Atlanta Is Setting Its Storied Neighborhood Bar — In High Resolution

Dec 13, 2015
Originally published on December 13, 2015 11:49 am

Exploring the maze-like layout of Manuel's Tavern is like walking through a museum. And, like museums, the bar is up for its first facelift since it opened nearly 60 years ago, meaning it will close down for several months.

"Not much in this room has changed at all since 1956," says Brian Maloof, the youngest son of the bar's original owner.

Brian Maloof took over Manuel's Tavern after his father, Manuel Maloof, a well-known Atlanta Democrat, died in 2004. Now he's leading it through a challenging time.

In the narrow room where the tavern started, he points to a nude painting on the wall.

"The artist that painted that picture, that's his wife," he says. "He would pay off his bar tabs by leaving us paintings."

Above the bar stools, Maloof points out a dozen or so plaques that belong to regulars who once took those seats as regulars.

He then gestures to a doorway behind the bar, to an urn. The four urns here, all the photos, posters and other mementos put up by staff and customers will have to come down.

"The renovation has been a very scary thing," Maloof says.

"Essentially all the people that love this place, know this place, I'm rearranging their furniture in their home. I mean, they think of this place as their home," he says.

Many people have called him, worried their contributions will be lost, or even just moved.

So when Georgia State University lecturer, Ruth Dusseault approached him about preserving it all digitally, he was relieved.

In a back room at the tavern, Dusseault uses a special camera to take high resolution images.

"The idea really started, because I'm also a resident of the neighborhood and every time I've come here, I've walked around and looked at all the images," she says.

Her idea turned into a project that involves professors, artists and students, who are digitally archiving hundreds of objects and the stories behind them, explain Dusseault and Emory University's Michael Page.

"The end result will be an interactive website, where the public can move around inside of Manuel's," says Dusseult.

"And as they see pictures on the walls, they can click on it, and then they get a high resolution photograph of the image but they can also click and get user stories or the story about, you know, the John F. Kennedy photo or Jimmy Carter, just some of the rich history that's on the walls of Manuel's," Page says.

Sure, the objects in the archive speak to the bar's role as a Democratic hangout, but also as a cop bar, a hub for professors and a meeting place for journalists.

Sitting in a booth, eating lunch is Andy Klubock. In a rapidly-changing city, he says, the tavern's images are a view into the past.

"I've been coming here since '77," he says. "I could probably tell you how each picture is there. It's a great sense of history here in Atlanta."

Manuel's Tavern will still be different after the renovation. But now, at least, Brian Maloof says he can make sure all the objects go back to their original place.

Copyright 2015 WABE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wabe.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

An iconic bar in Atlanta is closing soon for a renovation, its first in 60 years. It's the kind of neighborhood joint where steady patrons inhabit their regular seats. So the fix-up has sparked a community effort to archive the tavern's aging interior. Stephanie Stokes from member station WABE has the story.

STEPHANIE STOKES, BYLINE: Exploring the mazelike layout of Manuel's Tavern is like walking through a museum.

BRIAN MALOOF: Not much in this room has changed at all since 1956.

STOKES: Brian Maloof is the youngest son of the bar's original owner, Manuel Maloof. In the narrow room where the tavern started, he points to a nude painting on the wall.

MALOOF: The artist that painted that picture, that's his wife. He would pay off his bar tabs by leaving us paintings.

STOKES: Maloof turns to the bar. Above the stools, there are a dozen or so plaques.

MALOOF: So what those plaques are is that - where you typically sat as a regular and then the unfortunate year of your passing.

STOKES: After that, Maloof gestures to a doorway behind the bar, to an urn. There are four of them here. Brian Maloof took over Manuel's Tavern after his father, a well-known Atlanta Democrat, died in 2004. Now he's leading it through a challenging time, its first facelift that will close it down for several months.

MALOOF: The renovation has been a very scary thing.

STOKES: All the photos, posters and mementos put up by staff and customers have to come down.

MALOOF: Essentially, all the people that love this place, know this place, I'm rearranging their furniture in their home. I mean, they think of this place as their home.

STOKES: Maloof says many people have called him, worried their contributions will be lost or even just moved. So when a Georgia State University lecturer approached him about preserving it all digitally, he was relieved. In a back room at Manuel's Tavern, Ruth Dusseault uses a special camera to take high-resolution images.

RUTH DUSSEAULT: The idea really started because I'm also a resident of the neighborhood. And every time I've come here, I've walked around and looked at all the images.

STOKES: Dusseault's idea turned into a project that involves professors, artists and students. They're digitally archiving hundreds of objects and the stories behind them. Dusseault and Emory University's Michael Page explain.

DUSSEAULT: The end result will be an interactive website where the public can move around inside of Manuel's.

MICHAEL PAGE: And as they see pictures on the walls, they can click on it. And then they get a high-resolution photograph of the image. But they can also click and get users' stories or the story about, you know, the John F. Kennedy photo or Jimmy Carter or just some of the rich history that's on the walls of Manuel's.

STOKES: The objects in the archives speak to the bar's role as a Democratic hangout, yes, but also as a cop bar, a hub for professors, a meeting place for journalists. Sitting in a booth eating lunch is Andy Klubock. In a rapidly changing city, he says the tavern's images are a view into the past.

ANDY KLUBOCK: I've been coming here since '77. And I could probably tell you how each picture is there. It's a great sense of history here in Atlanta.

STOKES: Manuel's Tavern will be different after the renovation. Now at least, Brian Maloof says, he can make sure all the objects go back to their original place. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Stokes in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.