Atlanta Classics: Virginia-Highland landmark Atkins Park has stood the test of time

The restaurant loves to celebrate its anniversary every year. Here are happy bartenders from the early 1990s.
Courtesy of Atkins Park

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The restaurant loves to celebrate its anniversary every year. Here are happy bartenders from the early 1990s. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar, Atlanta’s oldest continuously licensed tavern, celebrated its 100th anniversary in March.

It began as Atkins Park Deli in 1922, and, through the years, multiple owners and tenants have shaped and reshaped the restaurant.

Fundamentally, though, Atkins Park has been known best as a neighborhood bar.

Now part of the Atkins Park Restaurant Group, the current iteration of the Virginia-Highland landmark dates to 1983, when Atlanta restaurateur Warren Bruno took over. Since Bruno’s death in 2012, Atkins Park has been owned and operated by his wife, Sandra Spoon, who lives down the street in a house that was built in 1917.

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The current iteration of Atkins Park dates to 1983, when Atlanta restaurateur Warren Bruno took over. Since Bruno’s death in 2012, his widow, Sandra Spoon, has run the restaurant. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

The current iteration of Atkins Park dates to 1983, when Atlanta restaurateur Warren Bruno took over. Since Bruno’s death in 2012, his widow, Sandra Spoon, has run the restaurant. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
The current iteration of Atkins Park dates to 1983, when Atlanta restaurateur Warren Bruno took over. Since Bruno’s death in 2012, his widow, Sandra Spoon, has run the restaurant. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“The name Atkins Park comes from the neighborhood,” Spoon said, sitting at a table in the dining room. “The deli started on the ground floor in 1922. After prohibition, they brought in beer, and started doing sandwiches.”

Spoon began her career at Atkins Park in 1985, after graduating from college with degrees in economics and finance and deciding to move to Atlanta with two friends.

“We drove to Atlanta, we had no place to stay, three girls and one car, and we just happened to pull up on St. Charles Avenue, and we saw a for-rent sign,” she remembered. “The landlord was out standing in the front yard, and we rented the place that day. Then, I walked up the street and got a job here, and that’s how it started for me.”

Spoon worked as a server, a bartender, an assistant to the controller, and then as a manager. At the time, Bruno had six restaurants, including Aunt Charlie’s, Knickerbockers and Groundhog Tavern, and he often would move managers between them. Eventually, Spoon became the controller of the group.

“And, then, Warren and I got married, and I became a partner in 1994,” she said. “It’s been a decade since he passed away. He was inspirational. His kids, our kids, in the short time he had with them, they are so much like him. And, we talk about him daily. It’s really amazing. He left a mark on his family and his community.”

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Sandra Spoon is the owner of Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Sandra Spoon is the owner of Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

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Sandra Spoon is the owner of Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Asked to describe the diverse regulars that frequent the barstools, Spoon cracked a smile. “We are like ‘Cheers.’ There are people at the end of the bar, who were here before we were here, and they’re still here every night since the ’70s,” she said.

“And, that’s awesome. What’s stayed the same is what we are to the community. We’re just your neighborhood restaurant and bar. I have seen a ton of changes to the community over the years. But, we just love our neighborhood. We love the families. We love the construction workers. We love the service industry people.”

One of the biggest and most recent changes came about during the pandemic, when, like so many other bars and restaurants, Atkins Park needed to find more outdoor dining space. The answer was in the alley, which immediately appealed to an underserved neighborhood demographic.

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The food served at Atkins Park has evolved over the years. This menu dates from 1981. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

The food served at Atkins Park has evolved over the years. This menu dates from 1981. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
The food served at Atkins Park has evolved over the years. This menu dates from 1981. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“Because of the pandemic, my parking lot is now a big patio,” Spoon said. “On Friday nights, especially when school is in session, it’s full of nothing but families with kids. It’s beautiful to see that. They’re all comfortable here. We have a bar, we have a dining room, and we have a patio out back, and everybody mixes well. And, as the night goes on, it tends toward younger people, and more of the bar atmosphere.”

Otherwise, not much has changed. The layout always has been divided between the dining room and the bar. The handmade wood-and-stained-glass backbar was redone in the ’80s, and the original ceiling and tile floor date all the way back to the 1920s.

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This vintage shot shows the staff members of Atkins Park in 1928. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

This vintage shot shows the staff members of Atkins Park in 1928. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
This vintage shot shows the staff members of Atkins Park in 1928. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“The whole building surprises me,” Spoon said. “It’s amazing that it’s been used for 100 years.”

The one thing that has changed regularly, though, is the food, which is something Spoon has documented with a slew of saved menus.

“When I started here in 1985, the dining room had salmon-colored tablecloths, it was a pretty fancy menu, and the service was more upscale,” she said. “Then, I look at another menu, and it was hot dogs. I think it goes with the times.

“The current menu is standard bar food, but it’s really good bar food, and we sell a ton of it. At one point, there were separate bar and dining room menus, but the pandemic changed all that. We have expanded on it over the last two years, but we decided to stay with just the one menu, because we still have staffing problems, just like everybody.”

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Here's what Atkins Park looked like in the 1970s. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Here's what Atkins Park looked like in the 1970s. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Here's what Atkins Park looked like in the 1970s. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Spoon also had to increase the prices on the menu, because of skyrocketing food costs, which seem to go up every month.

“At some point, how much can you charge for nachos or chicken fingers?” she said. “We operate on such slim margins to begin with, but we always want to keep up the quality.”

All in all, though, Spoon is appreciative of the combination of work and life that she has enjoyed while remaining in a neighborhood she loves and calls home.

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Patrons recently celebrated 100 years of fun at Atkins Park, Atlanta's oldest continuously licensed tavern. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Patrons recently celebrated 100 years of fun at Atkins Park, Atlanta's oldest continuously licensed tavern. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Patrons recently celebrated 100 years of fun at Atkins Park, Atlanta's oldest continuously licensed tavern. Courtesy of Atkins Park

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“I’m incredibly grateful to be sitting here because of what Warren started,” she said. “I made it through the pandemic. I’ve got a core of a beautiful staff. And, I love this community. The past few years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the city of Atlanta, and in this neighborhood.

“It’s a new clientele for us. Being here for 40 years, we’ve seen the clientele come and go, so it’s just nice to have a vibrant community again. We hope to be here for another 100 years. I won’t be, but somebody will.”

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