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The Vortex Blog


By a strict definition, there may be some technical differences between bars, cantinas, pubs and taverns, but I have always thought the purpose of these establishments was somewhat romantic. They are cherished places within a community where folks gather, share stories, celebrate triumphs and commiserate over tragedies. While some may not see this function as “essential,” I can personally attest to its psychological and emotional value. People not only want to gather together, they need to. Humanity demands connection. It’s ingrained in our human DNA.

I founded The Vortex with my brother and sister over 28 years ago. The funding we were able to scrape together at the time was minimal, so we opened on a shoestring budget, and put in years of hard work before we would turn a profit. We’ve always done our best to treat our employees and customers with kindness, consideration and respect. Over the years, we’ve built a loyal following of wonderful people who truly appreciate our efforts. We’ve become part of the fabric of Atlanta. We have enjoyed hosting one of the most diverse clienteles of any bar that I’ve ever been to, and I think that’s what I have loved the most about it. As the business grew, so did our extended family, because that’s what the staff and patrons of establishments like ours ultimately become.

My siblings and I no longer wait tables or sling drinks, but we continue to be involved in the daily operation of our businesses from behind the scenes. Of course, we had always assumed that one day we’d be able to retire, or at least semi-retire, and turn the reigns of leadership over to trusted members of our management team. And then came COVID-19.

The government response was the forced closure of many businesses across the country and around the world. We were told that this must be done in order to help “flatten the curve.” Okay. We certainly did not want to see our hospitals overrun. The “models” at the time suggested that the lives of millions of Americans could potentially be at stake. Obviously, we were ready and willing to do whatever we could to help avoid such a disastrous situation. But, the painful reality is that not only did this closure immediately eliminate our sole source of income, but it also eliminated the income of over 100 employees – people that we feel a deep sense of responsibility for. Since the closure, we have been rapidly burning through personal savings. Fixed costs do not vanish just because a business is closed.

Many restaurant owners are trying to put as positive a face on this situation as possible. You have to be an optimist to stay in this business for any length of time. But the folks I have spoken with all tell me that they are losing money, a lot of money, even if they’re providing take-out service. It has also been disheartening for me to read online commentary about how “greedy” business owners just want to put profit ahead of people’s safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite all of this, my siblings and I are still not planning to cut-and-run. Our main focus continues to be in attempting to save our businesses, and as many jobs of our furloughed employees as possible.

As yet, we have not received a penny of the PPP funds that are supposed to be available to small businesses, while we read headlines every day about publicly traded corporations, private institutions and other wealthy organizations receiving millions of dollars in funds from the government. If we ultimately do receive any money from this program it will certainly not guarantee our success. The funds will most likely not cover our losses, or our operating expenses. To date, we’ve only received confirmation that we have applied, along with a note explaining that the system is overwhelmed.

As the worldwide economy continues to be on lockdown, the reality is that returning from this will not be a short or painless process. And I believe the longer this situation continues, the more likely it is that we will see a devastating economic downturn. The extent of which is yet to be seen, but there is a real possibility that it could be catastrophic. I fear a vast number of small businesses will not be able to survive this situation, and that countless more people will lose their jobs.

We are currently studying the latest government guidelines, and will attempt to reopen for dine-in service when we have been able put all of the suggested protocols in place. We plan to take every reasonable precaution upon our reopening. Of course, we continue to be concerned about the most vulnerable to infection, and suggest that those folks remain in self-quarantine and do not visit our establishments at this time.

We realize that even once we do reopen, the restrictions currently in place, along with the public’s hesitation to venture out, may keep our businesses from operating in the black for the foreseeable future. I wish this was not the case, but if nothing else, I am a realist. If The Vortex is eventually not able to come back from this, I just want all of our loyal fans to know how much of an honor it has been to serve you over the years. We can only pray that my pessimism will turn out to be unwarranted. We hope to see you all again very soon.

PLEASE NOTE: We will continue to update our website with the latest information regarding our operational plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest updates, visit and use the navigational heading: “LOCATIONS” to check out what’s happening at either our MIDTOWN or LITTLE 5 POINTS location. They may be different.


Celebrating your 21st birthday at The Vortex has become a rite of passage in Atlanta, so we really want to help you crazy kids learn the ropes. Trust us, you don’t want to be branded an “amateur” by your friendly neighborhood booze slingers. To begin, it’s important to understand the difference between day drinking and night drinking. Day drinking isn’t just for the unemployed. It’s a more relaxed, low-key pastime than drinking in bars at night. That’s one reason people in “hospitality” often prefer day drinking. It seems there are fewer amateurs around. Or maybe they’re just not as obvious during the day. At night, popular bars can get very crowded. And while the staff wants to keep the party going, they’ll need your help. You never want to be the one knuckle-head gumming-up the works for everyone else. While these guidelines apply to patronizing a bar at any time, they’re especially relevant to night-time bar culture. After reading this article, you will have no excuse for acting like a clueless punk. It’s time to get your drink-on like a grown-up.


No reputable bar owner is going to risk their liquor license just so you can buy a beer without an ID. Some bars restrict access to people 21 and over, and all bars are required to check ID before selling you any booze. You must technically have valid ID on your person to consume alcohol in a bar, no matter how old you are. So, never give anyone a hard time when they ask to see it. “How old do you think I am?” is a stupid response. Bar staff does not want to guess your age, but they are required to verify it. “OMG, I can’t believe this! I’m almost 23!” is another comment made by foolish children when they’re carded. Listen, you may think you’re all grown-up, but if you’re in your 20s, you still look like an embryo to the real, crusty adults around you. Enjoy it while you can because someday, when you’re not quite so nubile, no one will ever card you again. If you didn’t bring your ID with you, and are denied access, or refused a drink, it’s your own damned fault for being a dumb-ass. Always carry your ID, show it when required, and shut the hell up about it.


In case your parents didn’t teach you any manners, you need to understand that just because you’re spending money, it does not give you the right to act like a disrespectful jerk. That garbage behavior might fly at “TGI Shenanigans,” but real bars reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, and they’re usually pretty serious about it. They have absolutely no incentive to tolerate problem customers. Besides, you’ll generally get much better service by simply being nice. So, never snap your fingers or whistle to get the bartender’s attention. They are not your dog. And once you are approached, don’t say anything stupid like, “I’ll have a gin and tonic, and make it strong.” This kind of comment not only calls into question the bartender’s ability to make a drink, but it also makes you look like a cheap schmuck. If you want a double, ask for a double – and be prepared to pay for a double. And ordering “light ice” will not get you more liquor, just more mixer. You should never expect anything for free. The bartender is not your mommy.


Some bars feature “mixologists” that specialize in creating “craft cocktails.” This often involves layering exotic ingredients, using eye-droppers for measurement, lighting things on fire, or shaving five different types of ice. Drinks like these may take some additional time, so you should be prepared to wait. Bars that employ “bartenders” generally want to get a drink in your hand as quickly as possible. Chatting about drinks with the bartender is all well and good in the middle of the afternoon when business is slow. And if you’d like to try a goofy shot or a labor-intensive cocktail, that is the perfect time. But when bars are operating at high volume, asking questions like “What’s a good shot?” or, “What beers do you have?” is just silly and time consuming. When a bar is busy, you need to know what you’re going to order when you’re approached by the bartender. Otherwise, you’re just slowing down the process for all the other thirsty guests clamoring for service right behind you. This is definitely not the time to order that mojito you’ve been craving.


If you are ordering drinks directly from the bartender, have your money ready. Fumbling for your wallet or purse will delay them from waiting on others. Paying for a single drink with a credit card is really annoying, and also a big waste of time. If you do it all night, you’ll probably notice it becoming increasingly difficult to get the bartender’s attention. If you want to pay for one drink at a time, use cash. Otherwise, you should probably just start a tab with that credit card your daddy gave you for “emergencies.”


If you’re paying “per drink,” then you should tip your bartender on every single drink, without exception, and probably more than you think you should. Don’t bother with fractions or coins, because if you can hear your tip hit the bar, you are being way too cheap. Tipping is how bartenders earn their living, so they appreciate patrons who tip appropriately. Bartenders also have the memory of an elephant. They know who tips well and who doesn’t, and right or wrong, this can make a big difference in the quality of your service. To keep things simple, just leave a buck or two per drink or tip at least 20%, whichever is more. The bottom line is that a 20% tip is now the standard tip percentage for good service. Don’t believe in tipping? Then drink at home.


Few things are as embarrassing as getting “cut-off” at your favorite bar. So do everyone a favor, and cut yourself off before you start acting like a damned fool. Your friends should help you with this. If they don’t, then you need new friends. If you insist on acting like a jackass when you drink, then you should probably only drink on St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and New Year’s Eve. Those are official “Amateur Nights,” so you’ll have lots of company. For the record, barfing in a bar is the epitome of amateur behavior, and it’s really rude. Someone has to clean that up, you know? If you ever vomit in public, particularly in a bar, you have crossed the line from “social drinking” into “binge drinking,” and you may now officially be referred to as an “amateur.” Let the self-loathing begin.


If you plan on doing some serious drinking out on the town always designate a driver. Better yet, you’re a tech-savvy millennial, so download those ride-sharing apps onto your cell phone. Companies like Uber and Lyft have virtually eliminated any need to drive if you’re going to be drinking. And while that may be bad for State revenue generation, it’s really good for keeping your silly ass out of jail. Impaired driving is dangerous, and getting a DUI really sucks. It’s not worth the risk, the hassle or the expense. So, be safe and be smart. Never drive when you go out bar-hopping. If you’ve got a drink in your hand, the time has come to take a little responsibility for yourself – just like an adult.


Eons ago, my siblings and I escaped from Los Angeles and settled in Atlanta, with no jobs, no money and no previous bar experience. So we decided to max-out our credit cards and open The Vortex Bar & Grill. Sure, that seemed legit. Since the three of us were most of the staff, we worked ridiculously long hours, doing everything that needed to be done to keep the tiny joint open. But it was all good. We were having a blast, even though none of us had any idea what the hell we were doing. We also found that Atlanta was a very friendly town – way more so than LA. That’s why it was so easy for us to happily welcome everyone who managed to find our little bar. Being on-premise all day, every day, our regulars became an instant social circle of new friends for us, many of whom we still remain close with today.

Lots of patrons would tell us they’d heard good things about us from their friends. Visitors to Atlanta would often let us know they ended up at The Vortex after asking their cab driver to take them to a favorite local bar. Hotel concierges liked to recommend us because their guests would always report back that they had a good time. The direct feedback we got was often, “they said you guys were crazy.” The Vortex began to regularly appear on “must see” lists of many Atlanta tourists. And all of these personal interactions happened long before social media existed. Back in those days, real-life was better than Facebook, and you didn’t even need the stupid internet.

Five years later, we opened our second location in the offbeat neighborhood of Little 5 Points. This area was the creative epicenter of Atlanta at the time, so I decided to turn the front door of our bar into an over-sized sculpture of our “Laughing Skull” logo. The concept was based on the roadside attractions and carnival rides that I remembered fondly from my childhood. I built it over several weeks, climbing up and down a rickety old scaffolding in the oppressive Georgia heat. I lost track of how much Gatorade I had to drink to keep from dying.

This giant piece of folk art seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people and has since become something of a local attraction. Tourists and residents alike photograph themselves in front of it every day. It has also been featured in television programs, music videos, even in a popular video game. Many local artists have included it in their paintings, drawings and murals. It has even been used on promotional materials for the Atlanta Hawks, in the graphics on the side of Google Fiber Trucks, and on coffee mugs sold by Starbucks. Yeah, I’d say the Laughing Skull is one of Atlanta’s quirkier landmarks.

This coming Saturday, The Vortex will celebrate our 27th Anniversary. That’s not too shabby for three kooky kids who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Whatever the reasons may be, we’ve been fortunate to have been embraced by a large, diverse group of wonderful patrons over the years. The bar business is highly competitive, and we’ve seen a lot of places come and go. In heartfelt appreciation of all of the good fortune and all the good times, we remain committed to keep on doing what we do, for all the beautiful people that love what we do. It’s just that simple. We are proud to be one of the truly authentic elements of Atlanta that helps to make our city so dynamic and fun. And even if we are just a tiny piece of that authenticity – it still is quite an honor. Thank you for 27 lively, priceless years. It’s been quite a ride.

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