Decatur drinking: A resident’s opinion on the best bars in Decatur

Illustration by John Miller | The Signal
Illustration by John Miller | The Signal
Illustration by John Miller | The Signal


Okay, so I don’t exactly live in Decatur, I live in Scottdale, which is about a fifteen minute drive away, but seeing as how there aren’t any good bars in Scottdale to go to on a Friday night, I end up taking MARTA down to Decatur to go drink.

There are certainly worse places you can go to get drunk, and worse places you can go to bar-hop.  In fact, I’d say Decatur is probably the best place in Atlanta to bar-hop, besides Little Five Points, Virginia Highlands and similar neighborhoods.

Decatur’s a safe little alcove where middle-class families send their kids to Catholic school, walk their dogs, and indulge in their “foodie” nature, the latter of which the restaurants and bars seem to be designed to accommodate, so the area is dense with places to drink, each one just a stone’s throw away from the last.

But when one has visited the area as many times as I have, one develops preferences for certain bars–perhaps because they offer something other bars don’t, or they just have that je ne sais quoi that keeps one coming back.

These bars, for me, are: Brick Store Pub, The Square Pub, and The Marlay House.  I choose three because they each make up for the other’s shortcomings.  The one that has the most shortcomings of the three is The Brick Store.

Don’t get me wrong, The Brick Store is a great place, but as the old joke goes, “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”  It’s a rarity that you could open the Brick Store’s large wooden door and not immediately see that it’s sardine-packed (their densest time is 9 p.m.), but if you do manage to get a barstool or a booth, you’ll find it’s one of the best bars you’ve ever been to (just avoid the upstairs if you’re claustrophobic).

That’s because they have a truly enormous selection of beers, so many that you can have rounds with a group of friends for hours without ever getting the same beer twice.  Also, they have some amazing chefs there who cook the best dishes I’ve ever tasted (the duck and the bratwurst are two of my favorites).

But if you’re looking for a place that isn’t completely crowded most of the time, you can traipse across Decatur square to my second choice, The Square Pub, a three-story bar that cultivates an atmosphere of chilled-out and low-key, even during its busy hours.

And the placidness only grows the higher up the stairs you walk.  Make it to the third floor and you’re almost assured a cushy booth overlooking Decatur square where you can order their excellent quesadillas and not-too-shabby beers.  Just try not to go on football nights, because they have a flat-screen TV and a group table, if you know what I mean.

Third on my list is the somewhat out-of-the-way Marlay House, which is somewhat of a stereotypical Irish joint, complete with old Guinness advertisements and reciepts that thank you by saying, “Sláinte!” This Irish theme, you’ll find, has competition in the whiskey bar Mac McGee on the square.

There’s nothing particularly special about The Marlay House, it’s just a sort of cozy area outside of the central locus of the city of Decatur, and they serve decent food.  I can’t recommend it for any reason besides these.

Now I’ve listed the bars you should go to, I’ll list the one’s you should avoid: Colbeh Persian Kitchen & Bar, and Iberian Pig.  I name both of these places not because they’re bad in any way, but because they’re really, really expensive.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably a student, and if you’re a student, I guarantee you you can’t afford these places.

Colbeh is a nice art-gallery-type restaurant with smooth wooden seats and muted lighting.  Often your dinner and/or drinks are soundtracked by some sleepy guy in a tux thrumming a stand-up bass, which can be relaxing, until you get the bill.

The Iberian Pig is sleek, full of wine, and dark–maybe a little too dark.  It almost makes me think it could be a shady mob headquarters or something.  Anyway, they have excellent Sangria.

Some other places that are good include Java Monkey, Leon’s, and Twain’s.  Java Monkey is, ostensibly, a coffee shop with a small stage where anyone can play open-mic shows.  It’s a great place to see amateur musicians, poets and comedians while getting coffee, or to buy beer.

Leon’s is more of a traditional restaurant with a large beer selection, and in that respect they do very well.  My only complaint with the place is that their food portions are somewhat small.

Twain’s is a great bar (which actually has two bar areas) but suffers from the same problem Brick Store does–there are too many people there at any given moment.

In closing, I’d like to revisit Mac McGee’s, which comes in at a close tie for my third favorite bar in Decatur, next to The Marlay House.  Like I said, it’s a pretty traditionally Irish pub, but what makes it unique is that it specializes in whiskeys.

That being said, you can see how bartenders there might get beleaguered by their guests, since whiskey drinkers become considerably more drunk than beer drinkers as the night progresses.  This can make bartenders at Mac McGee’s a little prickly, but that doesn’t mean the bar suffers for it.

Their kitchen is also something remarkable.  They serve intensely flavorful food (because whiskey also impairs the sense of taste), dishes which are sometimes quite nutritious.  I recall buying a dish described as liver, then receiving a plate full of fruits and vegetables, with a small portion of ground liver in a shot glass in which to dip them.

But that’s about all I have to say about the bars in Decatur.  Many of the bars aren’t exactly bars, but are bar/restaurant combinations, including many of the bars I’ve listed above.  I’ve tried to rank each establishment by its bar-ness as best as I can, but that’s often impossible.