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The Vortex Blog

JUST LIKE FAMILY

The universe really threw me a curveball back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed both my apartment and my place of employment. I knew it would be a long time before New Orleans recovered, so I hit the road for Atlanta with only a duffle bag full of clothes and my faithful mini-dachshund, Pea. The trip was a leap of faith. I didn’t know anyone in Atlanta, and had no idea what the future would hold for us. But Pea was optimistic. Due to our limited resources I began looking for a job on the very day I arrived.

I will never forget the first time I walked into The Vortex on Peachtree Street. My attention was quickly captured by two hot girls dancing in a go-go cage. They were helping raise money for victims of the hurricane. And when they flashed their titties, I was pretty sure that I’d found my new home. I instantly filled-out an application and left it with the bartender. Before I was even one block away, I got a phone call from the manager. I turned around, went back in for an interview, and was hired on the spot. I think the go-go girls may have put in a good word for me.

In my mind it seems like that all happened yesterday, but the truth is I recently celebrated my 13th anniversary at The Vortex. Many anniversaries have come and gone over the years without me giving them much thought. But for some reason this one gave me pause. The reality is very few people stay at any job for 13 years these days, especially in the service industry. So what is it about this place and these people that is so special? I recall a conversation I had with one of the owners about why he and his siblings originally opened the bar. He said, “We wanted to create a fun place for people to hang out with their friends and family. What we didn’t anticipate is that our staff, and our regulars, would literally become an extended family – even if a slightly dysfunctional one.”

Working in a bar is not always glamorous. In fact, it’s often made up of long stretches on your feet with no breaks. But I’m not complaining, because I know just how much I have to be thankful for. The Vortex has given me the freedom, and the means, to create an amazing life for myself. Over the years, I’ve partied like a rockstar, attended countless concerts, met celebrities and traveled to all sorts of exotic places. I’ve been involved in photo-shoots, co-hosted a podcast and even helped film a pilot for a reality TV show. I’ve been able to buy a house, cars and a condo, and most importantly, I’ve been able to keep all my dogs living the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

In addition to those wonderful opportunities, I remain mindful of the fact that many of the people I’ve met along the way are a big part of what has made my life so sweet. I’ve been to countless weddings, funerals, back yard barbecues and holiday celebrations with these fine folks. I have even collected a bunch of surrogate nieces and nephews over the years. I have received so much love in my life from this band of misfits that I can say without a doubt, they have truly become my extended family, even when they get scattered around the world.

With my lengthy employment, the sad fact is that sometimes these people leave us. On the night before my 13th anniversary I had a very vivid dream. I was working behind the bar and there was Barney, a longtime regular of mine who had passed away about the same time last year. He was sitting at his usual spot, drinking his usual Budweiser and giving me a great big shit-eating grin, as if to say, “yeah, I may be gone, but we both know this is where I really belong.” Damn right you do, Barney. And the same goes for me and all of my Vortex family.

CALL THE BABYSITTER

When exactly did the entire world become “family-friendly?” I guess I missed that meeting. When I was growing up it was common knowledge that NOT every place was appropriate for children. That’s why babysitters became a thing. When my siblings and I were kids (about a million years ago), on the rare occasions we did go out with our parents it was always treated as a lesson on being well-behaved in public. At some point between then and now, the parental populous has started dragging the kiddies with them everywhere they go. And today, restaurants have largely become just another playground. Maybe I’m an old crank, but when I’m plunking down some serious scratch to enjoy a nice meal, I really don’t want a shrieking little hell-demon squawking in my ear hole.

When Georgia passed the “Smoke-Free Air Act of 2005,” they forced every restaurant in the state to choose between eliminating either smoking or children. Since The Vortex operated primarily as a “bar,” the choice was easy. But even though this change was initiated by a government mandate, our “over 21” policy was still met with a certain amount of outrage. How dare we discriminate against children. How dare we turn away families. How dare we!

Recently, I’ve been reading articles about other restaurants that have made the business decision to restrict children without any type of governmental decree at all. I’m always amazed at how polarizing this decision can be. The comment sections are absolutely brutal. People who appreciate these policies are called “child-haters.” People who complain about these policies are called “out-of-touch petty tyrants.” The bottom line is these restaurant operators are just trying to please their specific target market. It’s amazing how outraged people can become over, well, basically nothing.

I don’t have anything against children. Heck, I used to be (a particularly adorable) one myself. And I don’t think it would be right to blame the runny-nosed moppets for a lack of parental supervision. But lately, I seem to encounter more and more oblivious moms and dads every time I go out. You know the type – they let their little booger-eaters run wild in restaurants without any consideration for others. No one’s saying parenting is easy, but just because you don’t feel like keeping an eye on your own spawn, restaurant employees do not automatically become the babysitter– no matter how many cocktails you’ve had.

This issue should not be divisive. There are a lot of folks who appreciate the option to patronize places designed for grown-ups. And many of those same people have kids of their own. In fact, quite a lot of them do. So I’m proud to offer a spot where parents and non-parents alike can get together for some good, old-fashioned “adults-only” fun. Sometimes it’s good to be bad. At The Vortex, we’re here to help. So you’d better call the babysitter, ‘cause you’re probably gonna be late.

A TREASURE TROVE OF IDIOCY

When did people get so confused about restaurants? Restaurants are simple. They are businesses. They are designed to offer a specific concept, theme or style of food to the public. Potential customers can then decide whether or not to patronize a specific restaurant if what is being offered suits their personal tastes. Simple, right? Not anymore it isn’t. Entitlement is strong in the 21st century.

These days, certain people choose to ignore what a restaurant is actually offering, and instead will just go in and start barking orders. Most operators do their best to accommodate reasonable requests, but “reasonable” has become a highly subjective term. Many people now seem to think that “reasonable” means whatever random, idiotic thought pops into their head. And if their arbitrary demands are not met, then threats of posting bad reviews on social media will ensue. To be clear, these demanding customers are ignorant pricks, but sadly they seem to be growing in number.

The Vortex is an age-restricted bar, but we encounter people demanding that their toddlers be allowed in all the time. And they get mad, really mad when they’re denied access. From time to time, someone will even come in demanding that we prepare a strictly vegan meal – at our burger joint. That’s like going to a vegetarian restaurant and demanding a steak. But I’m sure people do that, too. Irrational demands like these are selfish and tactless, yet restaurant operators are forced to deal with them every day.

I’m not talking about corporate chain operations that sell food-like products to the masses in generic settings. Their goal has always been to appease the lowest common denominator. I’m talking about independent, small-businesses that operate on slim profit margins to offer truly unique dining experiences. Anyone who wants these places to keep existing in the world should not expect them to spend time and money trying to please every single person on the planet. It can’t be done.

Naive new operators will often try to please everyone, especially the self-entitled jerks who bark the loudest. But by doing so they may be diminishing the authenticity of the experience for people who appreciate what they actually ARE offering. I know it can be difficult to stand by your convictions with a serious investment on the line. But staying true to yourself is a major component of becoming successful. So be strong, and ignore the disgruntled bullies. Nowadays most people realize that “one-star” reviews are a treasure trove of idiocy written by pathetic whiners and crybabies. So ultimately, my advice to young entrepreneurs is simple: If you are passionate about your creative vision, don’t let the bastards ruin it.

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