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Check out Buford Highway’s eclectic collection of bars

Biggest draws are dive bar, strip club, drag dining spot.

Buford Highway long has been a go-to destination for international dining. But, what about doing some drinking along the famous stretch that runs from near Buckhead through Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and beyond?

As it turns out, Buford Highway after dark probably is better suited to the gonzo road-tripping style of the late Hunter S. Thompson than the can-do tourism of Rick Steves.

Starting out in Brookhaven, the going gets weird when you suddenly realize that the most interesting places to get a cocktail (or a beer or a glass of wine) are a dive bar, a strip club and a drag dining destination.

The main dining room and stage at Lips. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS (For the AJC)

While sitting at a table one Saturday evening, pre-show, with Tyler King, general manager of drag dining spot Lips (3011 Buford Highway, Brookhaven. 404-315-7711, lipsatl.com), we wondered what King knew about nearby watering holes.

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“I don’t go out on Buford Highway,” King said, immediately sensing our disappointment. “After work, I go straight from Buford Highway to Church Street in Decatur, where I go to bed.”

Then, King clued us in on the vagaries of the city of Brookhaven’s liquor laws, which recently made it pricier to operate a certain kind of place.

“If you have a stage, DJ, or dance floor, you’re considered a cabaret, and the liquor license is $100,000,” he said. “Whereas, in the city of Atlanta, it’s $6,000. Here, we’re a dinner theater, for that reason. But, people can drop in to the bar for a drink, and they do. And, I’m trying to incorporate some higher-end spirits and some better beers. We’ll see how that goes over.”

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While Lips serves what King calls “stripper cocktails,” like the Yvonne Lamé Frozen Cosmo and the Drag-O-Rita, at the nearby Pink Pony (1837 Corporate Blvd., Brookhaven. 404-634-6396, pinkponyatlanta.com), cold beer, shots and high balls tend to be the most popular beverages. Real live nude women do their gravity-defying pole-dance routines there on multiple stages, seven days a week, as well as luring guests to VIP rooms. And, if you book ahead with the VIP event planner, your bachelor or bachelorette partygoers can enjoy limousine rides, DJ “roasts,” champagne service and party platters.

The darts room at the Rusty Nail is one of the few areas of the bar with bright lighting. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS (For the AJC)

Across the street, at the Rusty Nail (2900 Buford Highway, Brookhaven. 404-634-6306, rustynailpub.com), where an imposing 18-foot pistol-shaped barbecue smoker marks the spot, the vibe is distinctly more laid-back, but sometimes just as loud and cigarette-hazed.

Whether you call it a dive bar or a dive restaurant, the Rusty Nail is a beloved kind of place, like Manuel’s Tavern or the Colonnade, where regulars gather to watch University of Georgia, Braves and Falcons games, and celebrate birthdays. Barbecue, burgers and Nick’s Homemade Lasagna are menu staples, served with sass at the meandering bar and delivered to deep booths, along with draft beer, PBR cans and cocktails.

Heading northeast, the scene shifts to reveal three more archetypes of the drinking establishments most common on Buford Highway these days — karaoke bars, ultra lounges and Latin discos turned sports bars.

Acapulco Tropical offers Mexican pop music on the sound system, and Tejano bands set up in back some nights. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM) (For the AJC)

Acapulco Tropical (3363 Buford Highway, Brookhaven. 404-600-5194), in Northeast Plaza, illustrates how the Brookhaven liquor laws have led owners to turn discos into sports bars. Save for the stray taco, food is not a major feature. Instead, you’ll find coolers full of beer, including Modelo Especial and Victoria; tequila drinks; and bottle service. Mexican pop music surges on the sound system, and Tejano bands may set up among the stacked tables in back some nights.

Josephine Lounge in Brookhaven presents an upscale experience, with food, drink and DJs spinning hip-hop, afrobeat and reggae. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM) (For the AJC)

At the other end of the plaza, near the underground FunTime bowling alley, Josephine Lounge (3277 Buford Highway, Brookhaven. 678-973-4441, josephineatl.com) presents an upscale, sexy experience, with food, drink and DJs spinning hip-hop, afrobeat and reggae. Check the website for the dress code, expect a cover charge (depending on the night or hour), and call ahead for a VIP table, and birthday and hookah specials.

Certainly, karaoke bars are a major draw for the Buford Highway scene, not to mention a predictable way to wind down the night. Happy Karaoke (5425 Buford Highway, Doraville. 404-514-3054, happyechokaraoke.com) claims to be the first such place with private rooms. And, though it may be a bit worse for wear, it remains a family-friendly party favorite early, and an after-hours landing spot until 3 a.m., with a hangover-saving menu of Korean food, and a bar with beer, wine and bottle service.

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