The Comfort Zone
ATL CHEF ZEB STEVENSON GIVES US HIS LIST OF FAVORITE LOCAL DIVE BARS
Chef Zeb Stevenson of Redbird restaurant in Atlanta is an unapologetic fan of dive bars. He is such a fan that when we asked for his top three, he gave us eight. “When I go out,” he says, “I go where I feel comfortable. Where I can enjoy a good conversation with real, genuine people.”
Zeb’s childhood home was void of alcohol, so the only exposure he had to what he refers to as “alcohol culture” happened when he went with his grandparents to the Moose Lodge. “Everyone there was just enjoying a drink, enjoying the company, and having a good time. They weren’t getting out of hand or anything, and everyone was so nice,” Zeb says. “So that’s what I’ve always thought going to a bar should be like—it should just be a gathering place.”
When Zeb started going to bars after turning 21, he found himself disappointed with the pretentiousness he discovered at many of them. He found himself looking for no-frills bars—places you can be as noticed or as anonymous as you want. “I don’t want to pore over a cocktail menu for twenty minutes,” he says. “I just want a cheap, cold beer.”
When he thinks of places around Atlanta where he loves to go for good conversation, good times, and occasionally a little of the unexpected, The Local is at the top of his list. “That's my number one,” he says. “They have karaoke and great wings.” He laughs as he realizes that several of his favorite dive bars have great wings, including Highlander and The Albert Atlanta. “We go to Highlander for trivia too,” he says. “It’s very rock-n-roll. And they have the hottest wings I’ve ever had—their ghost pepper wings. The bartender asked three times if we were absolutely sure that’s what we wanted. My girlfriend and I split a dozen. She had half of one and started crying uncontrollably, and I ate the rest.” He goes on to say the experience was painful, a little traumatic, and likely to never be repeated, but it’s still often talked about.
Zeb goes on to mention heavy metal karaoke at Dark Horse Tavern and church organ karaoke in choir robes at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room. He adds, “The Porter Beer Bar has what might be the biggest, most extensive beer list in the country, but it’s still comfy and really punk rock.” And he can’t forget Mr. C’s Bar & Grill, a favorite industry hangout, with Octopus Bar deserving an honorable mention as well.