Atlanta mainstay the Local to remain open on Ponce de Leon

MJQ to move forward with plans to relocate, Bookhouse Pub to stay open for now
The Local, a dive bar on Ponce known for its karaoke, has three sections on its menu: wings, hot dogs and tacos. The wings take top billing for a reason. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

The Local, a dive bar on Ponce known for its karaoke, has three sections on its menu: wings, hot dogs and tacos. The wings take top billing for a reason. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Longtime Atlanta restaurant and bar the Local will remain open on Ponce de Leon Avenue after initially announcing plans to close by the end of this year.

The about-face comes after local developer Portman Holdings decided to rethink its development plans for a stretch of Ponce de Leon Avenue near the Beltline in response to current financial headwinds.

Steven Dixey, the general manager and managing partner of the Local, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Portman’s decision to pull out days before closing on the properties spanning from 752 to 774 Ponce de Leon Avenue, which house the Local as well as fitness gym VESTA Fitboxing, “was a total shock.”

“The primary owner asked us to sit on the news for a few days while he dealt with logistics,” Dixey said. “But we pretty much did an immediate pivot.

The Local, which has been open for more than two decades, was one of the first businesses to announce plans to close once Portman started purchasing properties along Ponce, and quickly started saving up money to provide employees with a severance package.

Dixey said that the Local will likely close for about three weeks, starting in early September, to undergo a renovation and that the money earmarked for employee severance pay will go toward paid vacations instead.

The Local will reopen with a larger menu which will include its popular chicken wings. “We had really stripped down to the bare bones during COVID, so it’s time for us to expand a little bit,” Dixey said. “We figured out a way to increase our wing output by something like 40%. But it’s still us, still our wings, still the same owners and the same crew. We’re not going to put too much polish on the place.”

One noticeable change: The Local will shift from offering table service to a counter service model. “We needed to be able to work the crowd the way the crowd needs to be worked,” he said of the types of groups the bar’s proximity to the Eastside Beltline often attracts. “A table service model doesn’t really work anymore.”

Down the block at Bookhouse Pub, which has been open at 736 Ponce de Leon since 2008, owner Ryan Murphy said it’ll be business as usual for the next two years, at which point Portman will break ground on a new development where the bar is currently located.

“I’m playing it all by ear,” said Murphy, who also co-owns MJQ and Drunken Unicorn, Ponce businesses that will move forward with plans to relocate to the Underground Atlanta development in downtown Atlanta. “Ask me in two years what my plans for Bookhouse might be.”

He said Ponce de Leon Avenue — and the Atlanta restaurant scene — have changed drastically since Bookhouse and MJQ opened.

“Bookhouse Pub was always a happy little treehouse where all your nerd friends could hang out and talk about movies and nerdy stuff and not break the bank. But the model of the standalone restaurant is very rare now. You’re either expanding and part of a big restaurant group, or you’re waiting to get rolled over.”

Portman’s decision to shrink the project’s scope is in response to a tight investment and lending market that’s grappling with prolonged high interest rates and construction costs, according to Portman’s Vice President of Development Mike Greene. He said all projects in planning phases have to be reevaluated, even in high-demand areas like those along the Beltline.

— AJC reporter Zachary Hansen contributed to this report

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