Manuel’s Tavern is more than a bar.
It’s where Ralph McGill unwound after a full day of giving the Civil Rights Movement a fair shake.
Gene Patterson undoubtedly discussed his famed column, A Flower for the Graves, with his fellow stool dwellers amidst the cherry paneled corridors.
The sainted adherents of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. graced the halls behind the granite facade at the corner of North and North Highland after SCLC and campaign meetings.
A South Georgia peanut farmer and Sunday School teacher announced his intentions to govern our state from those walls.
And Bill Shipp held court at the large round tables under the boar’s head while complaining about his dear friend Zell Miller’s barbed wire approach to governance.
Yesterday, Atlanta’s newly minted living center of history attracted an impromptu stop from former President Bill Clinton. Clinton, who last visited the Tavern when he took Georgia in 1992, shook every hand there.
Upon entering the back door, he was greeted by Brian Maloof, owner of the Tavern and son of the late Manuel Maloof. While welcoming Clinton through a modest but proud smile, Maloof told the former President about the new renovations, memories of his father, and how the late Maloof handcrafted furniture with another former President whose office is just mere blocks away.
After the exchange with Maloof, President Clinton took a sharp left toward the kitchen, even though his staff motioned that he go into the dining room or toward the bar. There, ‘Bubba’ shined. He greeted the kitchen staff one by one, as if they were the only reason he was in Atlanta.
After walking through the back bar, he made his way to the main dining room. In between selfies and conversations with patrons, Clinton acknowledged the history that lined the walls, among which he found himself and what seems to inevitably be the next President Clinton.
After quipping that Secretary Clinton hadn’t aged a day, he wrapped his arm around a Tavern regular, and awed at a pictures of a youthful Andy Young, and asked that his staff snap a picture of him pointing to his former running mate and to “send that to Gore.” It was a special moment.
For Atlanta and for Georgia, President Clinton’s hour-long walk down memory lane should be seen as the Clinton campaign’s most recent shot across the bow of Southern Republicans.
Manuel Maloof was the gatekeeper of Democratic politics in Atlanta and in Georgia. And still, a decade after his passing, one cannot walk into his Tavern without seeing a member of the general assembly, a former congressman, a member of the press corps, or a civil servant who has just gotten off work. Manuel’s Tavern is not a museum of what politics was; it is where what was meets what is.
Clinton’s visit to Atlanta to raise money with Usher deserved nothing more than a reprint of a campaign press release; Atlanta has long been a fundraising hub for national Democratic politics.
But President Clinton stopping in Manuel’s Tavern should give Republicans pause.
In the not so distant past, Maloof’s Tavern was a required gambit for relevant figures and competitive campaigns. And if current polling is to be believed, President Clinton was not just there to see what was, he was also attempting to surgically renovate the Democratic Party in the Empire State of the South in the way the Maloof family recently transformed and updated their iconic watering hole.
Just as the renovations did for the Tavern, Clinton’s romp through the Highlands ripped the name Clinton out of context of the past, and oh so carefully put it squarely into modernity in a way that is comfortably familiar.
So take note, y’all. James Agee’s kin Bobby is back behind a newly restored bar. Secretary Clinton is polling even or better than a Yankee businessman turned Wallace impersonator in Georgia. And Bill is back kissing babies in Manuel’s Tavern.
This ain’t a drill.
“Anybody Don’t Like This Life Is Crazy.” — Manuel Maloof