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The Vortex Blog

SMOKING SURVEY UPDATE #2

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?

CLARIFICATION
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.

SMOKING SURVEY UPDATE

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.

THE VORTEX SMOKING SURVEY

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.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

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.

JUST LIKE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALL THE BABYSITTER

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

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

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

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

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

A TREASURE TROVE OF IDIOCY

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

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

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

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

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

JUST STROKE IT

Several years ago, a good customer of The Vortex ​presented us with a carved wooden phallus, slightly over a foot tall, that he had purchased in Thailand. He explained that if we displayed it near our front door​ it would help “attract money and bring success.” We thanked him for his thoughtfulness and immediately placed it among the liquor bottles behind our bar. Soon after, we were contacted by the Travel Channel, and featured on “Man vs. Food.” That television exposure undeniably helped our business. So, was this whole chain of events purely coincidental? I didn’t think so.

In fact, I was so convinced of the power contained in this wooden wang, I made it a personal mission to help spread the good fortune to our loyal patrons. I contacted an old artist friend, and commissioned a bigger, better version of the magical phallus. On Easter Sunday of 2014, the new 3-foot high piece of sculpted mahogany splendor known as the #DickOfDestiny was installed in the Midtown Vortex. Since that time, hundreds (maybe thousands) of customers have given our big wooden dick a good rub, and made a wish or said a little personal prayer. Does it work? Many people swear that it does.

Imagery of the phallus has been prevalent and widespread throughout the world since the beginning of recorded history. Found within the art and religious practices of many cultures, the phallus is symbolic of strength, fertility, good fortune, prosperity, and protection. So next time you visit the Midtown Vortex, just stroke our big dick and see what happens. The universe is a mystery. What have you got to lose?

A TASTY EFFECT

A million years ago when I was a kid, my siblings and I gave our parents a fancy barbecue grill for Christmas. While skeptical at first, my father grew to love cooking on it. Our memories of him in the backyard cheerfully cooking thick, juicy burgers over an open flame must have been resonating in our collective consciousness when we opened The Vortex​. Back in those days there just weren’t many places to get great burgers in Atlanta, so we decided that serving a flame-grilled burger, just like the ones our dad used to make for us, would be a good move. As it turns out, we were right.

Now twenty-three years later there seems to be an over-abundance of burger offerings in our city. Many of the new places use a flat-top griddle (or frying pan) as their chosen cooking method. It’s easy to understand why. it’s faster and easier, and picking a “cooking temperature” is generally not allowed. It streamlines the process. Both flame-grilling and pan-frying rely on the “Maillard Effect” for creating much of the flavor. This is a complex series of reactions between amino acids and reducing sugars in the meat, in which hundreds of different compounds are created. While technical, it is a very tasty effect. But the addition of that distinctly “charred” flavor-profile can only be attained through the use of fire.

As an experiment, we took a Vortex burger patty and slapped it on our flat-top griddle. Then we tasted it side-by-side with a second Vortex burger patty cooked over an open flame on our chargrill. The difference in flavor created by these two cooking methods was more subtle than I would have imagined, but it was still apparent. I can’t say one is better than the other, because of course they’re both good, just somehow different. Since we are the Godfather of Atlanta’s burger culture, and because we’ve always tried to provide our fans with a variety of tasty options, we decided to add a couple of these griddled “Old-School” burgers to our menu.

Beginning today, you can now order our “Retro Diner Burger” and “Ultimate Patty Melt.” They’re both really good, and a fun departure from our staple flame-grilled Vortex burgers. We have always believed that variety is a good thing. Some people might think that serving a pan-fried burger at The Vortex is some sort of burger-blasphemy. But if my dear pops were around today I have no doubt he’d be happy to give one a try, and I know he’d approve. After all, a tasty burger is a tasty burger regardless of how you get there.

CRACK AND W!ENERS

In 1997, when we decided to relocate The Vortex from West Peachtree to Peachtree Street, people did not hesitate to tell us we were crazy. And maybe we were. After all, the stretch of Peachtree we moved to was pretty sketchy. None of today’s soaring modern condo towers or fancy shops existed. Far from it. The area had more of a post-apocalyptic, urban wasteland feel to it in those days.

For instance, just one block south of our new location, the Atlanta Cabana Hotel had represented the pinnacle of mid-century modern design when it originally opened in 1958. But as people began abandoning the city for the suburbs in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, it fell into disrepair. During one of its final incarnations as a Quality Inn, it was routinely rented out to a variety of unorthodox groups. A girlfriend of mine once had her nipples pierced at a “Sex Toy” convention held there. Well, actually only one nipple. She couldn’t take the pain. Anyway, by the time we had moved to the neighborhood, the hotel had been permanently shuttered, and sat decaying behind a rusty chain link fence.

The soviet-style brick building that we actually moved into was originally built in 1950. It served as offices for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and later the Georgia Department of Human Resources. The government eventually abandoned the site in the early ‘90s, as the area became increasingly seedy. The building remained boarded-up and blighted until it was acquired by local developer, Jim Borders. His idea was to redevelop the property into apartments with retail spaces on the bottom floor, and open in time for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. I’m sure a lot of people thought he was crazy too.

Directly behind us, Cypress Street literally had a world-wide reputation as the place to pick-up male prostitutes. The scene reminded me of the Native American legend that described a time when a warrior could walk from horizon to horizon on the backs of the buffalo without stepping on the ground. Sure, there were a lot of buffalo on the great plains, but I’m guessing there were actually more hustlers behind The Vortex. In fact, you couldn’t drive your car down the street without nudging them out of the way. If you did manage to squeeze through, these young men would openly display their sizeable packages for your inspection, day or night. They were just remarkably friendly, in a terrifying sort of way.

Directly across the street was a Citco gas station that we lovingly referred to as the “Crack-co,” because drug dealers openly sold crack in the parking lot. Catty-corner was a boarded-up Krystal, and just beyond that was the notorious Backstreet nightclub. Originally opened in 1975, this was one of a handful of Atlanta clubs that operated 24/7. They featured a long-running drag show which was immensely popular with both a gay and straight clientele. This place was actually pretty awesome. I’m not ashamed to admit that I stumbled out of its dark depths into the morning sunshine on more than one occasion. But eight years after we moved in to our new location, the forces of politics and gentrification finally caught up with Backstreet, and it too was replaced with a shiny new condo high-rise.

Sometimes the nostalgic side of me yearns for a $3 pitcher of beer at the Stein Club, the smoky dive bar that served as refuge from the trendy Buckhead bar scene of the day. Or a bowl of seafood etouffee from the little French Quarter Food Shop, served-up by Missy, the diminutive owner with the mouth of a sailor. But sadly, those spots were also demolished to make room for more redevelopment. To some it may seem that The Vortex was part of the first wave of urban-pioneers willing to invest in a questionable part of Atlanta. But in hindsight, what I have come to realize, is that The Vortex is actually one of the last remaining links to the “good ol’ days” of drinking and debauchery in this town. So if anyone wants to join me in a toast to those times, you’ll find me sitting at my bar. Come on in. Everyone is still welcome here.