and Brick Store Pub alumni. It’s so excellent, in fact, that they do a thing called a “cocktail beer,” which is a small pour of whatever Pilsner they have on tap for a couple bucks that you can drink while they make you your fancy liquor drink.
*extremely chef’s kiss emoji*
A distinctly Southern wallpaper hangs above deeply-tufted black leather booths, circular marble tables, and classic bistro chairs. The dim-but-sufficient lighting is provided by a couple multi-globe chandeliers above the dining room and about a half-dozen single-globe pendants above the bar. The bar itself is impressive, a long and narrow L, with unmarked Perlick taps, and tall, booze-stocked shelves that require a library ladder.
We split a dozen oysters. I had an Airliner and an Allagash and another Creature Comforts and a bar steak. It was divine.
Several hours later, we ended our evening, unceremoniously, at 97 Estoria. Google describes it as a “hangout serving beer” and a “bare bones space.” Some of those words are true. There is beer. And it’s technically a space, insomuch that it has walls. The place is excellent.
But if I’m being honest, those walls—and everything that happened within them—are a little fuzzy. Here is what I know to be true: 1) there was live music, 2) we had a lot of drinks, 3) I bought some of those drinks for us and other folks at the bar with the $20 from the aforementioned begrudging stranger, 4) a woman named Stefania tried to take my camera, 5) at some point Austin told me he was leaving and I said I was staying.
[Editor’s note: You gladly handed your camera to Stefania, who bounced around the room taking photos with it for at least a half hour.]
My Lyft ride history shows me returning to the shipping container at 2:22am.
Friday morning was rough. I woke up in all my clothes from the previous night, reeking of smoke and stale beer, unable to comprehend why I was in a shipping container. I texted Austin to let him know I was alive. He replied with, “I’M FINE THIS IS GREAT,” though none of that statement was true. Meanwhile, neither of us were able to recall exactly which Will Smith movie was playing in our third Lyft from the night previous.
We grabbed some coffee at Taproom in Kirkwood, an historic neighborhood on Atlanta’s east side which is filled with a boatload of Victorian- and Craftsman-style homes and a handful of parks. Taproom, itself, is minimalist. A blue pony wall, bright red stools, white subway tile, and warm wood accents render a primary neo-Americana vibe.
It was busy and we weren’t in the mood, so we got our coffee to go.
The air outside was crisp (it was sweatshirt weather), which felt good on my temples. The warmth from the coffee in my hand made a nerve near my shoulder blade tingle. I’d no doubt slept like Marty McFly the previous night and my neck was a wreck.
We walked around the area a bit, debating the virtues of eating or napping. Sustenance won out, and we made our way to Le Petit Marché. I ordered a breakfast burrito that turned out to be the size of a Yankee Candle, lid included, and consumed every morsel. There was little conversation, lots of coffee, and even more synchronized staring into the middle distance. At one point, I accidentally caught Austin’s gaze in one of the many mirrors on the wall. It startled us both, and we left.
A brief tour of Austin’s day job office space served as a welcome, low-stakes, well-designed distraction between breakfast and a Wrecking Bar can release. Mostly, we just needed a way to kill time. This was an extremely good way.
The post-can-release lunch was delicious. Well, mine was, anyway. Austin mostly just moved his vegetables around on his plate until he let out a deep, hearty sigh and pushed the whole thing away. Poor guy still wasn’t feeling up to snuff. He ordered another beer and shook his head slightly in resignation. The waitress looked confused and left the dish in front of him.
After we met up with Shawn Bainbridge, one half of the Halfway Crooks braintrust, he was with us for the rest of the evening—the Bradley Cooper to complement our Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. There was a National Public Radio event being hosted at the new Monday Night Brewing Garage space later that we all wanted to check out. Shawn was kind enough to drive us there.
Here’s the thing, though: Shawn drives a 1999 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. If you know anything about that vehicle, you know that it cannot fit three adult humans in the cab. Austin’s instincts as a new-ish father overwhelmed any instinct he might’ve previously had as a once-gracious host, and he opted for the cab. [Editor’s note: I’m not even going to dignify this with a response.] I obliged in taking the bed, alongside a bucket of homebrew supplies. Shawn insisted I’d “get a better view of the city” this way.
Monday Night’s Garage location is impressive. And huge. Built into an old warehouse space in Atlanta’s quickly-gentrifying West End, the Garage serves as the brewery’s barrel-aging and souring facility.
Its footprint is roughly the shape of a lowercase b, with an entrance at the very top of the vertical. Once inside, a long, narrow corridor holds the taproom, coolship, aging room, brewhouse, and multiple lounging areas. Moving toward the back, an enormous set of sliding barn doors separate the event space. Beyond that, there’s thousands of square feet of storage.
The whole operation sits alongside the Westside portion of the Atlanta BeltLine, a truly ambitious 22-mile multi-use path that connects much of the city. It brings a lot of foot traffic to the Garage, and it felt like every resident with access to the trail was at the NPR event.
As daytime began to wane, golden hour sunlight poured into the space, magnified and refracted by the bank of glass garage doors on the backside of the bar. The vibe in the building was equally warm, with beers being passed, conversations being had, and friendships being made. Hours of drinking had made time pass quickly, and had allowed hunger to sneak up on Shawn, Austin, and me. I was told the only logical thing to do was to go to Argosy.
The plan was to ditch Shawn’s truck at his house before heading out for the night, so we piled into the Tacoma again, and I assumed my position in the bed. On the way across town, something magical happened—one of the two indelible memories of the trip for me, that have shaped my true feelings for Atlanta.
We were stopped at a light at a busy intersection. Darkness had finally settled over the city and the street lights were still buzzing toward full strength. I was trying to take a photo of a passing MARTA bus when someone shouted, “YO, TAKE MY PICTURE!” I lowered the camera, looked behind us, and there was a woman. She was hanging out of her car window, flashing a peace sign, and had a giant smile stretched across her face. Another woman in the passenger seat giggled.
The traffic signal was about to change, so I hit the shutter and rattled off a quick string of photos. At the next light, the car pulled up alongside us and the two women inside were still laughing. I got the driver’s name and number, and before we even reached Shawn’s house, I had sent Latara her photo. The whole thing felt surreal and raw and wild and carefree. Shawn was right—sitting in the bed gave me a better view of the city.
The pit stop at the house was brief, just enough time to meet Shawn’s dog—he is SUCH A SWEET BOY—and scarf down some popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast, which is, apparently, a thing brewers/hippies eat. Turns out, it’s delicious and nutritious.
Before I knew it, we were at Argosy, a gastropub of sorts housed within a truly massive space that once played home to an old grocery in an older ATL. To be honest, I don’t think I even looked at the menu. I was told to get the Plancha Burger, so I did. We all did. I threw a “make that two” onto the back end of someone else’s beer order to help keep things easy-breezy. A light lunch and hours at the Garage had resulted in a hunger that could not be sated quickly enough.
Unlike breakfast, a vibrant conversation ensued as we stuffed food into our dumb maws. As for the topics discussed, I can’t really recall too much, but I know Lou Reed was playing.
Argosy gave way to Trophy Room—the upstairs dive portion of a downstairs dive called Flatiron—for billiards and a bevy of Low Lifes. Because the pony bottles are so small, Austin thought it prudent to pour two of them into my mouth at the same time. I didn’t disagree. The results were predictable, which is to say they were predictably messy. Trophy Room gave way to the patio at 529—a tiny venue that often hosts anything from local comedy to punk/metal/weird rock to underground rap—where Rolling Rocks ordered from a service window comprised the final salvo of the night.
Saturday began as every Saturday should: with a Comfy Chicken Biscuit at Home Grown. As Austin has written elsewhere, it “may not be the best breakfast item in Atlanta, and it’s certainly not the healthiest breakfast item in Atlanta, but it is the most Atlanta breakfast item in Atlanta.”
He’s right. It may also be the most delicious breakfast item in Atlanta, all fried bird, gluttonous gravy, and hilarious orange slice. For a fact, it is the chicken biscuit against which I compare all other chicken biscuits. I still, occasionally, dream about it.
Breakfast notwithstanding, our Saturday was built around one thing: Jeezy.
Before I had even booked my flight, Austin let me know he had purchased a ticket to see the hip hop icon and trap music pioneer at the legendary Tabernacle. He made it clear to me that this was a non-negotiable—I was either on board or on my own.
It goes without saying that I was fully on board.
Most of the day leading up to the show was low key. We spent some time at Austin’s house, drinking some crispy beers on his porch. I made a solo trek to a nearby bottle shop, Ale Yeah!, to pick up some souvenirs, which gave Austie some alone time with his fam. We met up again in the early evening for pre-show sandwiches and cheap beers at Elliott Street Pub.
The sandwiches were pretty good. Nothing worth writing home about or describing in detail here, but they filled us up. The Jeezy show was similar in that way. We had a good time. The Tabernacle was packed. The crowd was fun. A number of people passed out—yikes—right in front us. Lil Yachty made an appearance. But overall it just didn’t live up to the hype of a hometown Snowman show.
It was a bummer, frankly—a sad trombone ending for my last night in Atlanta. But the city still had some magic up its sleeve.
We bounced around a bit after the show, grabbing a drink here and there, and taking in some glorious people watching in Georgia Beer Garden’s backyard. Eventually, we’d end up at an Old Fourth Ward hole in the wall called Edgewood Pizza. It was late. We were about ready to pack it in. The plan was to have a slice or two and a beer or two and call it.
The place was crowded and practically buzzing as we made our way in. I noticed a few folks I’d seen at the Jeezy show hours ago. The music was strong, both in quality and volume. We were quickly approaching the time of the evening when there’s only two choices left: bad or bed. Folks seemed to pick up on that and bend the will of the bar toward the former. We were all headed toward a dangerous precipice together.
After we ordered our pizza and some beers, we stalked out a couple stools at the end of the bar and bellied up. That’s when it happened. “Knuck If You Buck,” the aggressive, triumphant 2004 single from ATL’s own Crime Mob, came over the speakers. If you know anything about this iconic rap song, it’s that its power cannot be overstated. Putting it on in public in Atlanta is like flipping a switch. [Editor’s note: “Knuck if You Buck” is everything.] In Edgewood Pizza on this night, first, there was a collective breath as the song gathered up steam. Then, the place went wild.
It was as if all the pent up energy from the thousands of Atlantans let down by the Jeezy show had been mainlined into the few dozen night owls left on Edgewood Avenue. Customers started dancing. Bartenders started dancing. Kitchen staff started dancing. Everybody started singing along with the chorus. Austin may have started crying. It was unbelievable.
Things reached a fever pitch when the lone male bartender, who was in the midst of passing out free shots, lifted up his shirt and started twerking at an inhuman pace. Everyone in the building swarmed the bar and, almost instinctively, started throwing singles at him. Edgewood Pizza’s clientele quite literally made it rain on this man as he danced his ass right off—all while still holding a tray full of shots.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and I’m not sure I ever will again, but the sheer sense of goodwill and pure unadulterated joy I felt in that moment is something I’ll never forget.
Had the events of the previous evening killed me, at least I would’ve died happy. Fortunately, I lived to tell the tale. The collective weight of the weekend had begun to take its toll, however—I couldn’t take much more.
Austin and I got a late start on Sunday with a quick breakfast at the absolutely delightful 8ARM. The minimalist, nouveau cafe was full, but quiet—very welcome as my ears were still ringing a bit. Most of our conversation centered on the events of the previous night. At one point, I caught Austin staring off into that middle distance again. I asked him if he was thinking about the bartender twerking. He was. I was, too.
From there, we headed back to Argosy to “do some work.” I think we were both surprised when we actually, um, did some work? We got some b-Rolls started and sent some emails as the thin late-late-brunch crowd moseyed in around us. Seeing the restaurant in the light of day was a treat. All the details and accents I had missed on Friday night helped to round out my impression of the place, which finally fully matched the praiseworthy tales I’d heard of it.
But there were still so many boxes left unticked on the list of places Austin wanted to show me. Scanning over the list and considering what little time we had left, the one place we had to go was the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club. Of all the spots we’d visited already that were very much my kind of place, the Yacht Club was the most my kind of place.
It was a dive bar with a seafaring theme and I loved every ounce of it. The goofy shit hanging from the ceiling, the take-no-bullshit staff, the dartboard being the most well-lit part of the whole establishment. It was the perfect place to relax, have my last beer of the trip (along with a chili dog), and make plans for my next visit. It was so perfect, in fact, it inspired me to lay out the tenets of Dive Bar Bingo right then and there.
As for that next visit, If Shawn ever gets around to opening Halfway Crooks, I’ll be back down in a heartbeat, complete with a list of all the wild memories I’ve yet to make. Because if there’s one thing you can count on in Atlanta, it’s being able to find whatever it is you’re looking for, whether that’s the refined, the raw, the rowdy, or the downright ridiculous. And while you’re in the midst of finding all that stuff, this magic city will still find a way to surprise you.