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The Vortex Blog

AUTHENTIC ATLANTA

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 had 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 our new 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, artistic 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 unusual 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 eventually 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 really just that simple. We are proud to be one of the truly authentic elements of Atlanta that help 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.

WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

When we originally opened The Vortex back in 1992, we allowed parents to decide whether or not to bring their children into our bar. Sure, it was smoky, loud and full of questionable characters, but hey, your kid, your choice. It wasn’t until Georgia passed the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2005 that we changed our admission policy. That law required bars to become 100% “non-smoking” unless minors were banned from the premises. Easy choice. Bye-bye kiddies. And the best part? Our loyal patrons LOVED the change. In hindsight, I can’t believe we didn’t ban the little buggers sooner.

In case you hadn’t heard, as of February 1, 2019, The Vortex has eliminated ALL smoking inside our premises, not by government decree, but as the result of a month-long online customer survey. The poll was taken by 11,000 participants. Interestingly, there was a common theme in the comments section of our survey – and I’m paraphrasing here; “Whatever you do – please, for the love of god – stay adults only!”

During the survey a few sweet, naive, adorable folks also asked us the question, “If you go smoke-free, will you become an ‘all-ages’ venue again?” Hahahahaha! Oh, wait – they were serious. Well, the short answer is “no.” A slightly longer answer is, HELL NO. But if you are interested in a little extra context, sure – I’m all about transparency – so I’ll give it a shot.

To be honest, we had briefly toyed with the idea of allowing some form of limited access for minors, but once we started to recall all of the headaches we previously endured while operating under an “all-ages” policy, we quickly came to our senses. Dealing with drunks is bad enough, and babies are like tiny drunks, only they spend way less money. And once these mini-humans become mobile, they love nothing more than to flee the confines of their table (and their parents), to stagger around the premises – also like drunks. Not only do these unannounced visitors often annoy other patrons, but unstable tiny people running around can also create serious safety issues for servers who are also running around, only carrying large amounts of heavy plates and glassware.

And let’s not forget about the ridiculous messes that kids make. Cheerios, Goldfish, crackers – basically anything they can get their sticky little mitts on – will all eventually end-up on the floor. And teething tykes love nothing more than cramming condiments and salt shakers into their wet little mouths. Ugh. So gross. At least when drunks do it we can throw them out. It’s funny that we really don’t miss any of this. Sure, kids have their place, but The Vortex ain’t it. And it’s not as though there aren’t a million other places where kids are welcome. Besides, bringing high chairs, changing tables and booster seats back into The Vortex at this point just seems like blasphemy.

Okay, okay. So we can all agree that children are a hassle, but what about adults over 18? They’re really no problem, right? Wrong. The main issue here is that The Vortex is required to enforce various liquor laws to maintain our Liquor License. The problem is that college kids generally don’t give a shit. For example, a group of six young adults will enter. Four are over 21, and two are not. Their server explains that if the two underaged people are caught drinking alcohol, the whole group will be asked to leave. Inevitably, the underaged pair will attempt to sneak drinks, so the whole group is asked to leave, which then creates a giant ruckus. Look, we don’t make the laws, but we are required to enforce them. And we really don’t want to play “policeman” any more than we have to, because that’s just a big ol’ pain in the rear.

But what about teens with their parents? What about special occasions? What about, what about, what about… Listen, our current “21-and-over” policy seems pretty straightforward, right? Yet people still show up with their tiny spawn in tow, and are highly annoyed when they are not allowed into the bar. “We drove all the way from Alabama, and now you’re not going to let us in because we brought our babies?” Yes. That is correct. Scenarios like this happen way too often, especially considering that our age restriction is CLEARLY posted all over our website. So, do we really need to complicate matters further? We don’t think so.

I guarantee, even if we DID post all the information necessary to offer “limited access for minors,” many people would still turn up at the wrong time, or on the wrong day, or at the wrong location, and then curse us because they never took the time to do their own research. And therein lies the real problem. People revel in being willfully ignorant, even though they have access to all of the information mankind has ever compiled right in the palm of their hand. Pro-Tip: If you have never been someplace it’s always a good idea to check-out the website first, especially if a road trip is involved. It’s not rocket science people.

The Vortex is a bar, first and foremost. Admitting people under the legal drinking age just creates operational challenges we simply no longer wish to deal with. The fact of the matter is that The Vortex is widely known as a place where adults can go to have adult fun in an adults-only environment. And celebrating your 21st birthday at The Vortex has even become a right of passage in Atlanta. We are totally cool with all of this, and our loyal fans are too. I personally think it’s reassuring to know that in this crazy, mixed-up world, The Vortex will be “21-and-over” – forever!  So come on in for some kid-free and (newly) smoke-free, adults-only fun at The Vortex. Now that’s what I call a “Happy Meal.”

THE RESULTS ARE IN

As it says right on the cover of our menu, “Everything we offer is bad for you.” Since 1992, The Vortex has always been the place where you can eat, drink and, yes, smoke to your heart’s content. And many people stand by the old cliché, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But the plain truth is, we’ve noticed fewer and fewer of our customers utilizing the option to smoke at our bar. And we’ve also seen a significant decrease in the number of our employees who smoke. A few years back it was 100%. Now, it’s definitely a minority

Times change, and people’s preferences often change right along with them. Since we are in the business of keeping our loyal fans happy, we decided to get their thoughts on our current smoking policy. For the entire month of January 2019, we made an online Smoking Survey available through our website. The response we received was overwhelming. Close to 11,000 people shared their opinions with us. We are truly humbled that so many people care about The Vortex enough to participate in our little survey. This just reinforces the fact that Vortex fans are absolutely the best.

Now let’s get down to the numbers. Of people who took this survey, 60.6% claim to have been patrons of The Vortex for 6 years or more, 20.6% stated they have been patrons for 3-5 years, and 8.3% said they are not currently patrons. So, a large majority of those who took the survey actually do patronize The Vortex on a regular basis. That’s a good start.

What was the breakdown of smokers to non-smokers taking the survey? Well, 54.6% of the respondents said that they have never smoked and another 25.7% said that they used to smoke but no longer do. This means 80% of our patrons are non-smokers. That leaves about 20% of survey-takers who claim that they currently smoke: 10.2% of them are social smokers and 9.5% smoke regularly. According to the CDC (if you believe them), approximately 15% of adults in the U.S. smoke these days. According to our survey, it seems Vortex patrons may smoke slightly more than the average American. Sort of. Maybe. Or maybe not.

The big question of “How does our current smoking policy affect your patronage?” had some of the most dramatic results. A 51.5% majority of survey-takers claim that they do not patronize The Vortex (or patronize less) because smoking is allowed and 38.6% said that our smoking policy does not affect their patronage one way or another (because they love The Vortex so much). That leaves only 9.9% of survey-takers that patronize The Vortex specifically because they can smoke at the bar. That 50% to 10% margin is pretty extreme.

The final question had equally extreme results. It asked, “Would you favor The Vortex becoming a ‘smoke-free’ establishment in 2019?” A whopping 69.5% of survey-takers said that they would like to see our smoking policy change, and 9.3% said they had no opinion on the matter. The remaining 21.2% of people said they did not want our smoking policy to change. However, many in this group qualified their response with the comment that they did not want the smoking policy to change only because they did not want The Vortex to become “all-ages” again. That was a pretty common theme in all of the comments. Don’t worry, folks. That’s not happening.

Our fans have spoken, and we have made a decision. Ready? Here it is: Smoking will no longer be allowed anywhere INSIDE our premises. However, since smoking has always been an option at The Vortex, and since a slightly higher than average percentage of our clientele may actually smoke, we will still offer smokers the option to do their thing outdoors.

At The Vortex-Midtown, the smoking of cigarettes (and e-cigarettes) will be allowed when dining outside on our sidewalk patio. At The Vortex-L5P, smoking will be allowed on the open fenced waiting area just outside the bar, known as the “playpen.” The smoking of cigars, pipes, clove cigarettes or anything deemed “illegal” by the evil overlords will continue to be forbidden. These policy changes will all go into affect immediately at both Vortex locations – like, right now, even as you’re reading this – right in the middle of Atlanta’s 2019 Super Bowl celebration.

We believe that this policy change will help satisfy the largest number of patrons possible. I suppose many people will celebrate these decisions, while others may be slightly disappointed. But I hope everyone keeps one thing in perspective. As always, we are doing our best to please our core group of supporters. And this really is only about a smoking policy in a bar. So relax. Everything will be fine. Just take a deep breath – in the newly clean air of The Vortex.

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