Nick Rutherford and Molly Gunn, the exuberant young owners of The Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points, took some guff from beer geeks when they first opened their labor of love pub in Sept. 2008.
I’ll admit, I was among those who raised an eyebrow, writing this in Draft magazine: “If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, The Porter is the greatest admirer of Atlanta’s Brick Store Pub. It’s sort of like a cover band, right down to the lip-synching design of its beer menu.”
For the record, I also noted: “It’s hard to argue with the first-class selection, which includes 27 offerings on draft and another 130 in the bottle. And the food menu, which features suggested beer pairings, ups the ante for beer bars in the city.”
Honestly, a year-plus on, it’s Rutherford’s cooking that’s made The Porter such a go-to place for me. His weekly specials have always reflected a background working at some of Atlanta’s best restaurants, including Seeger’s and Quinones at Bacchanalia.
But Rutherford’s mix of updated pub grub and dishes that employ local vegetables and proteins has become even more impressive over time. And Gunn’s ever-perky presence, meeting and greeting guests at the front of the house, casts a warm glow over the hip, and sometimes hectic atmosphere.
I caught up with Rutherford and Gunn on a freezing evening during the kickoff of the 2010 Where the Wild Beers Are tasting series — which featured an exciting ten-beer Allagash Brewing Co. “tap takeover,” including big Belgian-style treats, such as Fluxus, Odyssey, and Interlude, plus the new, decidedly not Belgian-style, Burnham Road smoked beer.
Asked to reflect on their first year in business, and look to the future, here’s a bit of what Rutherford and Gunn had to say.
Molly on the first year: It really has been excellent. We definitely learned a lot, and we have gotten a lot better at what we do.
Nick on what they learned: The Porter has it’s own clear identity. Some people just come for the food, some just for the beer, but most of our regulars come to enjoy them both, together.
Molly on nice surprises: We were surprised by how quickly the surrounding neighborhoods embraced us. Apparently beer really is recession proof!
Nick on the menu: Our food menu, at least our specials menu, is constantly evolving. We are always finding new things that go well with beer, which is our only rule for menu items. Right now, we have rabbit from a small North Carolina farm on the menu, and when I eat it, I can just imagine Flemish peasants eating rabbit stew on a cold winter day and sipping a delicious dark beer.
Molly on the future: We are very lucky to be down the street from what is considered the second best beer bar in the world. It gives us something to aspire to. Our next focus is improving our staff’s knowledge about beer. And we dream of a roof deck, some day.
Event: Where the Wild Beers Are continues through the end of January, with a different firkin every day this week through Saturday [Jan. 23]. This year’s finale is a B. United distributors tap takeover on Jan. 29, with special beers from Hitachino, Mikkeller, and many other wild things.