Atlanta Classics: Retro nightclub Johnny’s Hideaway is repository of Atlanta history

The famous dance floor at Johnny's Hideaway brings together young and old, married and single, guys and gals for an unforgettable evening.
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

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The famous dance floor at Johnny's Hideaway brings together young and old, married and single, guys and gals for an unforgettable evening. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Johnny’s Hideaway on Roswell Road has been an Atlanta destination for eating, drinking and dancing since 1979, though not always in that order.

That the retro nightclub has survived in ever-changing Buckhead for 43 years is something of a miracle. What’s more, it’s open seven days and nights a week, with a DJ spinning every evening.

Over the years, it’s become a repository of the social history of the city. Certainly the aphorism “if these walls could talk” applies, as photos, album covers, and miscellany mark epochs and trace fads and fashions.

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If these walls could talk, they would tell an irresistible story of decades of good times. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

If these walls could talk, they would tell an irresistible story of decades of good times. 
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
If these walls could talk, they would tell an irresistible story of decades of good times. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Chris D’Auria has been running Johnny’s since 1997. D’Auria is the son of Mike Dana, one of the early Hideaway owners, along with Waxie Gordon, and founder and namesake, Johnny Esposito.

Before Johnny’s, D’Auria was the general manager at American Pie on Roswell Road. As the story goes, his father finally convinced him to make the move to Johnny’s, telling his son, “Blood’s thicker than water.”

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Owner Chris D'Auria has been at the helm of the iconic nightclub for 25 years. He’s known for gracefully handling high-volume bar business, retaining employees for decades and offering patrons superior service every day of the week. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Owner Chris D'Auria has been at the helm of the iconic nightclub for 25 years. He’s known for gracefully handling high-volume bar business, retaining employees for decades and offering patrons superior service every day of the week.  
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Owner Chris D'Auria has been at the helm of the iconic nightclub for 25 years. He’s known for gracefully handling high-volume bar business, retaining employees for decades and offering patrons superior service every day of the week. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“I was in my late 20s, and GM of a place where I was having a lot of fun,” D’Auria remembered, sitting down at a table at Johnny’s on a recent afternoon. “I had no desire to go from a place where everybody was my age or younger to running a place where everybody was 30 years older than me. But I did it.”

After Esposito retired, D’Auria bought out Gordon in 2005, then Dana in 2007. Over the years he’s charted a course that kept the business successful, while making incremental changes.

“When I came in, you could tell that it was very dated,” D’Auria said. “The music was a little too stuffy. At 11:30 on a Saturday night they were still playing songs from the the big- band era. And you had 40- and 50-year-olds in here looking at the DJ booth and wondering what was going on.”

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Not up for dancing tonight? No worries … pull up a chair and prepare for the city’s best people-watching. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Not up for dancing tonight? No worries … pull up a chair and prepare for the city’s best people-watching.
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Not up for dancing tonight? No worries … pull up a chair and prepare for the city’s best people-watching. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

D’Auria shifted the playlist to skew more to ‘60s and ‘70s music, while keeping Elvis and Sinatra in the mix, along with ‘50s rock and Motown. He also started updating the decor, covering the fading wallpaper with photo galleries. Later, what’s known as the Sinatra Room was finished, followed by the Elvis Corner.

Still, some things never changed, including the vintage “Oyster Bar” and “Restroom” signs.

Next to the front door, you’ll find the dress code, which details the don’ts, including no ripped or soiled jeans; no flip-flops or sandals; no sweats or sweatpants.

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Two rules to remember at Johnny’s: No drinks on the dance floor and don’t touch the mirror ball! Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Two rules to remember at Johnny’s: No drinks on the dance floor and don’t touch the mirror ball!
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Two rules to remember at Johnny’s: No drinks on the dance floor and don’t touch the mirror ball! Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

More seriously, there’s a sign that reads “No weapons of any kind allowed.” And in a nod to current social media obsessions, another sign advises, “If you are a Yelper, please Yelp elsewhere.”

Asked about the current demographic, D’Auria answered “21 to 81,” explaining the shift that came after most of the old-school Buckhead bars closed to make way for Buckhead Village District and other developments.

“It was surprising to me that so few of those places relocated,” D’Auria said. “But when it happened, it displaced all those 20-somethings. They had nowhere to go, so luckily they drifted right here.”

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The food menu is filled with bar classics like wings, burgers, onion rings and nachos. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

The food menu is filled with bar classics like wings, burgers, onion rings and nachos. 
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
The food menu is filled with bar classics like wings, burgers, onion rings and nachos. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The food has changed several times, evolving from a dinner menu with steaks and entrees, to a bar food menu with sandwiches, nachos and chicken tenders.

As for drinks, “Tito’s (vodka) has become the king of hospitality,” according to D’Auria. “The top seller for beer is Bud Light. And some of the brown liquor is still strong. We do a ton of Crown Royal, and Jack Daniel’s and Maker’s Mark, too.”

Johnny’s oldest regulars are legendary, and many have settled into routines that bring them in as early as 11 a.m. for a weekday lunch at the bar. Most have a designated bar stool, watched over by vigilant bartenders.

“If a new person walks in, they have to go through the gauntlet,” D’Auria said. “Who are you? Why are you here? Where do you work? You’re on my stool, move over. It’s an initiation.

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Bud Light and drinks made with brown spirits are among the most popular beverages at Johnny's Hideway. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Bud Light and drinks made with brown spirits are among the most popular beverages at Johnny's Hideway. 
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Bud Light and drinks made with brown spirits are among the most popular beverages at Johnny's Hideway. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“Everybody sitting at the bar right now is probably in here five or six days a week. They’ll stay until about seven, and then the night crew will come in and there will be a new group of regulars.”

William Freedman is a longtime member of the day crew. He started coming to Johnny’s in the mid-’80s, but didn’t realize it was open during the day until the ‘90s.

Asked what makes Johnny’s special, Freedman thought for minute and said, “I think it’s the friendships,” adding, “It’s just a fantastic place, and it’s longevity is the proof.”

Dani and Bill Rasmussin are dedicated members of the night crew, and they have their own bar stools. The couple has been coming to Johnny’s for 23 years, making the 45-mile trek from Holly Springs most weekends.

“We both love to dance, and luckily we found Johnny’s,” Dani said. “We’ve met a lot of people over the years, and we have lot of friends who are regulars.

“We do know some our friends who met at Johnny’s and got married there, and we think that’s pretty cool,” Bill said. “But one thing that I’ve always been amazed at is that we’ve met a lot of people from other parts of the country. They’d heard about Johnny’s and they’d come here just to see it.”

Moving through the celebrity gallery that surrounds the entrance to Johnny’s, D’Auria pointed to photos of Jason Sudeikis and the Farrelly brothers, who stopped in during the filming of “Hall Pass” in Atlanta in 2010. The likes of George Clooney, Steve Martin and Jon Hamm are on the walls, too, along with sports figures who’ve faded into the past.

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Beloved crooner Tony Bennett left his heart at Johnny’s Hideaway. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Beloved crooner Tony Bennett left his heart at Johnny’s Hideaway. 
Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Beloved crooner Tony Bennett left his heart at Johnny’s Hideaway. Courtesy of Johnny’s Hideaway

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Asked if he’d thought about when he might retire from Johnny’s and have his picture on the wall, D’Auria laughed. “We turn 43 next month, so I’d like to make it to 100,” he said. “But, seriously, I’ve turned down a few offers. And right now there’s no reason to (retire). I have a great support staff. My GM and bar manager have been here more than 20 years, so there’s a lot of experience here, and it’s still a lot of fun.”

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