Beginning in the 1980s and through the 1990s, Buckhead’s bar scene became legendary. The community was the Montmarte, the French Quarter, the SoHo of Atlanta. At midnight on any given weekend, Bolling Way became impassable. With the sidewalks full of people, bar-hoppers spilled out into the streets en route to their next destination, walking among standstill traffic.
It didn’t happen by accident. The watering holes in the West Village — Five Paces Inn, the Pool Hall, Churchill’s —are among the oldest in Buckhead. All of those establishments to this day are frozen in 1978 and proudly so.
The other side of Peachtree was another story in the early 1980s. The mostly retail establishments — drug stores, clothing stores, laundromats, hardware stores — no longer drew the customers they once did. Atlanta loosened the parking laws requiring restaurants and bars to have a certain number of parking spaces specifically to encourage nightlife. It worked too well.
The center of this universe was the corner of East Paces Ferry Road and Bolling Way down to Pharr Road. Among the multitude of establishments were Otto’s, Grand Stands, Orchestra Pitt, The Lodge, East Village Grill, World Bar, Lulu’s Bait Shack and many more.
Each had a distinct personality. The Lodge was sports and video games. Behind and above the Lodge was East Village Grill, which had an outdoor dance floor with a magnificent view of Midtown and Downtown. Lulu’s Bait Shack had a bayou theme and threw plastic alligators in your drink. World Bar, BAR, Uranus and the various iterations were dance clubs complete with loud music, cavernous spaces, concrete floors and a sea of people.
There were many humorous stories, inexplicable behaviors, incredible luck and great times with friends. At the same time we all experienced the chaos of overindulgence and occasional violence when people locked horns over something stupid and trivial. We all lost someone, or almost lost someone, to drinking and driving.
After the Olympics, the Buckhead nightlife gained notoriety. It became a place for celebrities and with that came crime and instability. Buckhead was in the news for the wrong reasons. Atlanta went back to the prohibitive parking restrictions, essentially killing the bar district and clearing the way for the Ben Carters and Charlie Loudermilks of the world to step in and change the face of the area.
That old Buckhead spirit still exists but not nearly to the level it once did. It is in those old bars and some new along Roswell Road, Irby Avenue, Cains Hill Place and East Andrews Drive.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.