Atlanta Taqueria del Sol bartender retiring after 33 years

Bill Wood, longtime bartender at Taqueria del Sol, poses for a portrait with Taqueria del Sol chef Eddie Hernandez.  Bill has been working here since 1991 and is retiring in February 2024.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt for the AJC

Bill Wood, longtime bartender at Taqueria del Sol, poses for a portrait with Taqueria del Sol chef Eddie Hernandez. Bill has been working here since 1991 and is retiring in February 2024. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Mike Klank and Eddie Hernandez are known in the food world for exploring the nexus of Mexican, Southwestern and Southern cooking. And Bill Wood has been behind the bar since 1991, when they opened Sundown Cafe on Cheshire Bridge Road.

Wood, 66, is retiring in February after 33 years with the pair, first at Sundown and then at Taqueria del Sol, which took over that location. He talked recently about bartending and what’s next for him.

“I had a great life,” he said. “I had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off. It made me be able to be a dad, and that was the most important thing. I have two kids and three grandchildren and that’s been fantastic.”

Wood credited Klank for his longevity in what can be a thankless and often physically challenging job.

“He was very empathetic toward his employees,” he said. “So, really, the thing that works here is that we’re taken care of. It’s a family. Mike has always put us first. His whole philosophy comes from ... working at Manuel’s Tavern. Manuel (Maloof) always thought the employees were right and the customers were wrong. That’s kind of been our philosophy, too.”

However, the customers also are taken care of, he said. Wood knows many regulars by name, along with what they like to eat and drink.

Bill Wood fills to-go bottles of margarita mix for customers at the Cheshire Bridge Road Taqueria del Sol. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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“What you do is try to match some characteristic to their name,” he said. “You might have 10 Bobs. It might be Bob who has the crazy wife. Or Bob who lives in Candler Park. I don’t think of myself as having an incredible memory. It’s kind of a skill that you acquire.”

Longtime Taqueria manager George Trusler still is in awe of Wood’s energy.

“Every once in a while, I would have to go behind the bar and he would just beat me up,” Trusler said. “He’s not going to stop, you know. We had a customer ask how long we’d been working together, and the reply was it’s the longest relationship either one of us have ever had. It will be 29 years.”

Wood admitted he isn’t as spry as he once was, and that clearly bothers him.

Taqueria del Sol owner Mike Klank (right) first knew bartender Bill Wood (left) as a customer at Manuel's Tavern. Courtesy of Taqueria del Sol

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

“I was always an athlete,” he said. “I ran marathons for years, and I’ve got a bunch of mileage on my legs. One of the reasons I’m leaving is I don’t think the physical part is going to be there forever. I can feel it going away. There’s days when I’m sore. My knees hurt. My hip hurts. So, it’s time to move on.”

Wood has a farm in the South Georgia town of Cairo that’s become his regular retreat every month.

“I just love that area,” he said. “I spent my summers there when I was growing up. I’m a big vegetable gardener there, and here. I’m down there four days every third weekend. I go down Sunday morning and I come back Wednesday morning before work.”

Hernandez and Klank agree that Wood never could be replaced.

“We’ve been working together for more than 30 years,” Hernandez said. “He’s one of the best bartenders in the city. He created the clientele for Sundown and Taqueria with the skill he had at the bar.”

“I knew Bill as a customer at Manuel’s. That’s where I first met him,” Klank said. “He was working at Houlihan’s and then Dante’s. He’s a great bartender. If not the best, as good as just about any I’ve known anywhere.

“He’s going to be greatly missed, not just at Taqueria del Sol, but by the general public. No one person is going to take over for him. We don’t have anybody who can do that. But, hopefully, somebody will step up and get in the groove and be that good for that long.”

Contemplating the future, Wood seemed wistful, but as soon as he was finished talking, he made a beeline for the bar and started batching margaritas for the lunch crowd.

“My dad died at 46,” he said. “I never thought I would live this long, so every day is a bonus. I’ve been planning retirement for four years. The idea of retirement was very exciting, and I couldn’t wait. Now that it’s here, I feel a little weird about it. I know I will miss the people and the relationships.”

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