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The Vortex Blog

All posts by Dublin Santiesteban


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.


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.”


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.


The Vortex Smoking Survey will be active until 12 noon on Thursday January 31, 2019. So, don’t miss your chance to let us know what YOU think. If you haven’t done so yet, CLICK HERE to take the survey. I know I said my last Smoking Survey UPDATE would probably be my ONLY update, but I continue to be amazed by how helpful our faithful fans are. Less than seven days into this survey and over 10,000 people have already taken it. We’ve got three weeks to go. If this keeps up, who knows what the final count will be?

To be clear, this survey is about our smoking policy ONLY, and nothing else. We have been getting a lot of replies that basically say, “I don’t care what your smoking policy is, but for the love of god, don’t start letting kids in The Vortex.” Be advised, if we do change our smoking policy due to the results of this survey, it will not affect our age restriction. The Vortex will continue to be a bar designed for adults. I just wanted to put that out there to alleviate everyone’s obvious concerns.


Have I mentioned how awesome Vortex fans are lately? Well I need to. You guys kick ass! We are literally only 72 hours into our month long smoking survey, and over 4,700 people have already participated. This warms my icy black heart. The Vortex Smoking Survey will be active for another 27 days. So, please be sure to let us know what YOU think. If you haven’t done so yet, you can CLICK HERE to take the survey.

The last question on the survey allows participants to submit a brief comment, and over 1,700 people have done so. These comments are pretty interesting (at least to me), so I have compiled a random sample to share in this update. This will probably be my only update until I report our final decision in our Blog sometime in early February. But who knows?

• Will continue to be a customer no matter what, but food tastes better without smoke.

• Just moved to L5P and love The Vortex. Don’t want to bug people who come there to smoke, but honestly I would come more if it wasn’t allowed.

• I’m a child of the 80’s. I remember cigarette vending machines, and restaurants so clouded with smoke you could lose sight of your table on the way back from the bathroom. I realize smoking is an individual choice, but I’d prefer to not to have my Vortex experience tainted because someone else’s choice. You seriously dont need a cigarette to eat/drink.

• I would prefer it be non-smoking. But honestly the ventilation is so good at the midtown location that I have rarely been annoyed by the cigarette smoke.

• Everything about The Vortex is great except the smoke. If you smoke anywhere in the building, you might as well be smoking everywhere. It is overwhelming, therefore I only go about once a month, though I live within walking distance.

• Drinks and smoke are fine, food and smoke are not.

• Although I am no longer a smoker, it’s nice to know that there is still an establishment that allows smokers to smoke indoors.

• I would love to see a change in the smoking policy. A few years ago I stopped going to the Midway pub because of the smoking inside. Now, they have changed their policy and I am there on a regular basis!

• I just prefer not to smell like an ashtray after I leave the bar. You know what I’m saying? Love your food.

• I respect everyone’s opinion on this controversial (though increasingly less controversial) subject. I would personally be encouraged to visit The Vortex more frequently without the smoke inside. I hope the venue becomes a 100% smoke-free environment.

• Great food and drinks. Smoking should be done outside. Just like I do at home.

• Our group of friends love the food and the “no kids” policy. It’s on our list of favorites when we’re considering food before or after a bar crawl. It’s super convenient because one of us owns a condo right above the midtown location. However, the only reason we have ever decided against actually coming for greasy food that tastes like heaven, after being hungover all day, is because smoking is allowed.

• I don’t even smoke, but I liked that you stuck to your guns. It’s a bar, people should be able to smoke.

• I enjoy the kid-free atmosphere more than anything to do with smoking. If you do make it non-smoking, please continue the no kids policy. PLEASE.

• Smoking kind of goes with The Vortex vibe so I respect that, but I would probably spend more time in your bar (read – more money) if smoking wasn’t allowed there.

• Either way you go I’ll still be visiting, but I do enjoy the privilege of smoking at The Vortex.

• Even though I no longer smoke, I hope your policy doesn’t change. If it’s a business decision, I understand.

• It’s not a big deal to me either way. I love your burgers, your staff is the best, and your house drinks are awesome. Forever a fan, no matter what is decided. Now where’s my Skull Crusher?

• The Vortex is an awesome restaurant and we tolerate the smoke. Although it sucks to smell so bad when we leave, we deal. I’d prefer no smoking indoors, but I also know what I signed up for when we go there to eat.

• I’ve never been a smoker but don’t really care if you can smoke in there or not. I truly love the no kid atmosphere. It’s rare to get to have lunch without kids being loud and throwing stuff.

• As a smoker, it doesn’t bother me at all to smoke outside.

• We have some friends that would like to come with us to The Vortex, but will not because of sensitivity to cigarette smoke.

• I’ve always known The Vortex to be a bar that allows smoking. It doesn’t bother me and I don’t think it needs to change. I also don’t drink, and I love going there.

• I don’t have a problem with people smoking unless it’s around my food. I used to frequent back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. But I think the older I get, the less I can tolerate the smoke. But gosh you have good burgers and would welcome the change.

• I absolutely love your food and establishment. I typically can deal with the smoke, but sometimes it’s just a bit much. Still my favorite place in the world to eat.

• Love y’all. Gonna keep visiting either way.

• Do what’s best for your business.


According to the current smoking policy at The Vortex, customers are allowed to smoke cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) when seated at the BAR only. Smoking is not permitted anywhere else on the premises. If you have an opinion on this policy now is the time to let your voice be heard. You can CLICK HERE to complete a seven-question survey on the topic. This survey will remain active throughout the entire month of January. Once we have had ample time to compile and review the results, we will report our findings, and any decisions that we’ve made in a follow-up blog that will be posted here sometime in February. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts. And just for the record, below is a brief history of the various smoking policies The Vortex has applied over the years.

When we first opened back in 1992, approximately 27% of adults in the U.S. were smokers according to the CDC. Based on my personal observations, I’d estimate that at least 75% of our patrons smoked at the time because the two levels of our tiny little bar were often so dense with cigarette smoke, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. And even the non-smokers would light-up once they got a little hooch into their systems. In those days, there were no smoking ordinances pertaining to bars, and since The Vortex was a secret hideout designed for people who wanted to be a little bit bad, we obviously allowed smoking.

A year or so later, we received a visit from a code enforcement officer. He came in to notify us that the Atlanta City Council had passed an ordinance that required all bars serving food to designate at least 50% of their seating as “Non-Smoking.” Since our bar was so small, we asked him to recommend which seats he thought would magically be protected from smoke by posting a sign. He replied, “It doesn’t make any difference to me, as long as it’s half the seats in here.” Due to the fact that the actual “bar” was located on the first floor, and everyone who sat at the bar smoked in those days, we decided to assign the upstairs loft as our non-smoking area. Sure, all the cigarette smoke would eventually rise up into that space, but we had met our legal obligations. This is a good example of how government attempts at social engineering often work-out in the end.

In 1996 we opened The Vortex in Little 5 Points, and in 1997 we relocated our Midtown venue to a bigger space on Peachtree Street. We continued to comply with the 50% non-smoking mandate in both locations until the state passed the Georgia Smoke-Free Air Act of 2005. That law required restaurants and bars to be 100% non-smoking unless they did not allow minors on their premises. So the government had forced us to make a decision – ban smoking, or ban children. Up until that point, we allowed parents to decide if they wanted to bring their kids to our bar. But since The Vortex was indeed a bar, saying goodbye to the youngsters was not a difficult call for us to make. And while our fans enjoyed the fact that they could still smoke in our bar, they really seemed to appreciate the new “adults-only” environment even more. So for us, the age restriction ended up being the more popular result of that particular legislation.

Nowadays, because of health and lifestyle changes, along with legislation like the Smoke-Free Air Act, smokers seem to have gradually adjusted their habits as to where and when they smoke. Recently, as I was entering The Vortex in midtown during a severe thunderstorm, I happened to notice a woman huddled underneath the umbrella of a patio table, smoking a cigarette. I informed her that she was welcome to smoke at the bar inside and she replied, “Oh, I know. But I don’t want to be a bother to anyone.” This got me thinking. If smokers are now this reluctant to smoke where they are legally permitted to do so, it just might be time to reassess our smoking policy. And now here we are. So help us out. Take the survey.


Back in the early 1990’s, when I was bartending and waiting tables with my brother and sister at the original Vortex location, I always enjoyed the diversity of our clientele. I loved interacting with all the different personalities who chose to party with us at our little bar. They made every shift fun to work. Attorneys and investment bankers would sit elbow to elbow with bikers, musicians and artists, and their conversations were always priceless. Once, I overheard a bevy of drag queens discussing make-up tips with a party of strippers sitting next to them. The two groups eventually pulled their tables together and morphed into a single, loud, hilarious posse. I’m proud that we created a gathering place, and a culture, that makes this type of camaraderie possible. 

Politicians like to keep people fighting amongst themselves because that’s how they maintain their power. And if you follow the mainstream media these days, you’d be convinced that the world is filled with nothing but hate and division. In my experience, this is simply not true. At least not in the environments that I choose to be a part of, and The Vortex is one of them. I believe that the success of our business is proof that mutual respect, common courtesy, a positive attitude and a good sense of humor will always allow people to enjoy each other’s company despite whatever their personal differences may be.

I have often wondered what things would be like if I had never moved to Atlanta and opened The Vortex. Obviously, the lives of me and my family would be very different, but the lives of so many other people would also have been impacted, in one way or another. When I think about the interconnectedness of our actions, it’s awe-inspiring. The unique fellowship that blossomed in our bar has fostered countless life-long friendships. People have met and married. Children have been born. Birthdays, anniversaries, good times and bad times have all become part of the fabric of this eccentric little endeavor that we began so long ago on a shoestring budget. And that’s a big part of what has made our efforts so rewarding.

We consider it a privilege to have shared in the lives of our patrons, our employees and so many other unique individuals over the years. And thanks to the continuous support of these beautiful people, The Vortex has become an authentic Atlanta institution. And I offer my personal pledge that we will remain true to our non-conformist roots. We will always revel in being the crazy, independent bar that treats everyone like family (even when it means verbally spanking folks if they get out of line). We will always be a place where good people can come for a good time, and can even become part of our quirky little family if they’d like.

Heading into yet another New Year, I want to offer my heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has provided encouragement to me and my family over the years. Every single one of you is appreciated much more than I can express with these simple words, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’d like to encourage everyone to recognize that life is precious, and that tomorrow is not guaranteed. That’s why it’s so very important to love and appreciate everything and everyone around you, today and every day. Even when life seems hard, always look for the good. If you do, I promise you’ll find it.

Merry Christmas to you all
– from your good friends at The Vortex.


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.