In 1956 Manuel Maloof bought Harry's Delicatessen, a quiet sandwich and beer joint on the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta. The store featured a front of Stone Mountain granite and an interior of makeshift counters and fluorescent lights.
Manuel wanted to create from this a neighborhood watering hole, modeled on the old country taverns he had visited while stationed in England during World War II. To match that vision, he salvaged furnishings from grand old homes and stores scheduled for demolition -- light fixtures, wall paneling, mismatched chairs, tables and booths--and opened Manuel's Tavern.
Manuel obtained the main bar itself from his father, Gibran Maloof, who owned the Tip Top Billiard Parlor on Pryor Street. It was barely saved from a fire at the Parlor and then moved to Manuel's. That bar, which is now the centerpiece of the Tavern, is over a century old. It is dotted with plaques bearing the names of Manuel's regulars who have passed on.
Time and customers provided the Tavern's other physical characteristics, such as the burn scars on the bar and tabletops, the nicotine stained walls and pictures, the beer can collection, and even the nude painting of a customer's wife, which Manuel bought for $200 because the man was pressed for money.
Over time, Manuel and his brother Robert, who joined the business shortly after it opened, acquired the adjoining buildings next to their small business and expanded the Tavern. First they added one room, then another, all oddly shaped and accessible by short stairways and ramps. These spaces became meeting places for the ever-expanding crowds.
As the Tavern grew, so did Manuel's career in politics. Robert took over the day-to-day operations. Manuel eventually became CEO of Dekalb County. His political career dovetailed with the Tavern, which he said gave him "an ideal vantage point from which to observe his widely diverse patrons" and the opportunity "to listen to the man on the street."
Over time, Manuel developed friends on the local, state, and national levels of politics.
Eventually, Manuel retired from both the Tavern and politics, following three terms as CEO of DeKalb County. He is still fondly referred to as the "Godfather" of Georgia Democratic politics.
Manuel Maloof passed away in August of 2004. But the Tavern still bears the mark of his political and historic legacy. It is known as the place where Jimmy Carter first announced his intentions to run for governor in 1970. It is where Emory theologian Tom Altizer first talked about his theory that God was "dead." It is where L.A. Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda, writer James Dickey, Senator Sam Nunn, actor Brian Dennehy, singer David Crosby, and Atlanta mayors Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson, and Shirley Franklin, and many, many more have dropped in through the years to meet patrons and discuss current affairs. Reminders of these events and more line the walls of every room of the Tavern, now more than 4,000 square feet large and still gathering crowds from every walk of life.
Though Manuel has passed and Robert has retired, the Tavern is still owned and operated by the Maloof family and run by several loyal employees--some of whom have been here for more than 30 years--all of whom play an integral part in moving the Tavern toward the next half-century.