Maybe this week’s Access Points photo game was a little too detailed. Interesting guesses — it is, indeed, a painting that involves a man’s jacket — but nobody was able to correctly identify it as the Zell Miller portrait hanging at Manuel’s Tavern.
Look more familiar now?
Manuel’s is a bar art museum right in Poncey-Highland. Beyond the glowing beer signs and TVs, every photo of a police officer, painting of a naked woman, playing-card-and-dollar-bill-tacked-on-the-ceiling has a story behind it. Different versions of those stories might emerge based on the person asked and the amount of time till last call. But the depth of institutional memory behind this portrait made for particularly good storytelling.
Zell Miller and Manuel Maloof, the onetime DeKalb County executive and tavern owner, were big friends. It wasn’t particularly strange to have the former governor’s image on the wall among photos and paintings of former bartenders, favorite drinkers and old pals.
Bill McCloskey is 37 years into his career at Manuel’s and remembers it this way: a bar fly named Alfie — big drinker, sign maker, once painted a boar on the Manuel’s sign — used a photo of Miller to paint the portrait. “Zell thanked him, of course,” McCloskey says, then promptly, uh, donated the work to the bar. He had no intention of hanging it on the wall at home. McCloskey remembers him saying the nose was too big.
Miller could not be reached for comment.
But his portrait lived in a prominent place in front of the bar, and nobody thought much about it until 2004, when suddenly, everybody was blabbing about it.
Maloof had recently died, and they swapped portraits so a painting of Manuel himself could look over the bar.
“It just seemed appropriate to me that Dad’s portrait be hung over the place he built,” general manager Brian Maloof told the AJC back then.
“What better place for Manuel than on the wall next to JFK and paintings of naked women?” longtime barfly and columnist Tom Houck said.
It was a lovely gesture, until it got controversial. People wondered what happened to Miller’s portrait. He had recently caught the ire of Georgia Democrats by speaking at the Republican National Convention in support of President George W. Bush.
Sure, Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue was in Manuel’s this week, but the bartenders are pouring on the understatement when they say, “some Democrats hang out here.”
Moreso, they’re Democrats with long memories. Regardless of politics, bartender Laura Krueger says, “People get very upset when you move or change anything.”
Rumors swirled that Miller’s face was in storage or hung above the urinals in the men’s room in retaliation. It got ugly for a minute there.
As reported in the AJC in 2006:
When he moved a portrait of former Gov. Zell Miller from the barroom to make room for one of his father, Maloof heard from friends of both men. Millerites were offended by the switch. Manuel’s pals pointed out that he hated his portrait. The affair ended up on Fox’s “Hannity & Colmes,” which interpreted the move as payback for Miller supporting President Bush.
Maloof shakes his head. “I was just trying to put up a portrait of my dad.”
Bar workers’ version of the story: they just moved it to the other side of the wall, where it still hangs today.
The portrait never was and never could’ve been in the bathroom.
“Manuel would have come back out of his urn if we’d done that,” says Pat Glass, a manager at Manuel’s for 33 years.
He points. There’s the urn, above the bar.
Another story, another time.
Want to go? Manuel’s Tavern, 602 N. Highland Ave N.E., Atlanta. 404-525-3447, www.manuelstavern.com