THE VORTEX STORY
THREE SIBLINGS OPEN A BAR
For Vortex fans that are interested in learning a little bit about our history, we offer this super-condensed version of how The Vortex came into existence. In 1991, Michael Benoit was working as an artist in his hometown of Los Angeles when he realized it was time for a change. Taking a two-week driving tour of the Southeast, he visited Atlanta for the first time. Back in those days, Atlanta was a young, affordable city with a spectacularly thriving nightlife. "Last-call" was made at 4:00 am, and just in case you still weren’t ready to go home, there were a few 24-hour clubs operating around town. It also seemed like there was a strip club on every corner. Michael was sold. He went back to L.A., packed up all his belongings and hit the road for Georgia. He was soon followed by his brother, Hank, and sister, Suzanne, who were also ready to bid farewell to Southern California.
Since all three siblings were looking for a change and wanted to create a little fun for themselves in their newly adopted city, they decided to pool their meager resources and open a bar. After all, what could be more fun than hanging out in a bar every day, right? They eventually found a little pub for rent on the corner of West Peachtree and 11th Street in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta. At that time, many locals advised them that this area was somewhat “undesirable,” but the trio forged ahead anyway.
They opened the original location of The Vortex Bar & Grill on April 20, 1992. The space was tiny, and they filled it to the brim with kooky, eclectic décor. They opened the doors and personally welcomed each and every customer. Since none of them had any experience in the bar business, they employed the “learn-as-you-burn” philosophy, working long hours from opening until close every day, performing every chore necessary to keep the bar running. This included waiting tables, bartending, and even cooking in a pinch. They also bussed tables, washed dishes and performed all the janitorial duties, which unfortunately included a fair amount of vomit remediation and toilet unclogging.
They didn’t mind the hard work, but since their goal was to have fun, the siblings refused to put up with any rude or demanding customers, declaring The Vortex to be an “Official Idiot-Free Zone.” People who annoyed them were regularly tossed out, often physically, which garnered the siblings a certain degree of notoriety for their unconventional approach to customer service. They had succeeded in creating a cool, secret hideout for themselves. Their big personalities and offbeat sense of humor quickly became hallmarks of this hip new neighborhood bar, and the business prospered.
HEDGING THEIR BETS
In October 1995, the owner of a local vegetarian restaurant was enjoying his big, juicy Vortex burger when he asked the siblings if they would be interested in taking over his business in Little 5 Points. Since they had only secured a 5-year lease in their original space, they decided that this eclectic, bohemian neighborhood seemed like a logical choice for relocation or expansion. After all, they were enjoying the bar business, and they wanted to keep The Vortex going. So they negotiated a deal and set about the task of transforming a long neglected hippie restaurant into a second Vortex location. The final touch of the renovation was adding the 20-foot high “Laughing Skull” facade, which has since become an Atlanta landmark. They opened the doors to the Little 5 Points Vortex on July 21st, just three days before Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic Games began.
RELOCATING THE ORIGINAL
At the 5-year mark, the tiny original Vortex in Midtown was packed to capacity every day. So, in order to deal with this drastic increase in business, the partners decided that a move was absolutely necessary. They found a much larger space in a renovated loft building just a few blocks away. Many regular customers told the siblings that they were sad to see their one-of-a-kind little gem relocate, even though they understood the need. But in a spectacular show of support, their most loyal friends and patrons showed up to help them make the move. It was an impromptu party that turned into a parade. All of the furniture and décor from the original location was moved to its new home, at 878 Peachtree Street, in a rag-tag convoy of cars, pickup trucks, vans and even motorcycles. That’s how they relocated the original location of their bar, back in November of 1997, over the course of a single weekend.
BEST BURGER IN ATLANTA
Just in case you didn’t know, The Vortex has been honored with “Best Burger” awards by a multitude of local and national publications from the day it opened. Additional accolades followed over the years, including awards for “Best Beer Selection,” “Best Neighborhood Bar,” “Best Overall Liquor Selection in Atlanta,” “Best Bar Food,” “Best Veggie Burger,” and “One of the Top 50 Restaurants in Atlanta.” As their reputation continued to grow, the partners began to get requests to be featured on television programs. The Vortex has appeared on Man vs. Food, and many other “Best Restaurant” themed TV shows. All of this recognition was certainly nice, but the siblings never let it go to their heads. As long as their loyal customers were happy, they were happy.
More recently, Atlanta has seen an explosion of new burger restaurants, and many existing restaurants have begun featuring their own glorified interpretations of the humble sandwich. Local celebrity chefs were predictably fawned over by the press for their ingenuity and vision. But “reader polls” continued to prove that The Vortex had won over the hearts, minds and stomachs of Atlanta residents. People weren’t fooled by all the flash and PR. The Vortex truly is the Godfather of all Atlanta burger joints.
STILL FAMILY-OWNED – STILL FIERCELY INDEPENDENT
It’s been a long time since the siblings quietly opened their tiny corner bar to the public. Since that day, the two existing Vortex locations have gone on to become Atlanta institutions, each with a diverse, friendly staff and an exceptionally loyal clientele. The Vortex’s award-winning food, extensive selection of booze and lively, non-conformist atmosphere keep loyal patrons coming back for more. The authentic, anti-corporate, “No-Bull” attitude of this little family business seems to be what a lot of folks are looking for.