Right now, you are wearing a dark suit, staring out of a permanently locked office window, dreaming of a life that’s out of reach.
Unless you are Jim Stacy. If you’re Jim Stacy, you can do whatever you want, including:
Tattoo attractive women.
Own Atlanta’s coolest bar.
Play Darth Vader in an all-Star Wars rock band.
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Consort with hoochie-coochie dancers.
Be Santa Claus.
You’d think such a career (we haven’t mentioned the hot rods or monster movies) would lead to a lithium addiction or at least jail time.
Nope. For Stacy, 42, his patchwork quilt life leads to his own food show, “Get Delicious: Atlanta’s Hidden Restaurant Treasures,” which premieres tonight on WPBA. (That means he also adds “eat for free” to the list.)
Six-foot-six, covered in ink, Stacy usually sports overalls, combat boots and a shrub-sized red beard. It’s not the look you associate with gastronomical insight.
But Stacy has food experience. He owned The Downstairs restaurant in Athens, served peanuts at the Star Bar and, a few years ago, he got into the corn-dog business. He tows a mobile kitchen/trailer/corn-dog booth, called Pallookaville, to various outdoor festivals, including last week’s Chomp and Stomp in Cabbagetown. Stacy specializes in three different sorts of dogs (all-beef franks, Polish kielbasa and Italian sausage), dipped in batter and immolated in boiling oil. Then there’s the Fryinstein Monster — all three meats on the same pointy stick. He calls it “dinner and a weapon.”
Like Stacy, his corn dogs have become legendary. “He couldn’t just do corn dogs. He had to take the corn dog to the next level,” said buddy, musician and fellow tattoo artist Shane Morton. “He’s a Renaissance man.”
In “Get Delicious,” Stacy lets others do the cooking, visiting iconic Atlanta restaurants and talking to bartenders, fry-cooks and breakfast waitresses.
Some of his finds are deeply hidden, such as Nick’s Food to Go, a venerable gyro joint at a sketchy downtown locale, in a windowless cinder-block bunker, painted Aegean blue.
It’s attracted attention from the likes of celebrity chef Kevin Rathbun.
“Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun! What are you doing here?” asks a disingenuous Stacy, in the lead-in to the Nick’s segment.
“You’ve been e-mailing me all week,” Rathbun says dryly.
Stacy grew up all over town, from Candler Park to Stone Mountain to Kennesaw, and his grandfather owned the Candler Park superette, so he has a deep knowledge of subterranean Atlanta.
Some of it he decorated personally. Working with Morton at Black Cat Tattoos, he helped illustrate a whole generation of Atlanta musicians.
He has also played music with many of them. Stacy built his own Darth Vader costume when he and Morton played in Grand Moff Tarkin, the Star Wars-themed band. They were a hit at Dragon Con.
And, when he bought the Star Bar in Little Five Points in 2001 with two other investors, he moved into the solar plexus of Atlanta’s music scene. Yet his tastes always ran slightly retro, toward vintage cars, cult films, ’50s-era rockabilly and restaurants of a certain age.
He wanted to see places like Alfredo’s, a classic family-owned Italian restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road, given their due, so, after he sold his share of the Star Bar in 2007, he pursued “Get Delicious.”
“I’m a sucker for Atlanta history and the sociology behind these places,” he said one night, sitting in the cramped offices of the Starlight Drive-In, which he manages.
Stacy pitched the idea to PBA producer Jack Walsh, and Walsh liked it. “He’s a walking textbook of Atlanta obscurity and strange factoids,” said Walsh, who co-produces the show with Gordon Ray. “He sees these restaurants as dying institutions.”
With good reason. “Son’s Place was one we had planned; it’s gone away,” said Walsh. “The best fried chicken in the city.”
Other highlighted restaurants persevere, such as the Colonnade, in business since 1927. “That’s geologic time!” said Stacy.
On a chilly evening at the Starlight, a scattering of cars gathers to see the mayhem in “Saw 6” and Michael Jackson dance in “This is It” and the movies on four other screens. The crowds dwindle as the weather cools off, said Stacy, though neither snow nor rain will shut the place down. “We’re open unless there’s fire falling from the sky.”
The posters on the wall of his office, including one showing Robbie the Robot carrying a delectable young Anne Francis in “Forbidden Planet,” offer a clue to his cinematic tastes.
In the spring, business picks up. Vehicles will line up on Moreland Avenue in both directions, and moviegoers will arrive early to grill and play Frisbee and wait for the sun to go down.
It’s the kind of throwback scene that Stacy loves, epitomized by the yearly “Drive Invasion” two-day party at the Starlight, where crowds check out custom hot rods, dance to psychobilly bands and watch goofy B-movies. Stacy has been involved since long before he was on staff, playing music and selling corn dogs.
He and his wife, Kim, live in a doublewide on the Starlight’s 40 acres — “it’s like being in the country” — where he’s dusting off his Big Foot costume for an upcoming performance with the Blast-Off Burlesque troupe. “I have a dance routine,” he said with a smile.
His dancing Big Foot can’t be any scarier than his Uncle Laffo character from his all-clown ensemble Greasepaint, or the disreputable Kris Kringles that populate his all-Santa band, Yule Log. (Every year they play a Toys For Tots benefit at the Star Bar. Their repertoire: revved-up punk anthems with seasonal lyrics.)
But the vocalist and ukulele player said he’s taking his Santa act in a different direction these days, bleaching his red hair and beard white to work a Christmas gig listening to wishes from toddlers.
“I’m in the process of becoming legitimate,” he said. Asked whether the department store authorities have checked out his background, Stacy sounds sincerely hurt. “I make a pretty good Santa Claus.”
And the long sleeves cover most of his hot rod tattoos.
“Get Delicious: Atlanta’s Hidden Restaurant Treasures”
10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15 on PBA-30, Atlanta’s PBS station
Among the eateries that host Jim Stacy visits:
The Colonnade: Southern fare, since 1927, located at 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta
Nick’s Food to Go: Gyros and other Greek dishes, plus wings and burgers, 240 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta
The Silver Skillet: Southern food, specializing in breakfast, 200 14th St., Atlanta
Alfredo’s: Traditional Italian food, 1989 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta
Carver’s Country Kitchen: Country food and big portions, 1118 West Marietta St., Atlanta
The Red Snapper: Seafood, 2100 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta