Many a regular at Manuel’s Tavern is raising a glass, perhaps even ordering the McCloskey burger, in memory of longtime Manuel’s barkeep Bill McCloskey, who died July 14. He was 74.
Born March 18, 1945, William “Bill” Thomas McCloskey grew up in Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Army, and was discharged in the late 1960s, whereupon he traveled the country with military pals before settling in Atlanta and a position with the Mead Paper Company. But he will be most remembered as a fixture at Manuel’s, where he worked for nearly 50 years.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” said Manuel’s Tavern owner Brian Maloof. “He had an impact on everyone that worked here. He was the mediator of disputes, a firm hand for quality customer service – and he played both roles very well. He was a huge attraction here to our past, going all the way back to the early days of Manuel’s Tavern.”
McCloskey was hired in 1972 by Maloof’s father and the tavern’s patriarch, Manuel Maloof. He spent the majority of his tenure evenings behind the bar. The last few years, his health declining from kidney cancer and chronic respiratory problems, he took a morning shift to prepare the restaurant for opening. McCloskey retired this past April.
When Brian Maloof shared news of McCloskey’s death on the restaurant’s Facebook page, he wrote of the many periods of transition that McCloskey witnessed during his nearly five decades of employment at the Poncey-Highland watering hole known as a go-to for politicos, reporters and neighborhood residents:
“He was here for all of the changes over the years,” Maloof wrote. “He was here when dad was a bartender and when Jimmy Carter was running for president. He was with me on the morning of 9/11. We just watched and said very little. He has been here for the passing of so many of my family members. He was here when I graduated high school and then left for the army. He was here when I got married and when all my kids were born.”
McCloskey also touched the lives of those who took a seat on the other side of the bar.
“Bill was like a surrogate father to me,” said Cathy Lyons, a sergeant with the Atlanta Police Department who began frequenting Manuel’s in the mid-1990s with fellow cops. “He looked out for me, cared what was going on in my life. I am going to miss him dearly,” said the veteran officer.
“He was ‘the man,’” said Manuel’s denizen Angelo Fuster, who worked on the staff of three Atlanta mayors, starting with Maynard Jackson in 1977 and continuing with Andrew Young and Bill Campbell. “He sometimes had to throw people out of the tavern. He did it with gusto.”
Fuster recalls McCloskey as “sort of a grouch sometimes, but a grouch with a heart.”
As for the bigwigs who came in and out the door, he treated them the same as any other guest. “Bill met them all and he was always the same: never impressed by being in the company of all these famous people,” said Janet Ward, a Manuel’s regular who held her wedding reception at the restaurant upon tying the knot with former AJC sports writer Jack Wilkinson in 1993.
“People would say he was kind of irascible,” Ward said. “I think that was his thing: making people think he was this gruff guy. He was really sweet.”
In sharing news of McCloskey’s death, Maloof shared his own memories that spoke to McCloskey’s singular personality, like crank calling the restaurant, spreading gossip or calling to vent about random headaches of daily life. “He called me to complain about the substitute news anchor on his morning show. He called and complained about traffic when he never really drove. He called and complained about a change in his trash pickup schedule just because it was a change.”
As life goes on at Manuel’s Tavern without McCloskey, some things are not going to change, like that half-pound McCloskey burger on the menu or his portrait on the wall. But there will be one new addition: McCloskey’s ashes will have a permanent place on a shelf at Manuel’s, joining its founder and other members of the Maloof family in one of Atlanta’s most storied food and drink establishments.
McCloskey is survived by his former wife, Victoria Lambert, daughters Lauren A. Lambert and Sheila Lambert, along with a sister, Jackie McMonigal, as well as nieces and nephews in Minnesota.
Visitation with McCloskey’s family will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 5 at A.S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home & Crematory (2773 N. Decatur Road, Decatur), followed by a memorial service at noon. A remembrance will take place at Manuel’s Tavern (602 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta) after the service.
RELATED: MORE ABOUT MANUEL’S TAVERN
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.