The Righteous Room NE
Rating: 1 of 5 stars
Food: bar food
Service: could use improvement
Best dishes: turkey melt, garlic honey wings, rosemary chicken sandwich
Vegetarian selections: multiple veggie-friendly dishes
Price range: $
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.- 3 a.m. daily
Children: OK for lunch, but come on, people … it's a bar
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: medium to loud
Address, phone: 2142 Johnson Ferry Road N.E., Atlanta. 770-559-5678
Same cuisine, more options …
One of west Midtown’s most popular watering holes, this playground for grown-ups sports an impressive beer and liquor selection and serves up a solid menu of pub fare. Come for dinner and stick around to enjoy the basement bar games like shuffleboard, pool and, if you are lucky enough to get a spot, a round of bocce ball on one of their two indoor courts.
11 a.m.-3 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-3 a.m. Saturdays, noon-midnight Sundays. 1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-968-2033, www.ormsbysatlanta.com. $-$$
A local institution since 1956, this neighborhood tavern in Poncey-Highland has earned praise as one of our best bars by the likes of Atlanta Magazine, The New York Times and Esquire Magazine. Regulars return for bar food favorites like wings, chicken fingers and the famous selection of burgers, including the oversized McCloskey. With multiple levels, a sprawling floor plan, and more than 15 beers on tap, Manuel’s is perfect for groups looking for a friendly place to meet for a few cold ones.
11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-midnight Sundays. 602 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. 404-525-3447, www.manuelstavern.com. $-$$
Lucky’s Burger & Brew
This burger and beer joint takes its name from owner Ernie Geyer’s golden retriever, Lucky. And true to the breed, Lucky’s is a friendly neighborhood watering hole serving up some excellent burgers. The burgers come on a toasted challah bun and include choices like the imposing Undertaker, a stack of beef, bacon, cheese, fried egg, mayonnaise and fried onions.
11:30 a.m.-close daily. 1144 Alpharetta St., Roswell. 770-518-5695, www.luckysburgerandbrew.com. $
Some bars hold a special place in your heart — whether it is nostalgia for all of the good times you have had, a favorite bartender who has your drink ready without you having to order it, or a local dive where everyone checks their pretensions at the door.
For me, the Righteous Room in Poncey-Highland is just such a bar. Always a safe bet and somewhere I love to wind up at the end of a night out in that part of town. But, despite frequenting the smoky dive countless times over the past decade, I have not actually eaten anything out of the kitchen.
After 18 years in business, the Righteous Room recently opened a second location in the unlikeliest of places – Brookhaven.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Brookhaven. As a former resident of the neighborhood, I have nothing but fond memories. But attempting to reconcile the dark, smoky, PBR-pouring dive vibe of the Righteous Room with more polished, child-friendly Brookhaven gave me pause when I first heard the news. How well would the charm of a bar I hold so dear transfer to such a different neighborhood?
As difficult as it might be, fans of the original location need to rethink a few expectations. The Righteous Room in Brookhaven feels new. No matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible to give new construction that same worn feeling that comes only from years of abuse.
The new location sits in the Old Five Points shopping center, taking over the space formerly occupied by Thai Lana. The first thing you likely will notice is the giant magnolia tree growing right through the middle of the bar, branching out through the skylight. During the daytime, this gives the room a brightness I didn’t expect based on the Righteous Room I know and love, but I’d say it is actually an improvement in ambience for the lunch crowd. It’s different, but I’m liking it.
Then my heart sinks a little as I notice what I first assume is an ATM against the back wall. But no, it is a touch-screen online jukebox. Somewhere deep inside, my soul falls to its knees, screaming “WHY?!”
See, the phrase “best jukebox in Atlanta” usually finds its way into my first sentence when asked about the original Righteous Room. That old CD-slinging machine houses an eclectic mix of deep cuts and old favorites that even the most discerning of hipsters struggle to deride. It is the heart of the Righteous Room to me.
So imagine my disappointment to learn that some DJ wannabe could fill my night with a celebration of Justin Bieber’s entire catalog. Alas, owner Patrick Galvin shares my concern, but places that will still service the old-style jukeboxes have gone the way of the VCR repair shop. Based on our conversation, though, I feel confident he will find a way.
The only thing that has not changed at all from the old location is also the one thing I have no previous experience with: the menu.
Largely unchanged over the past 18 years, the nearly ambitious food at the Righteous Room might surprise you. Your check also might surprise you when you realize that all taxes are built into the menu prices.
While many dive-bar staples appear on the menu, most have a twist that makes them stand out. A pound of hot wings ($8) is unsurprising bar food, but try ordering them with the sticky-delicious garlic honey glaze, and you’ll see why these wings have kept regulars fed for years.
For my money, the sandwiches are the best bet here, and the turkey melt ($8) keeps me coming back for more. Wrapped in thick, fluffy naan bread, the hot sliced turkey and sautéed onions with horseradish sour cream disappear quickly from my plate. Similarly, the grilled rosemary sandwich ($8) is a surprisingly adult combination of juicy chicken breast, caramelized onions and peppers, and a garlic yogurt sauce, all wrapped in naan. Not the sort of fare you expect from a dive.
The only dish that really turns me off is the barbecue “sammich” ($8). The chunks of greasy pork on Texas toast have a chewiness to them that makes me wonder whether a microwave is part of the process. But keep in mind I’m an unrepentant barbecue snob.
Also, service can have an air of snark to it that is off-putting. But I saw that with only one server in particular; the rest of the staff I encountered were all sufficiently pleasant.
Ultimately, the Righteous Room is a bar, and I think it is best appreciated as just that, even if the Brookhaven location feels like a slightly over-sanitized version of the original.
All things being equal, I’ll still be taking my jukebox change to the Ponce location, but if you are around Brookhaven and want a watering hole with a little soul, the Righteous Room NE is worth a stop. And be sure to ask when they are getting the CD jukebox.
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