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.