Community Outpouring Saves Historic Manuel’s Tavern, Peachtree NORML’s Meeting Spot.

Manuel’s Tavern, where Peachtree NORML has met for 12 years, may not look like much from the outside. Nestled in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood, adorned with pop art murals and photos of famous visitors, you might never guess it’s an Atlanta institution that has hosted a cross-section of the political life of this city for 65 years. And this week, we thought we might lose Manuel’s for good.

Peachtree NORML, like hundreds of other groups from the Audubon Society to political radicals, relies on Manuel’s affordable eats and spacious meeting rooms to bring our community voices together. The establishment regularly seats 340 people at a time, in five dining rooms. Under Governor Kemp’s coronavirus orders, social distancing has reduced capacity to just 50 patrons per day… for eight months.

Brian Maloof, son of the eponymous Manuel, faced the possibility of losing his business; a business his father opened in 1956, and ran until his death in 2004. Although he received a rent adjustment and a Payroll Protection (PPP) loan, by the beginning of December, the restaurant was on the brink of closing permanently. Staff were quietly notified. Bills were coming due. Things looked dire.

One of the restaurant’s most loyal patrons finally convinced Maloof to ask for help. A GoFundMe with a heartfelt message went live on Thursday, December 3, with a goal of raising $75,000, to cover insurance fees and a liquor license renewal. Once Atlantans heard Manuel’s was in danger of closing, supporters smoked that goal, doubling it in 3 days. As of writing, the GoFundMe has raised $171,618, and the campaign was bolstered by dozens of comments from donors who fondly remembered both Manuel’s and Manuel.

Peachtree NORML held its first public meeting since the COVID-19 lockdown, right back at Manuel’s in November. We also proudly contributed to the fundraising campaign to preserve our Atlanta home.

We’ll meet there again today, December 8, safely, and proudly continuing the grassroots organizing and local political activism that’s characterized Manuel’s for 65 years. 

A darkly ironic post-script:
Peachtree NORML’s donation, and much of the outpourings of love to Manuel’s, will be eaten up by a city liquor license.

Peachtree NORML meets to discuss the legalization of a plant proven to be FAR safer to consume than alcohol. Both cannabis and alcohol are major sources of revenue for the city – one from expensive licenses, the other through criminal fines, court costs, and fees on bail bonds.

We don’t begrudge anyone a drink. We love a good tavern, and Manuel’s is the best around. Those of us who choose the less-harmful herbal alternative just want to enjoy it in peace and good company, like the friends, neighbors, and activists who’ve occupied Manuel’s barstools these 65 years.

The Bat Cave is saved. The fight for freedom continues. See you tonight.