THE HIGHLANDER

The Highlander, Atlanta

I have a secret – I love dive bars. So when we are on a trip and I hear about a local dive bar that cranks out killer food, offers micro-brews, pours a stiff drink and has pinball, I have no choice but to check it out.

Here’s what Terri and I found.

The Highlander late night bar in midtown Atlanta has been filling bellies and slinging drinks since 1992. The crowd at The Highlander is mostly alternative lifestyle types and after all of the other bars have closed in ATL, this is where the bartenders, cooks and waitstaff apparently come to decompress.

The exterior seating area of The Highlander
The exterior seating area of The Highlander

On any given night you will likely find folks shooting pool, feeding quarters into the video games and yes, playing pinball on one of their two machines:

  • The Walking Dead LE (Stern, 2014)
  • Star Trek Pro (Stern, 2013)

These games are in the back room by the pool tables. Both games are quarters only; $1 per game or 3 games for $2. The games have been well maintained and are a great deal of fun. Star Trek seems to have been set particularly generously for free games and matches.

It may be of interest to you that AMC network’s popular TV series The Walking Dead was principally filmed in Atlanta and nearby Senoia, GA. We visited Senoia (a.k.a. ‘Woodbury’ in the TV series) on this trip.

A popular location for filming
A popular location for filming

Supposedly there is a TWD pinball for sale in The Woodbury Shoppe also known as The Official Walking Dead Store located on Main Street in Senoia. We couldn’t confirm this because the store was closed when we visited. It would have been nice if Nic and Norman’s restaurant in Senoia, where we went for dinner, had a TWD game in the bar area. No such luck.

The sign outside Nic & Norman's restaurant
The sign outside Nic & Norman’s restaurant

But I digress.

I am at a loss for words to describe The Highlander’s menu other than possibly say that it is ‘Gastro Punk’, if there is such a phrase. Take for example their Pasta-Rella which is a new twist on the bar favorite fried mozzarella sticks where the cheese is wrapped in pasta prior to deep- frying.

Pastarella at The Highlander
Pastarella at The Highlander

The Highlander’s Jamaican Jerk Chili put them on the culinary map and also was featured on an episode in season 4 of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives television show hosted by Guy Fieri. Since that show, The Highlander’s head chef ‘Ice’ Jahumpa has crafted a very sat isfying white vegetarian chili with many of the same complex flavors but without the meat.

Jamaican Jerk Chili
Jamaican Jerk Chili

Specials abound.

On Tuesday nights, The Highlander offers ‘All You Can Eat’ crab legs served from 11am to 9pm. Wednesday ‘The Devil’s In The Kitchen’ and all burgers are $6.66.

Crab Legs - it must be Tuesday
Crab Legs – it must be Tuesday

Thursdays feature $5 pitchers of PBR and three styles of tacos for $2.95 a piece.

Friday’s special is Nashville Hot fried chicken with home-style macaroni and cheese.

Weekends are the time for local metal and punk bands to take the stage at The Highlander (hearing protection suggested).

On any night you can order a pitcher of their award winning tater tots. The Highlander’s ‘Tots All The Way’ were recently voted best in ATL by the Atlanta Thrillist. They are smothered with so much goodness that it would make any plate of nachos jealous.

Tots all the Way
Tots all the Way

The Highlander proudly offers beer from local breweries such as Three Taverns, Eventide Brewing, 5 Seasons, and so on. Beer not your thing? Shots of Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniel’s are also available.

The Highlander supports local artists, proudly displaying and selling their work featured on the walls.

As you might expect from a hard rock bar, the so called decoration (read: graffiti) in the rest rooms is creative, but on top of that the main entrance is literally opaque with stickers from local bands and record companies. Because of this first timers who might be disoriented are advised to look for the stickers to find the entrance.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), The Highlander is one of the few bars in the Atlanta area that allow smoking inside. Be aware that the inside area of the bar is absolutely saturated with the smell of tobacco smoke. If you are at all sensitive to the smell of smoke, this is not a place for you.

I found The Highlander to be an engaging and fun dive bar with an over-achieving menu, a great selection of drinks and fun to play pinball games. The Highlander is located in an interesting neighborhood with quite a few small shops and places such as The Atlanta Cupcake Factory to explore when you visit.

I understand that dive bars may not be everyone’s ‘thing’ but a visit to The Highlander in mid-town Atlanta might just make this dive bar a favorite.

MANUEL’S TAVERN

Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta

“One of the best bars in the U.S.” – Esquire Magazine

Manuel’s reminds me of how neighborhood bars used to be in the heartland of America; a visitor can find, at any given time, a broad cross-section of American culture rubbing elbows, discussing the news item of the day, arguing the merits of a particular sports team, or supporting the idea of the century.

The exterior of Manuel's Tavern
The exterior of Manuel’s Tavern

I found the waitstaff to be friendly and attentive as needed, but not overly so. The selection of beers and other refreshments should satisfy anyone’s needs and I felt that the menu is outstanding.

Inside Manuel's Tavern
Inside Manuel’s Tavern

Manuel’s has been in the same location in Atlanta Midtown since 1956 – the owner modeled it on the taverns he had visited while stationed in England during the second World War. He filled the Tavern with salvaged furnishings – mismatched chairs and tables, booths, lighting fixtures, wall paneling – from grand old homes and stores scheduled for demolition.

Manuel’s recently completed a complete renovation and interior re-construction that kept the most recognizable parts of the classic decor while cleaning up and modernizing the rest.

Just before the six-month renovation, a project was completed to digitize all of the photos, paintings, pennants, etc. on the walls of Manuel’s Tavern. The project brought together Georgia State University, Emory University, Savannah College of Art and Design and the Atlanta Studies Network who worked to preserve the ‘organic archive’ that these items represent.

The bar
The bar

Many items were discovered including an unmarked container above the bar housing the ashes of original owner Manuel Maloof, dusty beer cans, moldering sports pennants, law enforcement uniform patches, snapshots of well-known politicians (including former President Jimmy Carter) and anonymous tipplers, risqué oil paintings traded as payment for ancient tabs and a stuffed rodent, the subject of an inside joke (“Darrel Caudill Memorial Door,” a plaque beneath it reads) that the owners will not spoil.

The bar
Historical paraphernalia behind the bar

I visited Manuel’s during a weekday lunch hour and ordered their ‘Stadium Dog’ with a side order of fried onion rings. I was asked what I wanted on my hot dog and I said, “everything”, without fully understanding what that meant. ‘Everything’ at Manuel’s means ‘Loaded’ and includes chili, sauerkraut, cheese sauce, coleslaw, chopped onion, pickle spear, relish, and other things that I couldn’t identify. There were so many toppings on the Loaded ‘dog that it couldn’t easily be eaten like a sandwich – it had to be eaten with a knife and fork.

The fully-loaded Stadium Dog
The fully-loaded Stadium Dog, with onion rings

Although I did not have the courage to order it, Manuel’s most popular hot dog is called the Dogzilla. It is a ½lb grilled tube steak on a bakery style roll served with french fried potatoes.

The Dogzilla can be ordered ‘Loaded’ the same as the stadium dog mentioned above. I was told by the bartender that on the typical day Manuel’s serves two miles of hot dogs.

I felt that my lunch with two Pabst Blue Ribbon draft beers (don’t judge) was very reasonably-priced and left lots of change for a generous tip and quarters for the game room. The featured beer when I visited was Prairie Artisan Ales’ Prairie Bomb, which is a 13% ABV decadent descent into coffee, chocolate, and vanilla bean taste sensations. I had a small sample but felt since I was driving it was a bit too potent.

Although I didn’t have a chance to try breakfast at Manuel’s this trip, I was told that their eggs are provided by the free-range chickens that roost on the roof of the tavern.

Manuel’s game room is located to the left of the main entrance near the newly reconstructed washrooms. In the game room is the Golden Tee video game seemingly found in the majority of bars in America, Big Buck Hunter, darts, and two nearly-new and well-maintained pinball games:

Ghostbusters LE (Stern, 2016)

Batman 66 Premium (Stern, 2016)

The two pinballs in Manuel's Tavern game room
The two pinballs in Manuel’s Tavern game room

Both are priced at 50 cents per 3-ball game – quarters only. While I was at Manuel’s the Ghostbusters game was in constant use so I played Batman 66; my first time playing this game.

Ghostbusters Limited Edition
Ghostbusters Limited Edition

Batman 66 Premium
Batman 66 Premium

As someone mentioned on the Pinball Map website, the left flipper return spring for the Batman 66 at Manuel’s is either broken or dislodged so that was a bummer. The game is still very playable and I was able to win a game on points my first try. I found the game to be addictive and played quite a few games until the time for my visit had expired.

Playing the Batman 66
Playing the Batman 66

There is no change machine in the game room but the bartenders are happy to change dollars to quarters with a smile if needed.

On weekend nights, certain rooms of Manuel’s Tavern are reserved for board-gamers; including one of the largest Dungeons and Dragons gaming groups in the USA.

Manuel’s Tavern has been a family-run treasure of a working class bar and restaurant with friendly staff and a huge history in the Atlanta community if not the whole of Georgia. Even today Manuel’s is a gathering place for local politicians, blue-collar workers, the press, writers, actors, policemen, and just about anyone else you can imagine. In Manuel’s parking lot there is a prominent sign marking a prime parking space as ‘Clergy Parking Only (Seriously)’.

President Obama visited Manuel's on March 10th, 2015
President Obama visited Manuel’s on March 10th, 2015
(picture: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

I would encourage you if you are in the Atlanta area to give Manuel’s Tavern a visit- hopefully they will have the left flipper on Batman 66 fixed by then so you can take a shot at the high score.