Let’s Go Drink One….

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The intersection of Langston Dr. and Stewart Avenue (now called Metropolitan Parkway though no one is buying it)

This site is dedicated to Stewart Avenue located in South West Atlanta, GA. Just as a simple matter of triage – if the names “Crystal Palace, Perkerson Park, The FirePlace Lounge, The Roman Lantern, Jolly Fox, Purple Onion, 72 Lanes, or FunTown” mean anything to you then you are probably in the right place. I say “probably” because it is likely you have done some Internet searching to determine if there is anyone who remembers these places and, more importantly, has anything interesting to share. It’s okay if you don’t want to admit to your current spouse, friends, or social group that you might have spent some time in these places (ha ha). But at this point I should point out that there are more wholesome references to the Stewart Avenue area which hearken back to a simpler time before the infamous early 70s “white flight” that triggered a general economic decline that has never really stopped. I’m talking about the slot car racing places in the space that became Shakey’s Pizza, or Caruso’s Italian restaurant, the Drive in Theater that became Arlans department store as well as the outdoor Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center that had many cool places, (e.g. Federal Bakery, Dipper Dan Ice Cream, Pet Jungle, and Orange Julius).  That was in fact a kinder time that I will handle in another write up though for now let’s start with the grittier aspects of “The Avenue”, which is all anyone seems to remember anyway.

If The Avenue were a person it would be in jail or a mental institution or possibly both. In it’s heyday it was like a charming Mafioso who could appear to be your best friend and make you feel connected, buying you drinks, introducing you to women. But the moment you borrow money, which is what he has been setting you up for all along anyway, and find yourself unable to pay the principal, (let alone “the vig” ), then he will gladly grind you into dust while telling you, “Sorry, but I can’t have people thinking I’m soft”. The Avenue indulged most every vice at apparent low cost but there was always a time for collection, which could be years down the road or, as some found out the hard way, right there on the spot. The only thing consistent about The Avenue was its inconsistency. Beat downs for the smallest of infractions were common although anyone familiar with the territory understood the protocol and codes of behavior so the victims were usually of the flashy newcomer or loud mouth variety. However, the protocols in effect on one day might be completely ignored the next or reshaped in some way so as to rationalize spontaneous violent behavior. Also there were many loud mouths on The Ave it was just that they had taken the time to establish a support system to help protect them in case of conflict.

Let me be clear. I didn’t grow up NEAR Stewart Avenue I grew up ON Stewart Avenue and the difference is obvious to anyone who knows the area although for most people it’s not something one would normally lay claim to as an achievement. That’s okay. At the time most people wanted to protect their reputations and not screw up their chances for advancement that could lead to a predictable straight life though you would still find them  at Dee Ford’s on “Nickel Beer Night” being paralytically drunk  while listening to Dee work through one of his classics such as “I Want to Do Beautiful Things To You (In The Morning)”.  The Avenue was mostly an antidote to boredom but it was easy to take it too far. A person seeking an innocent after work cocktail, (“Let’s go drink one” was a frequently heard invitation),  could easily wind up at The Crystal Palace until 5 a.m. and, the next day, have only vague memories of activities that, if true, would require Miranda protection and an experienced criminal attorney should legal inquiries be made. Most people just wanted diversion and generic intoxication and were willing to take the consequences. A painter gets paint on his clothes and an electrician gets shocked so being on The Avenue would inevitably involve the accumulation of embarrassing experiences that could actually be pretty fun but had the potential for full on ugliness. As time went on and The Avenue got meaner the risk was greater especially given that a random drinking mate might have zero investment in the so called “straight life” thus a bloody barroom brawl resulting in a manslaughter charge was not a real problem for them. In some cases it could raise one’s credibility. It was just part of the territory.

Every day after school I rounded the corner of Langston turning left onto Stewart past Sylvan Motors and past the gaggle of hookers blurting out promises of carnal delights every time they saw me. Once I got to know them, (not in the Biblical sense I assure you), I might even stop now and then to exchange some banter as I moved on to work at Brothers Three package store located in a lot next to the 166 overpass just down from Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center. These women would amaze me with their tales of cheapskate johns, unimaginable perversions, and dreams of finding a way out of the life. Despite their sometimes soul crushing stories I always had a feeling of returning to a familiar, safe place – a place where I could be myself and experience life without censorship or as part of a sermon being delivered by a moralizing preacher who later that week would be sampling the pleasures offered by one of those ladies of the evening I encountered each day. (I would know because they would tell me). With the passing of each day it was as if I was being exposed to some cosmic ray that resulted in an aura the color of a neon beer sign that became noticeable to my friends at school. More than one person said I “corrupted” them though I was just a doorman to a demented party and what someone did after gaining access was on them. Early in life I came to understand that there are people who really enjoy being outraged and it’s all just an act. Their reactions of offense are just for show  designed to convince themselves that they aren’t responsible for what is going on around them and maybe they aren’t. However, they could always leave the party but few did. In any case many later moved away when their families bolted to the suburbs in the early 70s, which is something my family probably would have done had we been able to afford it. Some of those people did come back for a visit – they had had a serious taste and loved to drop in now and then for some sweet action that could never be found in the suburbs.

Anyway this is just a “hello, is there anyone out there who can relate” kind of post and I’ve seen various Internet discussions on specific locales, such as Stewart Lakewood shopping center or The Southeastern Fair. I’ve  contributed to a few of those blogs though I’m interested in more recognition for this part of town as there is a lot more to discuss and document than just the sleaze and party mentality that many associate with the area. I do want to get past that element as lots of families lived there (some still do) and it represented essential life experience for many of us who remained during  a pivotal era for both the area in particular and the city of Atlanta itself. Many lessons were learned most of which have largely been ignored by existing city planners and neighborhood revival groups although I’m largely supportive of them and their efforts to bring things back if something like that is possible. I had to laugh when a young, hipster type told me about the “cool house” he had just bought “across from a place you’ve probably never heard about called Perkerson Park”. I asked what his address was and he flipped out when I told him about some graffiti in the basement of his house that a friend of mine and myself had put there back in 1974. I took a chance on assuming that the “artwork” was still there and indeed it was.

For the time being “The Avenue” lies dormant under the “new” name of Metropolitan Avenue which was given by City Hall after some Northside guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a  transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was a classic consumer case of “we didn’t get what we paid for” although the “Returns department” issued a “lead refund”.  So the City stepped in, closed down the the Alamo Plaza, (once a wholesome motel for families making the trip down to Florida down via Highway 41), repaired some potholes, did some repaving, and applied a new name with little expectation that anyone would buy in to the idea that it would change anything.  But it was all that they could really do. I mean by that time it was all on ice anyway and it became like the end of a Japanese monster movie wherein Godzilla would slip down deep into the ocean to cool off until a future seismic event would disturb his slumber at which point he would reemerge hot for action. Will The Avenue ever return ? And if it does will it pick back up where it left off like a binge drinking uncle ready for a new bender or will it perhaps be ready for some much needed rehab ?

Prior to the economic recession the neighborhoods surrounding The Avenue such as Sylvan Hills and Capitol View were slated for gentrification and increased sales activity occurred before it all ground to a halt. Some developer was intrepid enough to erect a condominium complex across from what used to be Thoni’s gas station but the timing was bad and units didn’t sell as expected despite the touted proximity to the Airport and Downtown. Nearby East Point definitely experienced a revival and pockets of West End had some growth. But unfortunately, The Avenue remains an expansive barren automotive killing field where numerous former used car lots once stood. Even the prostitutes and petty thieves are gone – well most of them anyway. You can’t rip people off if there is no one to be ripped off. In any case there is much, much more to say about Stewart Avenue and this is just a start. Please feel free to contribute. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid

 

 

 

16 responses

  1. I came here from my blog where you had posted about Stewart Avenue Shopping Center. I will be curious to how this goes, and of course, if you get hits from some people who once called that area home.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. We’ll see who turns up (if anyone) although I have recently encountered a number of people who have expressed interest in the Southside and Stewart Avenue in particular. (I’m also interested in the Lakewood Heights area where I had more family). Those concerned are usually “veterans” from back in the day whereas others are of the younger set who see the area as a source of cheap housing possibilities. Within this demographic I would have imagined that concerns for regional background would be non-existent aside from basic superficial information and perhaps a few wild stories though it would seem that these newcomers do in fact want to know a lot more. This is somewhat odd (in an encouraging way) given that Atlanta is generally known as a city that has little regard for its own history aside from information relating to the more affluent areas of town.

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  3. it’s cool that you are posting this. Never lived there. Was from the East Lake area. Remember going there to shop,eat,and yes, Fun Town! S&H stamp store was always a place to go and cash on stamps. Going to car dealers to see the new models. Later in life I worked @ Bishop Brothers and boy what sights and thing’s that went on on Saturday nights! Of course the free lunch @ Jolly Fox. Late nights ( mornings) at Cristal Palace.

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    1. Yes the free lunch at Jolly Fox was interesting. They also had a buffet on Wednesday nights that we used to hit after drinking gallons of nickel beer at Dee Fords.

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      1. Randall S Baker

        I was a regular at the Jolly Fox many years ago and believe it was the Roman
        Lantern before it became the Jolly Fox. I knew several of the girls at the Jolly Fox but I’ve lost contact with most of them! I even went to the Purple Onion occasionally. I believe there was an Arby’s on the east side of Stewart Avenue across from the Stewart Avenue Shopping Center.

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      2. Does anyone remember Lynn from the Jolly Fox?

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  4. Those nickel beer nights at Dee Fords were always too crowded, always ended up at that place up at the Lakewood Mall, I can’t remember the name or at Lums over by Sylvan Rd. Speaking of not remembering what was the place up towards Cleveland Ave called was it IP-PiPs or something like that. The wrestlers used to go in there, I think Tim Woods who was a wrestler owned it. I met Andre the Gaint in there one night and took him to Dee Fords.

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  5. My Uncle was a bouncer in the 70’s at Dees and the Roman Lantern, his name was Reed Smith. He was a monster of a man but very beloved by his nephews. Do you remember him or have any stories? He lived off of third street near the church.

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    1. I do remember him although I didn’t know him personally. As I recall, in the winter he used to wear a beige leather type jacket that was popular back in the 70s. He was a big guy and most of the problems that took place at Dee Fords got taken outside although on nickel beer night or drink-and-drown night there would be bust ups in the club. I could always see them coming so I would just move away and watch the fireworks. I always recall him being a nice guy which was an unusual trait for a bouncer. Especially so because there was always some drunk trying to start trouble. Thanks for reading.

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  6. William bellows | Reply

    I have lots of memories and scars as result of working on Stewart Avenue starting at Dee Ford’s formerly the Silver Saddle the Jolly Fox and finally the gold rush

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  7. Can you tell me if Caruso’s Italian Restaurant was just south of Lakewood Parkway on the left if you were going south bound on Stewart Avenue? I’ve had occasion to drive that way recently and I swear, I think I remember going to a restaurant there as a little girl in the 60s. I remember it had the red and white checked table cloths, candles with the mesh stuff on the tables and “oil” sculpture thingies that were supposed to look it was raining? Does this ring a bell with anyone?

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    1. Yes it was there and I think you are perhaps remembering the lava lamps that they used to have. I’m not too sure about the “oil sculptures”. Were these decorative olive oil bottles ? Anyway, they closed that location and were out of business for a while before reopening again at the corner of Stewart and Langston next to the Kroger shopping center but it didn’t last long nor did it have the same atmosphere. Plus, the area had changed significantly and many of the the families had left the area. There was also a Pizza Hut and (I think) a Pizza King nearby. Of course Nalley Chevrolet was there across from it.

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  8. My Moms family owned the Greenwood Motel,
    We moved into the trailer park area an about 1960 or 1970,we used to sit in the office of the motel waiting for an accident at the intersection of Langston and Stewart.My mom was the school crossing guard at Perkerson Elementary over by the Health dept.,I remember shopping at Stewart Lakewood shopping Center,eating Ice Cream from Dipper Dans,my moms hair dresser was just down from the ice cream shop,loved going to the Southeastern Fair every year.I remember my moms purse was stolen out of the car at Perkerson park.I remember going to WPLO country music concerts at Greenbriar mall,of course the bowling at 72 lanes and who can forget Pizza King tucked away at Stewart and I85 I always loved to watch them toss the dough.We moved to the suburbs around 1977.I went to work off of Sylvan rd in 2000 and from time to time when I worked on Saturdays I would take a drive down memory lane on my way home.I know the Greenwood sign was still erected the last time I rode thru the area and would love to find the current property owner and ask if I could have that sign.The new “Metropolitan Parkway” will always be “Stewart Ave” to me.

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    1. I’m pretty sure I know you – did you play Little League at Perkerson Park ? Sister named Anna ? Send email to stewartavekid@fastmail.fm

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  9. My dad owned f/j tavern in the 90s Bobby Baker….my mom was miss kay from ideal oyster bar

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  10. I spent my adolences from 14 on the avenue..frequented the crystal palace, my brother Greg Estes was a bartender and bouncer there and before that he bounced at dee fords and rumors.I dated little Billy Higdon the owner of ideal oyster bar our home was directly behind ideal and i bartended there off and on for 8 or 9 years .Billy s dad owned the wagon wheel and another pool place called high pockets ? Can’t remember we use to sit outside listen to whomever played at the amphitheater when Jimmy buffet would play word of mouth spread and people would pay 10 each to fill up the back of their truck with water and i made 800 all weekend that tripped me out.we use to hang with Bobby and kay at fjs and we had lots of lakewood heights customers at ideal. Wanting to sell you a radio or something hot as hell .we loved going to dotties on Moreland and Harold’s bbq and presto ice cream have a lot of weird expenses and I still have flashbacks of the frasknick festival none of them good,it was a different time but I was totally addicted to the life style on the avenue thanks for letting me share

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