Like all great ideas, this one came in the middle of the night. I was celebrating a finished story by also finishing a few beers and some Chinese delivery. Maybe it was the sesame chicken talking, but I began wondering how many of Atlanta's best craft beer bars I could hit in one day using only MARTA. No cabs, no long-suffering designated drivers, no 15-passenger vans, just buses and feet. Could it be done? Would someone let me write about it?
To my surprise, my editor was into it. I recruited a crawl companion, Shane, who would bring his MARTA expertise to the mission. He regularly blows my mind by showing up to various places in the city without a car. And the thing is, it shouldn't blow my mind. You always hear people — and I'm including myself here — complain about MARTA, but how many of them have really given it a chance? Not that using public transportation to safely/legally drink beer all day is some sort of noble act of civic reform. But at worst it could offer me a new perspective on the city I love, and, at best, make me a true believer in MARTA's bus system.
We decided on seven bars to visit over the course of a Saturday: Twain's Billiards and Tap, Brick Store Pub, Manuel's Tavern, Book House Pub, the Porter Beer Bar, Wrecking Bar Brewpub, and Midway Pub. Shane came up with two routes. The first started at 2:40 p.m. and allowed for around 50 minutes at each location. The other started at 12:30 p.m. and allowed for around 90 minutes at each bar. For efficiency's sake, we went with the 50-minute-per-pub route, although I'd recommend the less rushed 90-minute plan for beer lovers who'd like to attempt the crawl. Both routes end around 9 p.m.
For obvious health and logistical reasons, the list of bars we came up with is not exhaustive. There are craft-beer gems sprinkled around the Westside, Buckhead, the suburbs, and beyond. Our list of seven favors some of the city's best-stocked and beloved watering holes that are near public transportation and could be visited in a single day. That is, as long as we — or MARTA — didn't mess it up.
Moments before our scheduled start time, Shane texts me: "Slight delay after I dropped and broke my razor and blood started shooting out of my nose." We're doing great so far.
We start off in Decatur at Twain's Billiards & Tap, an elder statesman of the local craft-beer scene in business since 1996. A massive space that features shuffleboard, arcade games, occasional live music, sports-filled televisions, and, of course, tons of pool tables, Twain's has been brewing beer in-house since 2006. Brewer David Stein revamped the establishment's beer lineup in late 2011. Following his departure in 2012 to focus on opening the highly anticipated Creature Comforts Brewing Company in Athens, Chase Medlin took over, creating a session IPA series, experimenting with new styles such as this summer's Berry Tart sour ale, and collaborating with both local (Steady Hand Pour House, Three Taverns Brewery) and national (Michigan's New Holland Brewing) companies.
Easing into what's going to be a long day, I order the Four Count Pale Ale, a crisp and delicious beer with low ABV (5.4 percent) and a citrus-hopped body ideal for casual day drinking. At the bar, 38-year-old real estate analyst "slash dude that plays in a band" Alex Brenner regales me with his most memorable Twain's experience.
"We lit Roman candles at our friend in front of the cops outside," Brenner says of one explosive July Fourth. "We were in the parking lot and we were all hammered. The cops were like, 'Hurry up,' [because] they had to sit there and watch us do it because it's illegal. We lit him on fire."
You know that tiny, post-beer moment where you step out into the shocking light of broad day? That's what carries us on a cloud to Brick Store Pub a couple blocks away. I order a Night in Brussels Belgian IPA from Three Taverns Brewery, which is located right up the street, and meet Wayne Johnson, a 66-year-old retiree. He first visited the Decatur craft-beer institution on its second day of business, June 28, 1997.
"Well, her and I had three sons," he says, gesturing to the woman sitting to his left at the downstairs bar. "We're divorced now, but [the boys] had just gotten to the age where we could leave 'em by theirselves. We were out looking for a place, and we drove by, said, 'This place looks cool,' came in, and it was cool. Everybody was real friendly. We've been coming here ever since."