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RBR Tailgating: Smith’s Olde Bar

It’s nice to have a home base when you’re out of town.

I found Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta because of wizards, spaceships, and some freaky Manga stuff that I’ve long ago resigned myself to never quite understanding.

Trust me, this will get back to pre- and post-football festivities eventually.

My wife is the editor of a small but well-thought-of (my initial draft said “well thought of” but she used her editing powers and hyphenated it—handy) line of science fiction and fantasy novels. One of the perks of her job is that she gets to write off weekend passes, hotels, meals, and author schmoozing adult beverages at DragonCon.

For the uninitiated, DragonCon is a pretty big sci-fi/fantasy convention that sprawls a number of downtown Atlanta hotels just east of the Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and most notably, the Georgia Dome. Did I mention that DragonCon takes place on the first weekend of September? The same weekend college football finally comes back into our lives?

That pits the whatever portion of the seventy-seven thousand attendees of a nerd convention (I say that with love as I am one of them) that are coming in from out of town against whatever portion of the 71,228 Chic-fil-A Kickoff Game ticket holding addicts of a barbaric blood sport (I say that with love as I am one of them in spirit if not in actually having held that particular ticket) against each other vying for everything from hotel reservations to tables at any number of downtown restaurants to ten dollar toothbrushes from the hotel shop because they forgot to bring one from home, dammit.

Have you ever seen a full blown cosplay adherent in Sith Lord garb and a bourbon and corndog reeking LSU fan decked out in his best gold and purple sequined pimp suit simultaneously point at each other and tell their friends to “Get a load of that idiot?” I have.

For the most part the two disparate groups enjoy each other. You see face-painted football fans posing for pictures with stormtroopers and Starfleet admirals and steampunk X-men chatting about d-lines with ACC fans. It’s gridiron starved fans, barely subsisting on a meager diet of youtube videos and occasional ESPNU replays all spring and summer where they announce the final score at every return from commercial break for some damn reason, landing smack down in the heart of what our friend Lou Anders (real sci-fi fantasy genre geeks know what an egregious name drop that was) calls the Mardi Gras of Middle Earth. I’m up for suggested competitors in the “best people watching” category, but you’ll be hard pressed to convince me that downtown Atlanta on the first Saturday of September isn’t at least a final four competitor.

This brings me, as promised, back to the subject of pre and post game festivities. My very first post on this site was a fanshot soliciting suggestions for a place in Atlanta to watch the 2010 Alabama vs. San Jose State game. I was DragonCon bound and didn’t trust the hotel bars to keep an admittedly lopsided game on. I wanted a guaranteed kick to final whistle viewing. Thanks to PeteHoliday’s suggestion, I wound up at Smith’s Olde Bar.

This post was originally sketched out as a requiem for a pub. After I spent the 2010 and 2011 season openers at Smith’s, my wife’s publishing house began to question the economic value of spending several thousand dollars to fete a bunch of people they already had under contract. My wife still goes to recruit and give talks, but I stopped going to DragonCon when it stopped being free and when those excellent booksmiths stopped buying lots of people draft beer and house wine.

A few years ago I read that Smith’s was closing. Thus the requiem idea. I was going to wax on about this place with dark green walls and an abundance of hardwood that pulled the best part of a punk looking music venue and an American pub/deli and made all of its synergistic elements moot by guaranteeing that I would pledge my love to it as a hub for Crimson Tide expats in a town that too many wrongly assume is just a series of concourses.

The bar didn’t close. It’s a testament to any establishment that a possible dispute with a landlord leads to articles and handwringing. In the end it was all just a bunch of sound and fury, but I didn’t know that. I mourned a great spot. I was thrilled to find that it was still going.

Both games I caught at Smith’s, I had a seat at the bar, a contested privilege I’m discerning is rarely bestowed upon a newbie on game day. No idea how I got away with it.

I can’t remember which game paired with which bartender, but I watched one with a huge guy who was shopping himself around to various graduate programs. He could have broken my spine with the flick of his wrist. The other time there was a woman behind the bar with an accent I guessed, and I say rightly, as from Baltimore. She claimed I was wrong because she was from the Baltimore suburb of Towson. Utter crap, but she stuck to it.

I remember them because they were both either genuinely nice, or competently accommodating depending on the circumstance (as a former restaurant manager I can’t help but watch how servers deal with other guests.) They talked to their guests as they would another person, not in that one octave up infantilized voice that’s the go-to for so many waiters and bartenders and signals a distancing. Those little things make a huge difference.

The requiem post outline was built around Milo’s sauce if you can believe it. Again, I can’t remember which of my visits was which bartender or which time I had sliders or some spicy chicken salad, but I do remember that the bartender who held to the absurd position that her hilarious outskirts of Baltimore pronunciations of radio and stereo were somehow different than a deep Charm City speaker’s radio and stereo told me that for certain games the bar sends someone to Birmingham to smuggle a few gallons of Milo’s sauce east across state lines for their special game day burgers. I thought that was utterly charming, no matter what the city.

They don’t do that anymore, and charming or not, I can’t say as I blame them. They have their own sauce. After twenty-four years you get to declare your own classics. See the menu here.

Smitty’s Bronco Burger.

They also have special game day menus. In the past those have featured shredded pork with white Bar-B-Q sauce and an apparent fan favorite, the Alabama Scramble Burger.

Drink specials? There’s a Yellow Hammer that is sure to please the throngs. I’m sure that there will be a number of purists who claim that the Smith’s version of the Tuscaloosa closely guarded secret recipe is not an exact copy of the original. You don’t know, and after the first, you really don’t know. Just sit back and enjoy. They’ve got Bama Slammers too. Slainte.

I’m guessing there are three mindsets looking for Atlanta dining (drinking) guidance. The first has tickets and wants to set up camp around the Georgia Dome and venture out as time allows. The second wants tickets, but is ready to surrender at the last moment when they realize that no tickets are to be had at an agreeable price. The third wants to be there for the event but will make no attempt to actually go to the game (I know how absurd that sounds but it’s cover for the folks that are heading to ATL to sell their tickets for a profit and go hang out in a bar.)

Once I realized that rumors of Smith’s demise were premature, and that it was not a closed bar but in fact an up and running concern, I got so much useful information from wonderful, informative people who, and I can’t stress this enough, do not talk at you one octave too high like so many restaurant employees are wont to do.

First things first: Certain cities have certain annoyances. LA has absurd traffic. Salt Lake City makes you finish your drink before you can order another. Vancouver is cold. D.C. has stupid traffic circles. London has those hot women that act like they want to sleep with you and then don’t. Rome has… well Rome is perfect. Atlanta has no parking. But you can park near Smith’s.

Their landlord also owns the Ansley 1 and 2 strip malls nearby and allows parking for the bar, but it’s kind of a wink and a nod agreement. If you are going straight to the bar, by all means park in the Ansley lots and (I’m serious about this because I am not taking any responsibility) check with the Smith’s staff and tell them where you left your car to be sure everything is cool. From what I gather, you are fine as a bar patron, but frowned upon if you plan on leaving a car and going to the game. Gentlemen’s agreements require gentlemen.

Cricket, Smith’s general manager, tells me that they are, with traffic, twenty to thirty minutes from the Georgia Dome. I’m the cautious type so I’d add thirty minutes to any estimate just to be sure I don’t miss anything. Variables include Uber and Lyft, which he says they have had timely response from, and the number of the crowd at the nearby Lenox taxi hub. The Lindbergh MARTA station is five minutes away and I’m told there is ample parking there. Getting back and forth doesn’t seem that big an issue. But again–cities. I always err on the side of taking way too long.

As far as time at the restaurant, there may be a wait but expect to be able to hit the road within an hour of being seated. There should be plenty of time between their noon opening and the four o’clock (ET) kickoff to get in and out.

If you are in town but can’t get tickets, there are worse places to be than Smith’s. Every TV (television) will be tuned to the game and though it may be standing room only, with multiple rooms and a patio, there’s a lot of room to stand in.

Depending on your fortitude, there’ll be a DJ and live music later in the night for those who want to extend the celebration of number twenty-six.

For those heading into town a day early, Bama in Atlanta, a chapter of the national alumni association, is hosting an event at Smith’s Friday night. There’s a ten dollar cover, but Derrick Lassic will be there. Let me repeat that. Derrick Lassic will be there.

These people have been doing yeoman’s work keeping the Crimson flag flying in hostile territory. If you are making the trip to Atlanta for the game you are going to be spending some of your hard-earned cash on food and drink. Ask yourself, “What is this person I’m giving my money to going to do with it?” “Are they likely to spend it on a Jonathan Allen Jersey?”

If the answer is “Unlikely,” you might be eating in the wrong place.

Smith’s general manager Cricket’s pick: 24-12 with the good guys on the winning side. If you disagree, let him know. He’ll be the one wearing a #12 Joe Namath jersey on Saturday. Also, ask him why they have that extra “e” on the end of “old.”

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.