Cheap Eats: The Imperial

More hanging out and drinking to do in Oakhurst

Thursday February 20, 2014 04:00 am EST

At some point or another, most bartenders entertain the idea of opening their own place. Longtime Euclid Avenue Yacht Club barman Robert Holland has made it happen twice. Holland tended bar at the Little Five Points institution from 1987-2013, leaving only for span of six years between 1999-2006 to open the Universal Joint with some partners in Oakhurst, the neighborhood he's called home since '96. Instantly embraced by locals, the Imperial is the kind of comfy, home-away-from-home neighborhood bar every 'hood should have.

LIVING THE DREAM: Holland and longtime friends Jeff Bowie, Matt Hanes, and Ken Rogers opened the Imperial in early December. The space, situated on East College Avenue facing the railroad tracks, was vacant for years until Holland's former U Joint landlord suggested he check out a new building he'd bought. Inside, the 10-seat chevron-shaped bar and a few tables along a window can be chaotic to navigate. Flag down a server for help getting set up with a table and menus. If you arrive between 7:30-9:30 p.m., be prepared for a short wait. The adjoining dining room is equally busy, its high-backed booths and four-top tables filled with families, Agnes Scott students, and hip Decaturites. There are at least two big flat screens mounted high on the slate gray walls and positioned so there isn't a bad seat in the house.

SOUTHERN LIVING: The menu is a lengthy selection of elevated bar food prepared by former Yacht Club cook A.J. Thompson. Crispy, cabbage-filled spring rolls ($5) and a gloppy poutine ($6) doused with gravy and pimento cheese are among the eight apps. There are wings, a few soups, and salads, including the guilt-free charred broccoli salad ($4.50-$8) with pickled beets, grilled apples, and blue cheese. A selection of sandwiches and burgers round out the Imperial's offerings. Highlights include massive, meaty whole chicken wings ($6.50-$11) with drums and flats still attached, the towering Southern Living burger ($9) shamelessly stacked with bacon and pimento cheese, and a po' boy ($10.50) stuffed with slow-roasted beef on a French roll from Lee's Bakery.

WETTING YOUR WHISTLE: The beer list represents a wide spectrum of tastes, from Guinness, PBR, and High Life to Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, and Bells. Wrecking Bar's Jemmy Dean B'fast Stout, Eventide Pale Ale, and Three Taverns' Theophan the Recluse Russian Imperial Stout, among others, hold it down for Atlanta beers. The Imperial's back bar is filled with of-the-moment spirits such as Small's American dry gin and Tito's vodka. Holland has made sure his bartenders are comfortable with the classics — they'll use rye in your Manhattan or Old Fashioned unless you request something else.

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