'Cheers!' A toast to Atlanta's oldest watering holes: Atkins Park

Atkins park in Virginia Highlands celebrates their 100th anniversary.

Atlanta’s landscape is constantly changing, and our city has a reputation for embracing new development. At a time when we often hear about older taverns shuttering their doors, “City Lights” launches a new series to celebrate the bars that have beaten the odds and survived for decades: “Cheers!” a toast to Atlanta’s oldest and most iconic watering holes.

For the premiere installment, “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes paid a virtual visit to Atkins Park, Atlanta’s oldest tavern.

The 100-year-old Virginia Highlands bar has seen many generations of management and staff, and it’s currently under the guidance of owner Sandra Spoon, who spoke with Drobes over Zoom along with longtime bartender Andrew Crow

Interview highlights:

How Atkins Park began as a planned community deli:

“There was a planned community called Atkins Park, and it consisted of three streets here in the Virginia Highland neighborhood – St. Charles, St. Louis and St. Augustine. And interestingly enough, Edwin Grove of the famed Grove Park and Resort in North Carolina planned the community. So it was a very walkable community. It had sidewalks, similar setbacks and similar architecture among the houses, which is still evident in those three streets today,” recounted Spoon. “But in 1910, a house was built in the location we currently are, on North Highland Avenue, and then in 1922, they actually lifted the house up and built the delicatessen underneath, which is currently the bar side. So, what a feat… They opened the delicatessen in 1922 and named it after the community.”

She added, “When you come upstairs to the upper story of Atkins Park, it is the original house still intact. It’s our offices; it’s storage, it’s a meeting room. But there are three old fireplaces up here. You can see some pocket doors. You can still see the front of the building where we think there was a screened-in porch; it’s pretty interesting.”

Bartender Crow on the bar’s charm and loyal regulars:

“I have been at Atkins Park for almost 14 years,” said Crow. “You know, it’s the closest thing to a ‘Cheers’ type bar that I think Atlanta has. It’s a neighborhood bar. Our regulars come as often as we do for our shifts. It’s more of a family-type atmosphere than just a place to go to work. It’s a neighborhood bar.”

Crow went on, “It can be a bit prickly at times, especially if you’re new, but once you get to know [the regulars], they become family. We’ve got regulars that bring in donuts for the staff on a weekly basis; inside jokes; I’ve never worked in an atmosphere quite like this place, and I’ve worked at several other restaurants, and none of them have had this feel. That’s why I’ve been here for so long.”

The legend of the Atkins Park “ghost room:”

“It’s an old house that was lifted up, and I have always told the tale of a haunted upstairs to the new hires, just to keep ’em in line a little bit,” said Crow. “I’ve seen no real evidence except for one picture, which I find to be very suspect of the old delicatessen. And the only way I can describe it is a woman’s face coming out of a wall where it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing reflective on the surface. I don’t know, and I don’t like to speculate, but… the upstairs is haunted, obviously.”

“We do call it the ‘ghost room,’” Spoon chimed in. “There is a photograph that does have a reflection of a woman in the deli counter, and oddly enough, she looks exactly like my daughter when she was about six or seven years old. It’s really kind of spooky. But we do have management that says, ‘Oh, I heard something back there,’ or, ‘Something was moved.’ They swear. I personally have not seen anything either, but the ghost room has been spoken about for many, many years.” 

Atkins Park will celebrate its centennial anniversary with a golf tournament benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on Wednesday, Sept. 28.