First Look: Is Manuel’s Tavern the same as it ever was?

Buffalo chicken wings are on the ‘Welcome Back’ menu at the renovated Manuel’s Tavern. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

It marked the 60th anniversary of the beloved Atlanta drinking and dining institution, which dates back to 1956, when Manuel Maloof bought Harry’s Delicatessen and turned it into what would become a go-to for politicos, reporters, and neighborhood residents.

A part of that history is commemorated on the current one-sheet paper menu, with the greeting, “Welcome Back!” And many of the simple signature items, such as Buffalo chicken wings and black bean nachos, are back, too.

But with a brand new kitchen and new staff to train, returning to the full Manuel’s menu and regular lunch and weekend brunch hours is still a work in progress.

Manuel’s heir and owner, Brian Maloof, who took on the job of preserving his father’s legacy and overseeing the renovations, hasn’t been overly concerned about that.

He’s been worried about how the regulars, who tend to have intensely proprietary feelings about the place, would react to some of the changes, which include enlarging the main dining room and putting in new bathrooms.

I caught up with Maloof last week, shortly after former President Bill Clinton made news with a quick stop-off at the Tavern on his way to a fundraiser.

“It was a promise that I made. I said that I would feel like I’d done my job to the very best of my ability if people came in and said, ‘I really don’t see what you changed,’ ” Maloof said.“To hear exactly that over and over again has been really comforting to me.

“There was a tremendous amount of fear out there about the renovation. There were people that were terrified that I was going to turn this place into something like a chain restaurant. And no matter how many times I told folks that the same crappy old bar stools and booths with sticky tables would be back, they didn’t believe me.”

As to the changes that were made, Maloof sticks by those as being for the better.

“If you look in our kitchen, there are obviously huge changes there,” he said. “There are big changes in the restrooms. Those are the glaring ones and they are the good ones. The dining rooms still have the same feel. I know what’s different about them. But even very regular customers don’t notice. That tells me we did it right.”

Another thing that’s new and improved is the walk-in cooler, keg room and bigger draft system behind the old bar, all of which signal Manuel’s increasing commitment to serving more local and craft beer.

“When we designed a new draft system, we ended up with 41 faucets,” Maloof said. “From a quality standpoint, I’ve always thought draft beer was a much better product. So we are trying to satisfy the tastes of the millennial beer drinkers and I’m excited to be able to offer these craft beers on draft and pour them well.”

Addressing concerns about the food, Maloof insists that isn’t changing at all, except for sourcing better ingredients for most menu items.

“I didn’t want to freak anybody out,” he said. “I wanted the menu to stay the same and I wanted the pricing to stay the same. I didn’t want anybody to think Manuel’s dropped a bunch of money on this renovation and now we were sticking it to them.”

602 N. Highland Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-525-3447,

More images from a First Look at the renovated Manuel's Tavern.

Manuel’s Tavern ‘Welcome Back’ black bean nachos with salsa and sour cream. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Hummus with cucumbers, olives and pita bread. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Double Cheese Burger with fries at Manuel's. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

The renovated main dining room at Manuel's. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Former President Bill Clinton at Manuel’s Tavern for a quick visit and a handshake with owner Brian Maloof. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

More  on Manuel’s Tavern:

» Life of Brian 

» Read about efforts to preserve the artwork and ephemera that line the walls of the bar.

» Learn about the history of Manuel’s Tavern and its reputation as a gathering place for both politicians and journalists.

» See photos of the bar and owner Manuel Maloof, going back to 1978.

» Take a look at the food of Manuel’s Tavern, and find out why that burger is known as a McCloskey.

» And what will happen to the bar’s regulars? Where will they go during the hiatus of early 2016?

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