I can’t believe that I’ve never said a word about the Varsity. Perhaps because I’ve eaten there for at least forty-five years, I assumed that, at some point in this adventure, I had.
It’s been part of the backdrop of my life:
- We ate there before Braves’ games while Hank Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s record.
- I ate there when I was in college downtown.
- Growing up (and raising kids) in the west suburbs of Atlanta, the Varsity capped many nights’ in-town adventures.
- Most every field trips that my kids had that was in Atlanta included a stop at the Varsity.
- We ate there before Georgia Tech football and basketball games.
In fact, this picture was taken almost exactly one year ago, on the way to a basketball game.
The Varsity’s ubiquity may be why I’ve failed to blog about it. It has always been. It has been open in this location since 1928, with the current “look” since 1940.
Sometimes it’s moderately busy (random Tuesday, 2013, 6:00 pm).
Sometimes there is no one there at all (random Thursday, 2014, 8:45 pm).
But if you go before a ball game, there won’t be a place to stand to order or to sit and eat. Tonight, walking in the door late on a Thursday evening, I was greeted by a chorus of “What’llYaHave”. I knew what I would have before I got there.
Everyone in Atlanta has a Varsity story and a Varsity favorite. My dad is the only person I know who doesn’t order a hot dog or hamburger of some shape, form or fashion. For sixty years, he’s ordered their chicken salad. He loves it – that’s why he went there. My mother-in-law loved, and my wife loves their Frosted Oranges. We have a friend who loves their fried peach pies (which smell, oddly, like sweat socks when you open the plastic paper, but taste much better) - that’s his motivation. But I, like millions of other Atlantans, Georgians, Southerners, Americans and foreign visitors, love their chili dogs.
Some times you just need a Varsity chili dog. I rarely order anything other than two chili dogs, fries and a drink (now called a #1 – and now over $9.00, including tax).
And there you have it – two hot dogs, in steamed buns, covered with chili and a ribbon of mustard, with a basket of fresh-cut skin-on fries. This is, to many, Atlanta on a single plate.
One of the other unique things about the Varsity are the seating options. Upstairs (a later addition), there is a large room with booths, a walkway to the upstairs parking deck with tables and chairs and a third room, with a TV. Downstairs they have four rooms – each with a TV set on a single channel (don’t ask them to change it). Two of the rooms have tables and chairs, two have desks – designed for single diners. This night, I sat in the front-most room, which was on ESPN, and watched part of the second half of Kentucky at Arkansas, with a sixty-year old security guard and a twenty-something. We all were eating chili dogs and talking about Julius Randle and John Calipari. People of different ages and backgrounds, enjoying a common meal and making conversation about a common event. It’s the best of Atlanta.
On a side note: When I was looking for the link to their website, I discovered something that I wouldn’t have believed:
“That’s why we start out fresh each morning. Each day (except Sundays) we receive deliveries of fresh hot dogs, ground beef for chili, hamburger patties, bread and produce. Then we make all your favorites from scratch: Chili, French Fries, Onion Rings, Fried Pies, Chicken Salad, Pimento Cheese, Varsity Orange Drink, and Garden Salads.”
Everything’s fresh? Honestly, that’s shocking. And amazing. According to their website, they make “two miles of hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies and 300 gallons of chili” from scratch, daily.