Not only is this year a big anniversary for Atlanta Intown, it’s also a big one for The Colonnade. As everyone knows—because it’s been right there on all their signage since the beginning—this beloved Atlanta restaurant has been around since 1927. After thirty-five years at the corner of Piedmont and Lindbergh, it moved to Cheshire Bridge, where it’s been ever since. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of The Colonnade’s “new” management of Paul Jones and his family. Amusingly, the Jones clan has been operating The Colonnade for almost as long as its current executive chef, Ryan Cobb, has been alive—and even he’s been working there for more than a decade at this point.
Some of the bartenders have long been eligible for AARP membership. They’ve got a line cook at the restaurant who has been there nearly 40 years. There are as many graying heads behind the scenes as in the dining room. The Colonnade clientele has a reputation for being as much gay as gray, and this is one of its truest measures of hospitality. Most outsiders would expect the grays to be giving stink eye to the gays, or vice versa. But the fact remains, The Colonnade is equally warm and welcoming to everybody, and it expects that the customers will treat each other with a live and let live attitude that includes everyone as part of the restaurant’s family. This accepting atmosphere is a main reason why folks keep coming back; The Colonnade has some regulars who have been showing up to lunch or dinner two or three times a week for decades.
The other reason they come back is the food. The Colonnade offers traditional Southern fare and the same menu all year round. If you crave Thanksgiving in July, their turkey and dressing has got you covered. They’ve got a prime rib and a cheeseburger that have been classics since the day they were born. The fried chicken—crispy but not greasy, seasoned but not spicy—has far more of a right to the title of “Atlanta’s best and most famous fried chicken” than pretty much all other plates attempting to lay claim to such a label. They’ve got a strawberry shortcake and a coconut icebox pie that can each satisfy three or four spoons digging in at once. And that’s all if you somehow don’t fill up on bread first. The Colonnade has still got a terrific free bread service of corn muffins and sweet rolls, which you’ll be hard pressed to find in the majority of Atlanta’s finest dining establishments nowadays.
This place is not “fine dining,” but there’s simply no doubt about it being Atlanta’s finest. There’s a consistency—or one might do better to say constancy—to the dishes that provides maximum comfort. In the Yelp reviews, for one example, there are eleven pages of photos going back many years. I went through just to look at all the bread basket pictures, and you know what? Every single photo up there looks just like the one in this article. Many moons ago, for another example, when The Colonnade’s coffee supplier changed distribution, the coffee didn’t taste the same. So the restaurant put their regular coffee drinkers through a taste test to get to the coffee they liked best.
In fact, The Colonnade is so entirely reliable that when they finally made the obvious and many would say long overdue move from “cash only” to accepting credit cards, the headlines treated it as a legendary “stop the presses” type of moment. At a place where so few things ever change, perhaps it was indeed major news. So go celebrate the place for its forty years under the ownership of the Jones family. Go on whatever day, at whatever time, for whatever it is you usually order. It’s exactly like you remember it, and perhaps it always will be—except on days when Atlanta’s new Hollywood friends are filming there, because even they know about the ageless glory of The Colonnade.
Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture, including her latest, a Bruce Springsteen-inspired collection of poems and essays called Boss Broad.