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The Vortex Blog


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.


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.”

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