Democrats in Atlanta find a safe haven on Trump’s inauguration day

A squad of certified public accountants took their seats in enemy territory Friday, and ordered beers.

All looked forward to an inauguration-day lunch at Manuel’s Tavern, and none planned on going back to work.

The group decided to invade this Democratic stronghold, said Don Dismuke, because they knew the ceremonies in Washington, D.C., would be on the restaurant’s television screens. The fact that the lunchtime soundtrack would also include the groans of local Democrats was an added attraction.

“We wouldn’t want to go to a Republican bar,” said Dismuke. “Where’s the fun in that?

“We’ll be crying too,” said Peter Giroux. “Tears of joy.”

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The venerable tavern and restaurant, at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues, is known for its politically active clientele, but many regulars placed calls during the week asking whether the inauguration would be broadcast on the establishment’s many televisions.

Some imagined that the screens would be dark.

Before the doors opened, during the morning meeting of wait-staff, cooks and bar managers, owner Brian Maloof made the answer plain.

“Okay, 95 percent of our customers are Democrats,” Maloof told the workers. “We’re a Democratic bar. We had people calling this morning to ask whether we were going to show the inaugural on television. Well, clearly we’re going to show it.”

His customers might not like the outcome of the election, said Maloof, “but for lack of a better term, it’s just good sportsmanship. I would ask you to keep your opinions to yourself. This is not a political statement. We’re just watching a political event.”

Bill Fallin (left) watches Donald J. Trump’s inauguration on one of the many televisions at Manuel’s Tavern on Friday in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Consequently, all televisions were tuned to the events in Washington. “Nobody likes change,” said Maloof, “and we’ve had a lot of change lately.” He was referring to the sale of the property and the subsequent renovation of the restaurant, which shut it down for several months last year.

Highlights From President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Speech

Not all the customers were happy with the programming.

Ken Lockerman and his wife Kerry wandered the main room, looking for a spot out of the line of fire, but everywhere they turned put them in the stream of news broadcasts.

“We’re trying to get away from the sound,” said Kerry.

“I’m trying to get away from the reality,” added Ken, a retired printing supplies salesman and independent auto dealer. Kerry Lockerman had arranged a lunch for their friends for this Friday without remembering the significance of the day. They found their planned conversation swamped by MSNBC.

At a table more or less out of the way of the direct stream of sound, they sat with friends Joel and Charlena Kunkler, of Gwinnett.

“We’re the liberals of Gwinnett,” said Joel. “Both of them.”

The political philosophy of the bar, evident from the memorabilia on the walls, indicated the Kunklers had found a safe haven. Portraits of John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt hang over the taps. Among the framed autographs is one from Jimmy Carter, who announced his campaign for governor here.

The restaurant’s namesake is Brian’s father Manuel Maloof, a Lebanese immigrant and a bigger-than-life character, known for chewing out journalists and opponents with equal vigor.

He opened the tavern in 1956, and through the 1980s served as chair of the DeKalb County Commission, then CEO. He became a fixture in Atlanta’s Democratic politics, and his watering hole was frequently a gathering place for strategists and a staging ground for events.

With the politicians came the reporters, but many other groups call Manuel’s their second home, including bikers, volunteer fire fighters and cops.

Angelo Fuster reacts as he watches new President Donald J. Trump give a speech on one of the many televisions at Manuel’s Tavern on Friday in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

One long-standing group of regulars was organized in the 1980s by Angelo Fuster, who managed Maynard Jackson’s campaign for mayor and then served in the Jackson administration. Calling themselves the Government in Exile, the city hall types bemoaned their loss of connections as Jackson moved out of power. (The name was also a droll tip of the hat to Fuster’s status as a Cuban expatriate.)

Fuster wasn’t feeling droll as he watched the proceedings Friday. He was dressed in an Obama T-shirt, a John Lewis lapel button and a grim expression. He also wore an eye-patch due to recent eye surgery.

“Usually I deal with these moments with humor,” said Fuster “but in this case it’s failing me.”

As the Trump-supporting CPAs ordered their drinks, a column of blue-uniformed state troopers marched into the bar.

“Wow, I guess they’re really expecting trouble here,” said Giroux.

Not so, said the troopers. They were just there for lunch. Nor did they expect trouble. Especially at their table.

And, in fact, while protesters turned the atmosphere violent in Washington, D.C., in Atlanta, the viewing party remained peaceful. There was, indeed, some disharmony, as cheers from the CPAs greeted “boos” from a nearby table, but that was that.

In a final salute, the room exploded into applause as Barack Obama exited the White House for the last time.

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