Sixty Years On, The Spirits of Manuel's Tavern Remain Strong

Aug 5, 2016

Legendary Atlanta restaurant Manuel’s Tavern re-opens this weekend after months of renovations.

Manuel Maloof founded it in 1956 because, in his words,“Where else can a guy who makes $50 a week and a guy doing $200,000 a year sit next to each other and find out what each other is thinking?"

For the past six decades, politicians, journalists, college students and families have intermingled at this Poncey-Highlands watering hole. 

Maloof’s son, Brian Maloof, now runs the Tavern and ahead of the opening, he talks about the bar's past, present and future.

On the biggest change to the Tavern

This room, without any doubt, reservation. This is the room that blows everybody away that comes in. This is the old Eagle's Nest. This was that wooden little room that you went up the rickety stairs that were dark in the corner. You'd go up there and the room sat about 30 people.

 

Exposed brick in the newly-renovated Eagle's Nest.
Credit Stephen Fowler | GPB News

We didn't want to change what Manuel's is. It's never been pretentious, it's never been pretty. The whole thing here is preservation. And so when someone walks in, I wanted them to feel Manuel's again.  

On why the seems to have a special relationship with state politicos

I don't know that I can adequately answer that, but I think it goes back to my grandfather, to be honest with you. My grandfather had a bar called the "Tip Top" and it was across the street from the state capitol. And when the state legislature was in session, and they were from all over the state, and they needed a place to drink, that was the closest place. And so this connection between us and politicians was established there and dad brought it here. He had just an incredible belief in the political system and it just manifested itself here because of him and his character.

He was, and all that started, as I understand it is that there was an unopposed position in DeKalb County  and he just felt like that was almost sinful. And so he ran for that - and lost - but he got the fever, I guess. He got addicted to politics, I should say.

(Manuel Maloof later served in DeKalb County government from 1974 to 1992)

On customers who didn't share Manuel's Democratic Party views

He had some that he referred to as his "favorite Republicans," and they would have heated political debate here.   

On his relationship with the Tavern growing up

I never had a true appreciation for it until I stepped into a role of responsibility here. And then when I felt the depth of what Manuel's is, you know, internally, this sense of maintaining the character and the charm, keeping our legacy alive, that I really understood... I don't know that I fully understand it even today. I can honestly tell you I don't understand how Manuel's works. We just keep doing the next right thing, and it just keeps happening. It astonishes me that I get calls from Congressmen that want to tell me stories of my father. People that tell me that the covered campaigns here, campaign kickoffs here. We took calls from the Hillary campaign when she was in town not too long ago wanting to stop in, and, you know, we were shut down. 

Those things still shock me. It's odd to get a call from the Secret Service saying "We're bringing someone influential by." I don't fully understand it, I'm just very appreciative and feel very blessed that it continues.

On the atmosphere of Manuel's 

The whole concept of the tavern and how this was laid out and it's feel came from his experience during World War II in England. I just unwrapped this brass bell that came from my mother's brother's bar in England. It's funny, as you unwrap it, you know, you get choked up with emotion that this was not only part of Manuel's, that it was a part of my mother's brother's place in England that they used to visit. It was called the Cherry Tree.

My grandfather had one, my mother's side of the family, they were in the business in England. They do it very differently there, so it's owned by the brewery and you are selected to run it.

 

A portrait of Manuel Maloof sits above a box of beer cans that have yet to be hung on the wall.
Credit Stephen Fowler | GPB News

    

On his favorite memorabilia

I say good morning to dad and my uncle Robert every time I come in here. Their ashes are on the wall. I think of my brother Tommy a lot. He's, unfortunately, not with us anymore, but he has some things that are hanging here that remind me... those things get to you, you know? I came in here this morning, I was the first one here at five. I opened the door and the place is pitch black and I'm turning on the lights, and as I'm walking through the building I'm saying good morning to Mom and Dad and Uncle Robert, and my cousin Ellis and my brother Tommy. And it's just, to me, it's home. I actually spend more time here than I ever do at home.

On the notorious menu

I'm not planning on changing anything on the menu. It's worked so well for so long. And, you know, we're not a foodie, trendy place. We're all about high-quality comfort food. And it's funny you mention those items, because Bill's here this morning and Stanley's here this morning. So Stanley's back there prepping up his stew and Bill's walking around making sure I put all the memorabilia on the wall correctly.

 

On placing the memorabilia back on the walls

We did this video preservation of all the memorabilia, so we started looking at it to put everything back, but the walls have changed, the dimensions have changed. We had probably 10 employees in here the other night. They were talking about 'That should have never been there,' and 'That needs to go there,' and 'It needs to be paired up with this,' and so things that had been hung on the wall that night had been taken down and moved and it was like a bad comedy (laughs). We were just moving stuff on and off the walls, but I think we've got it straightened out now.