Popular Midtown watering hole The Highlander turns 25

When Jeff Merback and his partners opened The Highlander in Midtown Atlanta, they set out to serve up “really good restaurant food, not typical tavern food” – and they’ve been at it now for two decades. The Highlander celebrated its 25th anniversary in April, with a four-day party to commemorate the milestone.

The late-night establishment for adults only, located at 931 Monroe Drive, is open for lunch and dinner. It features a full bar as well as a game room – an area where you may host a private meeting or party – with pool tables, air hockey, pinball and video games.

“We cater to people within a five-mile radius of the tavern,” said Merback. “We’re not a conventioneer spot or a spot where we expect people to travel to from Cobb County or when they’re on their way to the Symphony. We’re a neighborhood tavern that has always taken care of our neighborhood family and customers.”

The Highlander looks after local artists, too, displaying and selling their artwork, which is changed out quarterly. Merback is proud of such unique touches and the pub’s focus on providing high-quality food.

“We were one of the first people in the bar industry to do all the food from scratch,” said Merback.

Around 10 years ago, the establishment received national recognition for some of its homemade fixings. During the second season of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” The Highlander’s Pasta-Rella Sticks – mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce – and Jamaican Jerk Chili were spotlighted.

While bestsellers have changed since the 1992 opening, staples have included burgers and chicken sandwiches. For the April celebration, The Highlander kicked off a new art show, hosted a barbecue and band performances, along with its weekly Sunday trivia – this time with the questions focused on The Highlander and city of Atlanta developments over the past 25 years.

Regulars and staff, including owner Jeff Merback (third from left in the back row), celebrate The Highlander’s 25th anniversary. (Photo by Lisa R. Reisman)

Merback, who was 24 when he opened the pub with two original partners, said “it feels amazing” to mark 25 years. Since the original partners left, minor partners have been on hand. They include Brannon Amtower, Darby Yale and Gregg Taylor. Taylor and Amtower have been with Merback the longest. Long-time staff include a pair of bartenders who have been employed more than 20 years – Marco Gollarza and Chris Jackson – and daytime manager Ali Reed.

Merback said he always hoped The Highlander could keep its doors open as long as possible, and he’s looking either to sell or close the business when he retires in the future.

For now, he operates The Highlander, along with Fabiano’s Pizzeria, with locations in Douglasville and Newnan, and The Alamo, a neighborhood tavern performing space, in Newnan. His wife Laura is bookkeeper for each of the businesses.

“We have our hands full,” said Merback. “We stay busy, but we’re going to be around as far as possible in the near future.”

For more information, visit thehighlanderatlanta.com.

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