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BURGERS, BOOZE & BASTARDS

The Vortex Blog

All posts by Michael Benoit

HAPPY SNORTS AND A WIGGLY BUTT

My friend Ashley is an angel. When it comes to canines, anyway. She’s been rescuing homeless pups for as long as I’ve known her. Bully breeds in particular. She even founded the Atlanta ResponsiBully Coalition to help advocate for these often misunderstood dogs. Her dedication is inspiring. So it was not unusual for my wife and I to meet a different foster dog every time we’d go to Ashley’s house. But we never considered adopting one. It just wouldn’t be practical. We were both way too busy running our restaurants. And besides, we lived in a condo. But as I learned, common sense doesn’t apply when it comes to matters of the heart. Any thought of practicality flew right out the window the day my wife met Jezebel.

I’ll admit it. There was something special about this sweet white pup who looked like Petey from the Little Rascals. But she was scrappy, to say the least. Just skin and bones, with teets that dragged on the ground. And of course, she was heartworm positive. All the signs of irresponsible dog ownership were there. Ashley told us that she had been locked in a foreclosed house with no food or water, and left to die. Probably used as a breeder, and abandoned when she was no longer useful to her owner. So when Jezebel walked over to my wife, placed her warm puppy head in my wife’s hands, and stared up with soleful eyes that said, “My life has been hard. Will you take care of me?” – that was all it took. This dog was coming home with us. Nothing I could possibly say would change this fact. Absolutely nothing.

This poor mistreated little dog had every reason to be skeptical of people, but she was willing to give herself over to us with joy and enthusiasm. That is the magic of dogs. She created a special place for herself in our home and in our hearts. She’s even gone on to become the official spokespup of my wife’s restaurant, Bone Garden Cantina. Jezebel’s portrait hangs on the wall above the host stand, and she appears on coasters and postcards that celebrate her adorableness (and love of tacos and fiestas). And even though she has been a part of our lives for six years now, every time she welcomes us home with her happy snorts and a wiggly butt, she reminds us what it feels like to be completely accepted and unconditionally loved. It’s pretty remarkable. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows exactly what I’m talking about.

FREE THE NIPPLE

Men are allowed to walk around barechested in public. All men. All the time. They can just whip off their shirts whenever they feel the urge, even if they’re sporting an impressive set of double-D manboobs. Women do not generally enjoy the same right. And in the few places where it’s legal for women to go topless (like New York City), they still run the risk of being arrested for indecency. Total bullshit, right? I’m not the only one who thinks so. An actual movement has grown up around this issue. It’s called, “Topfreedom.” Once a movement has a name you know it’s official.

In 2014, filmmaker Lina Esco released a movie called “Free The Nipple.” It received a rare NC-17 rating because there was a lot of chick nip in it. Why is the female nipple still taboo when gratuitous violence and bountiful man nipple are perfectly acceptable in movies? It’s not even the exposure of boobs that’s the problem. Cleavage, side-boob, under-boob, even entirely exposed breasts with pasties covering the areolas are all perfectly legal. It’s just that pernicious little lady nipple causing all the trouble.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “So what do aliens think about this situation?” Well, the spiritual leader of the Raëlian movement believes, among other things, that the human race was created thousand of years ago by scientists from outer space, and we continue to be visited by UFO’s to this day. He also thinks women face unjust censorship with regard to their upper lady bits, so he founded “GoTopless.org.” Due to the fact that American women earned the right to vote on August 26, 1920, GoTopless.org now holds their annual demonstrations across the country on the Sunday closest to this date.

So mark your calendars, defenders of freedom. This year, the official “Go Topless Day” will fall on Sunday, August 23rd. The demonstration in Atlanta will be held at 2:00 pm in Woodruff Park, downtown. According to the “Boob Map” posted on the group’s website, Atlanta city officials intend to arrest any woman who protests topless. Well, sometimes you’ve just got to take a stand for what is right, without concern for the consequences. So I’ll be there, doing my part to help free the nipple. And if I happen to end up in a jail cell full of topless women who believe in UFO’s, I will gladly accept my fate. Some things are worth fighting for.

DIRTY, SMELLY AND HOMELESS

I often do things on a whim. Like my new year’s resolution. I decided not to shave, or cut my hair, for all of 2015. Why? Mostly because I’ve never done it, and I was curious to see just how long my beard would get. Besides, it seems like a fairly low-maintenance option. I like low-maintenance. It’s also kind of ridiculous. And I like ridiculous even more. But that’s it. That’s all the thought I put into this hairy scheme. I’m just surprised how many people want to share their opinions about it with me, especially since I didn’t ask. And I don’t really care what people think. Ever. About anything.

Of course my friend Hollis has been very vocal with her opinion. She claims my ever-increasing facial hair basically amounts to self-inflicted “chick repellant.” Since I’m married to the most awesome woman in the universe, this wouldn’t matter to me, even if it were true. But I countered with the observation that I’ve received quite a few compliments from young ladies who work at The Vortex. “Of course they’re going to compliment you!” Hollis snapped back. “You sign their damn paychecks, you retard!” I suppose she could be right, although I thought sucking-up to the boss had become a lost art. 

Taking her harassment a step further (as she often does), she posted a picture of me, on my own damn Facebook page, along with the following query, “FEMALES: Michael thinks his new look is rockin’ with the chicks. I think he looks like Randy Quaid and should shave his adorable face. What do you think?” She followed-up by posting additional photos of Randy Quaid, Saddam Hussein and an obviously insane Howard Hughs wearing a diaper. The replies she got (from her followers) were the expected comparisons to Santa, Hobbits, Snow White’s dwarves, a demented Papa Smurf, Charles Manson’s happy brother and Sasquatch, along with a nice assortment of comments about me looking old, dirty, smelly and homeless.

Being a gentleman, I will not comment on the physical attributes of any of these negative posters. But I’d like to point out that a recent study conducted by the University of Western Australia unequivocally concluded that beards enhance male sexual attractiveness to females. Sure, the study was conducted mostly with monkeys, but that’s beside the point. The matter at hand is a much simpler one. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. So on New Year’s Eve, I’ll be deciding what to do with my (then) one-year-old beard. But since my plans for retirement include starting a cult, and all the best cult leaders have awesome beards, don’t be surprised to find this hairy persona sticking around for awhile.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Booze is great. And if you don’t think so, you’re just anti-American. The Founding Fathers wanted us to be free. Free to drink alcohol, for one. Only a couple of decades after seriously kicking some British ass, George Washington was operating the largest whiskey distillery in the United States. Thomas Jefferson regularly brewed beer, and stocked the White House with wine when he was President. John Hancock ran a liquor distributing company. Lincoln was a bartender, and owned his own tavern. The list of patriotic, booze-loving American heros goes on and on. Because freedom, that’s why.

But it never takes tyrants long to ruin a good thing. In the early 19th century, “temperance” movements began to pop up across the United States. Who supported them? Mostly religious fanatics and racists. The Klan were big supporters. They associated crime with those dirty liquored-up immigrants. Carrie Nation was also a leader in the movement. Since her husband was a drunkard, she reasoned that no one should ever be allowed to drink. Besides, God told her so. Her typical routine was to enter private bars, singing spirituals and praying, and then she’d bust the joints up with a hatchet. With a fucking hatchet! Why does it seem that the people who “speak with God” tend to be both crazy and violent. All I know, is if some lunatic came into my bar swinging a hatchet, the bouncers would deal with that situation in short order. Bye-bye, Carrie.

Sadly, bar owners allowed this psychopath to continue largely unchallenged, until the 18th Ammendment was eventually ratified. Prohibition was the law of the land from 1920 until 1933. If this futile experiment taught us anything, it’s that anti-freedom legislation is always a bad idea. Enjoying alcohol is not immoral, but turning previously law abiding citizens into criminals with the stroke of a pen definitely is. Whenever tyrannical laws are enacted, they always result in unintended consequences. Prohibition cost America thousands of jobs, and much needed tax revenue as we entered the Great Depression. But even worse, instead of stopping crime as supporters claimed it would, prohibition ushered in a new era of far reaching, well-armed criminal syndicates. Violent crime increased to levels never seen in our country’s history. So thanks for the Mafia, Carrie Nation, you deranged maniac.

Prior to the law taking effect, many wealthy Americans simply stockpiled alcohol, buying up the inventories of liquor retailers and wholesalers who were forced out of business by government decree. President Woodrow Wilson moved his own personal supply of booze from the White House to his home when his term was over. His successor, Warren G. Harding, transferred his large personal stash into the White House following his inauguration. Before the congressional elections of 1930, bootlegger George Cassiday reported how he had been providing hooch to members of congress since the very beginning of Prohibition. By his estimate, 80% of congressmen and senators were embibing. As always, if you were well connected you could simply skirt the law. The brunt of the negative impact of this legislation was suffered primarily by the working-class poor. Sound familiar?

THE INTERNET IS NOT A WEBSITE

My initial introduction to the internet was many years ago, on my big old 75-pound desktop computer, which, if I recall, was powered by gasoline. I remember how excited I was the first time I used a search engine. And not just because every keyword I entered would bring up porn. Nope. It was the idea that so much knowledge, so much information was right there at my fingertips. At everyone’s fingertips. It was clearly a new dawn of awareness for humanity. If ignorance were to continue in the world, it would now be solely by choice. Sadly, that choice continues to be very popular.

I deal directly with this type of ignorance in the form of people being mad at my employees. People show up with their 4 kids and are mad that we have a 21-and-over policy. People want their free birthday meal and are mad that we don’t actually offer that as an option. People come when we’re closed, and are mad about that. “But I read it on the internet,” they will angrily declare. Well guess what, folks? Just because you read it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t be mad at us about it. To further clarify, The Vortex does not control the internet. Only our teensie weensie little corner of it.

Every single day I read inaccurate stuff about The Vortex. From online articles, to foodie blogs, to the yippy-yappy review sites – spurious information is everywhere. But if you want to find actual, factual information about a business, it’s remarkably easy. Just visit their website. That’s what websites are for. Like most reputable businesses, we strive to keep ours up-to-date. And if errors are ever pointed out by our loyal fans, we always correct them as soon as possible. So if you read a policy on our website, it’s most likely going to be true. But if you read something about our business that we were not responsible for writing, it just might not be. Shocking, I know. False information posted on the internet. What is this world coming to?

EATING YOURSELF STUPID

I once butchered an entire pig to make my own tasty bacon, sausage and pork chops. And it was a really cute pig. So I think I could have become a chef in an alternate universe. But instead I own a bar that many people consider a restaurant. Sure, it’s just a burger joint, but we serve some pretty damn good burgers. My wife and I also own the best Mexican restaurant in Atlanta (Yeah, in my humble opinion, the best by far). Hell, my retirement plans even include organic farming and animal husbandry. In spite of all this, I would never refer to myself as a “foodie.”

When people label themselves it often ends badly. Back in the 1980’s, “young urban professionals” began referring to themselves as “yuppies.” That’s a true story, kids. The word began as an acronym to describe upwardly-mobile, under-40s who were not ashamed to flaunt their success. It was a badge of honor. But eventually their attitude became viewed as elitist, because it fucking was. Now the term is considered derogatory. People don’t call themselves yuppies anymore.

So when will this happen to “foodie?” People continue to use this label proudly, and it always makes me cringe. We’re currently living in the “Age of the Foodie.” It seems all the interconnected corporate machinery is conspiring to get Western civilization to eat itself stupid. Food channels are rife with “celebrity” chefs who hawk their wares in trendy specialty shops and supermarkets. Super-exclusive (and super-expensive) restaurants dot the landscape from N.Y. to L.A. and back again. And all this malarkey continues to be the subject of hyper-polished profiles in fashionable magazines, eventually leeching out into the darkest nether regions of the internet, which by now has been completely overrun with food bloggers. Please. For the love of God. Make it stop.

First, the label is divisive. But that’s by design. The terminally self-aggrandizing like it that way. It represents undeniable evidence of their sophistication and superiority to the unwashed masses. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying good food, or even getting excited about a particular chef. But you don’t have to be an obnoxious jerk about it. The self-proclaimed foodies of today are the same as the self-proclaimed yuppies of yesterday. They’re just practicing an updated version of elitism and exclusion. And enjoying good food should never be about exclusion. More than anything else, what I appreciate about food is how a thoughtfully prepared meal can bring people together. I really love good food. No label necessary.

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY BALLS

I recently learned that “listicle” is an actual word. I am not making this up. Surprisingly it doesn’t have anything to do with your balls. Or my balls. Or anyone’s testicles for that matter. It is an amalgam of the words “list” and “article.” It’s simply a style of writing in which an article takes the form of a numbered list. It has been suggested that the word “listicle” also evokes the thought of “popsicle,” meaning that while they might be fun, they are void of any real nutritional value. Some people think listicles are a cheap hook. A writer’s crutch. But the secret is that listicles have been insidiously designed to engage our reactive reptilian brain. And it totally works.

My friend Hollis writes a column for Paste magazine. She recently wrote a listicle entitled, “How to Keep Your Ignorant Ass from Getting Kidnapped in Colombia.” It was a humor piece, but all the initial comments she received were from angry Colombians calling for her head. Remarks like “take your anti-Colombian hate elsewhere, pendeja!” were not uncommon. This type of writing really gets people’s attention, which is exactly the point. Listicles get people riled-up. They get people talking, arguing, commenting and sharing articles online. And writing that garners attention also helps generate revenue. For this reason, listicles have become very popular. So, unlike my balls, you’ll probably be seeing more and more of them in the coming years.

Time for a reality check. The idea that journalistic integrity keeps a barrier between advertisers and editorial copy is fallacy. More often than not, listicles are inaccurate, erroneous, or purely fabricated, based on nothing more that the authors personal agenda, who their friends are, or what kind of kick-backs they can get for including certain businesses on their list. To be clear, listicles are not journalism. They’re literary junk food and PR click bait. Once you recognize this fact, you are free to gorge on their absurdity, without giving yourself a brain aneurism. And since I’m not a journalist, but a bar owner with a blog, you just might see some listicles coming from me one of these days. After all, you know you can’t resist a good list.

IT WARMS MY ICY BLACK HEART

Life is too short to tolerate jerks. So when we opened for business, it became my personal mission to educate our customers on acceptable behavior. My main teaching tool was (and still is) a list of house rules called, “Stuff You Really Need To Know.” I didn’t want anyone to overlook them, so I printed them right on the front of our menu. Even though we’ve maintained these no-nonsense policies for well over 20 years, demanding dimwits sometimes still accidently stumble into The Vortex. But the vast majority of our patrons are pretty damn awesome, so my efforts have obviously not been in vain.

The truth is, our loyal fans have always known how to behave appropriately in a bar. They didn’t need our rules for that. But they sure do appreciate the fact that we post them. In fact, they welcome all our efforts to keep The Vortex an official “Idiot-Free Zone,” because it just creates a better experience for everyone. Except for the idiots, of course. Over the years, many of my colleagues in the bar business have personally thanked me for creating this list. No shit. They really have. Anyone that has ever worked in the service industry will totally understand why.

This overwhelming show of appreciation warms my icy black heart. So much so, I plan on producing a new podcast to help keep the conversation going. The podcast, which we’ll call “Vortex Radio,” will offer candid discussions on a broad range of topics related to the bar business. We also plan on featuring a wide array of special guests, including servers and bartenders, restaurant owners, chefs, barflies, local celebrities and all sorts of people who can offer their own unique perspective on the hospitality industry. We hope it becomes another fun outlet to share ridiculous Vortex stories with our fans. Needless to say, drinking while listening will be highly encouraged.

THE REAL DEAL

In case you haven’t heard, burgers have become the latest victim of foodie flim-flam. Every self-proclaimed taste maker with a social media feed has conspired to turn one of my favorite foods, the humble hamburger, into the apex of hipster gastronomy. I hadn’t given this unfortunate circumstance much thought until recently, when I read a snide comment by a local “food writer.” He suggested that any success The Vortex has enjoyed is only due to the limited competition we faced when we opened back in 1992. Now that a surplus of fashionable designer burgers are clogging up the local haute cuisine scene, he feels that Vortex burgers are no longer worthy of your attention. Not with all the flashy new interpretations available to cram in your pie-hole. Or is it cupcake-hole? I just can’t keep up.

Listen, if you’re a big fan of gastromolecular cuisine, that’s great. Can’t get enough truffle oil in your diet? Good for you. Love to Instagram photos of every damn meal you eat? Sure, that’s kind of annoying, but whatever tickles your pickle. If you fancy yourself some kind of burger connoisseur, I’m not going to argue about it. You should feel free to do whatever you want, and eat whatever you want. But trying to marginalize the genuine article in a cheap attempt to promote overblown, novelty food to urban hipsters is really unnecessary. Not to mention a huge insult to our extremely large and loyal fan base.

The Vortex was one of the first places to introduce unique, high-quality burgers to Atlanta way back before it was trendy. So while some “hipper-than-thou” critic may be bored with what we do, I can assure him that not everyone feels that way. The sheer quantity of burgers we continue to sell proves this beyond any doubt. The Vortex has often been referred to as the Godfather of Atlanta’s burger culture. The fact that we’ve been doing what we do, quite successfully, for well over 20 years confirms this unofficial title. While trends (and trendy restaurants) may come and go, authenticity will always stand the test of time. And I can state with confidence that Vortex burgers, and Vortex fans, are the real deal.

CRYING OVER SPILLED BEER

I personally believe if a U.S. citizen is considered responsible enough to vote, enter into legally binding contracts, serve on a jury, and be treated as an adult by our court system, then they should also be able to go to a bar. Unfortunately, the government disagrees with me. Sure, the government thinks 18-year-olds are responsible enough to put on a uniform and serve in the military, but enjoy a tasty local microbrew? Now you’re just advocating anarchy.

At 21, the United States has the highest minimum drinking age of all the industrialized nations on earth. But that’s only because our legislators know what’s best. In fact, their ideas are so good, they’re mandatory. The Vortex does not make these laws, but it’s our job to figure out the best ways to comply, because the livelihood of a whole bunch of really nice people depends on it. That’s why we recently changed to 21-and-over policy for entry. Needless to say, our decision has caused a few tears.

So I’d like to suggest the following options for college students; 1) Suck it up, and wait it out. Sure, it blows. But it’s only three more years, or less. 2) Get yourself a really good fake ID, just like your parents did, or 3) Dry those tears and do a little work. There are several organizations actively seeking to change the minimum drinking age in the United States. They include the National Youth Rights Association, Choose Responsibility, the Amethyst Initiative, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Use the google machine. Find out more. Get involved. Be the change. That’s a much better use of your time than crying over spilled beer.