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BURGERS, BOOZE & BASTARDS

The Vortex Blog

All posts by Michael Benoit

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.

SAVE YOUR OUTRAGE

So far, it seems our supporters are highly in favor of our “21-and-over” policy change. We have even received some very nice, rational comments from fans under 21, like the email we got from Kristen. She said, “I understand why you guys are changing The Vortex to be 21 or older, but just know that I’m going to miss it big time. I’ll be back in a year and 4 months though! My friends and I absolutely love coming here. Thanks for everything you do!” Nice, right? Kristen is the type of person that makes running our business so rewarding. Kristen is a true fan of The Vortex. Let’s just come right out and say it – we love Kristen.

On the flipside, I’ve seen comments that make me wonder why people bother following us on Facebook. Do they even understand what the “like” button means? I don’t think they do. I find the strangest responses to be the ones filled with anger and outrage. How is that even a remotely appropriate reaction to a policy change at a bar? After all, it’s just a policy change at a bar. If these crazy bastards are that easily outraged, maybe liquor consumption is not the best choice for them in the first place.

Disappointed, I get. I can even appreciate frustrated. But outraged? I do not understand outraged. The world provides no shortage of terrible things to be outraged about, and in the right context outrage can be morally appropriate. So, save your outrage for the fact that our government spies on every one of us every day. Save your outrage for the fact that “asset forfeiture” is legal. Save your outrage for something that actually matters. In the grand scheme of things, our age policy doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit. We just sell burgers and beer, man. Burgers and beer. Take a deep breath. Everything will be okay.

WE RUINED ANDREW’S BIRTHDAY

Last September we began to notify our customers that we’d be raising the age for entry from 18 to 21, beginning in 2015. We posted signs in the bars, put the information on our website and Facebook pages, and braced ourselves for the deluge of salty teenage tears. Of course, most of the crying came from people who would personally be affected by this change. But oddly enough, some of their weird helicopter parents also seemed very upset. Andrea S. commented, “Just ruined my sons 18 bday for next year!! Good job!!” Then, further down on the same Facebook thread, Andrew S. commented, “There goes my 18th birthday.” We know dude, you’re mom already told us. Dad, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to post a comment. We get it. We ruined precious Andrew’s 18th birthday. We’re really sorry.

SLOW LEARNERS

The “Georgia Smoke-Free Air Act of 2005” basically forced every bar (and restaurant) owner in the State to choose between admitting minors, or offering their patrons the option to smoke. Doing both would no longer be legal. That’s when The Vortex became an “18-and-over” establishment. Saying “bye-bye” to the kiddies was really a no-brainer for us. The Vortex is a bar. Many of our best customers (and friends) are smokers. But children? Not so much.

Of course, some people cried and whined about it. But our supporters absolutely loved the new policy. And while our fans liked the fact they could still smoke in our bar, they let us know that what they really enjoyed was eating, drinking and socializing in an adult environment. Their happiness was substantiated by a big increase in profits, which in turn spread their happiness directly to me. So, everyone I loved ended up being pretty happy about the change.

In hindsight, we should have gone to a “21-and-over” policy back in 2005. But we didn’t. Instead, we chose to deal with all the difficulties of running a bar that admits people under the legal drinking age for another ten years. Ten really long years. But, on January 1st of this year, we finally wised up. We realized it was time for The Vortex to become a totally 100% genuine, bonafide, certified, “21-and-over” bar. You know, a bar. For adults that like bars. And booze. I mean, that’s what we thought we were opening back in 1992. So it only took us 23 years to finally figure it out. See. Even slow learners can learn. Eventually

NAIVE ABOUT BABIES

Before my siblings and I opened our business, we thought, “what would be better than going to a job everyday?” The answer was obviously, “going to a bar everyday.” We really like bars. And we didn’t want to get jobs. So we opened The Vortex back in 1992, as a secret hangout for ourselves. Perfectly logical, right? The original location was a tiny hidden treasure. My brother, sister and I made up a majority of the staff, and once we opened for business, we immediately began having way too much fun.

Being the freedom-loving folks we are, we didn’t implement any age restriction when we opened. If people wanted to bring their children to our bar, we didn’t see any problem with it. So back in the early days you could often find big plastic baby-carriers, filled with actual live babies, sitting right up on the bar-top of our smoky little corner pub. Being new to Atlanta, we assumed bringing babies to bars was just some quaint ”southern” custom we hadn’t heard about. And maybe it was.

Eventually we realized we were naive about babies. An “all-ages” policy for a bar was a bad idea. Over the years, too many clueless mothers and fathers allowed their demon spawn to terrorize everyone, including us. When parents began chastising us about how inappropriate our bar was for their little angels, our reply was usually something like, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be bringing your kids to a bar.” I mean seriously, not everything is right for everyone. And babies really don’t belong in bars.

MY EVER-EVOLVING MESS

I learned from my tech guy that searching the word “vortex” on the interwebs, in any variation, will bring up our website before anything else. I had nothing to do with this fact, but I understand that it’s kind of a big deal. He also let me know The Vortex website gets thousands of unique visitors each month. Thousands. That’s when I realized that maybe I should add some new features in 2015, to engage our awesome fans. So first up, my new blog. You’re welcome, awesome fans.

I’ve never written a blog before, so I contacted my friend Hollis. She’s a published author. In fact, she only became a writer due to my constant, unwavering encouragement back in the early days of The Vortex. If it wasn’t for our inspiring little chats while she was sitting at my bar getting drunk, she’d probably be living under a bridge today. That’s why she’s always happy to help me out. So when I showed her a rough draft of my first blog post, she quickly told me, “It’s too long. People have short attention spans these days, especially for blogs.” She advised me that most blogs run between 250 and 350 words. So that’s the advice I’ve been given so far, and I’m not sure I’ll even follow it. I mean, what can I possibly say in just 300 words? I guess we’ll see.

In the beginning, I plan on writing about what it’s like to run The Vortex. I’ll probably be up for tackling other topics in the long run, but initially I want to give my readers an inside look at the craziness that occurs behind the scenes of our notorious bars. I’ll most likely write about stuff that bugs me too. You know, kind of like blog-therapy. Needless to say, this blog will probably get sloppy and haphazard, and maybe a little crass at times, but I promise it will always be genuine and honest. If you choose to check-in here each week (and I hope you do), you’ll get to witness this ever-evolving mess, first hand. I’d love to tell you more, but I’ve already gone way over my 350 word maximum. Damn. This isn’t going to be easy.

INCIDENT STATEMENT FROM THE VORTEX – L5P

An incident occurred recently at The Vortex that has become a topic of conversation on social media. To help avoid any misinformation, the following is our official statement.

On July 6, 2017, we received a complaint, via email, from a customer named Kristina. In her email she conveyed a story about receiving poor service on the previous day, from a server named Gaven. She felt that Gaven’s negative attitude may have reflected a racist attitude on his part. She further explained, that due to her dissatisfaction with his service, instead of adding a tip in the tip line of her credit card slip, she wrote “Treat everyone the same.” She further reported that after she had left The Vortex, apparently Gaven had shared the note on Kristina’s charge slip with his boyfriend Patrick, who happened to be dining in Gaven’s section at the same time. After reading Kristina’s message, it seems that Patrick took it upon himself to find Kristina on Facebook and proceeded to send her hostile and ignorant messages, which were saved in screen shots.

At this point I think it’s important to clarify that Gaven had only been employed at The Vortex for a matter of weeks. And Patrick has never been employed by us at all. At The Vortex, we have developed a detailed set of training materials regarding proper service and acceptable employee behavior. Of course, none of Gaven’s behavior was acceptable, or condoned by us.

We rely on our loyal patrons to make us aware of any bad behavior they may witness on the part of our staff. This gives us the opportunity to investigate these situations, and take whatever corrective action is appropriate. Being attentive to the concerns of our customers has helped us maintain a quality experience for all of our guests over the past 25 years. Below is the email reply, sent out on the same day (7/6/17) by one of The Vortex co-owners:

“Kristina,
We sincerely appreciate you bringing this issue to our attention. Our goal has always been to foster an atmosphere of fun and mutual respect at The Vortex. We completely agree with the sentiment “treat everyone the same” and strictly demand it of our staff, with no exceptions. It seems as though we did not deliver on that promise during your recent visit. Gaven is a new employee who apparently does not understand our mission. In no event will we ever tolerate our patrons being bullied or harassed by anyone, including friends or family of our staff. We take this matter very seriously and will be taking swift corrective action. Rest assured, Gaven and Patrick will not be allowed to return to The Vortex. We hope this will not deter you from patronizing The Vortex again in the future. We would be happy to provide you with a Vortex Gift Certificate in an attempt to apologize for this unfortunate experience.”

The General Manager then followed-up with a phone call to Kristina, to make sure that she had received the owner’s reply, and to get a mailing address for the Gift Certificate, which was sent out immediately. In an attempt to avoid the chance of allowing Gaven the opportunity to upset any more customers, the General Manager then called him in on his day off to serve him with a separation notice. His employment was terminated for gross misconduct, with the understanding that he is not welcome to return to the premises. Because Patrick is not an employee, we had our attorney draft a notice of criminal trespass, which was sent to Patrick explaining that he is also no longer allowed on our property.

Unfortunately, some people are just awful. So, all we can do is just keep trying to be good to one another.

CUSTOMER UPDATE (7/27/17):
The customer that had notified us of the poor service she received posted a follow-up comment on her Facebook page about this matter on July 26, 2017. The pertinent quote is as follows: “Since sharing this story and hearing from another patron that also had a terrible experience with the same waiter, I determined The Vortex incident was more of a customer service issue rather than a race issue.”