“The sunsets. That’s what I’m going to miss the most,” says Mike Jakob, co-owner of Elliott Street Pub & Deli. “The sunsets just bang off the windows of the buildings to the east.”
“It makes this killer pink hue in the sky,” adds his brother and business partner Pete Jakob, peering out at the downtown skyline from a wobbly plastic chair in front of their pocket-sized bar.
The Brothers Jakob, a couple of middle-aged Long Island natives, have owned the Castleberry Hill establishment since 2004. Back then, the place was intended to be the workshop and office for their now-defunct construction company. But, by way of serendipity and a twist of fate, the nearly 150-year-old building, a stone’s throw from the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and mere feet from downtown’s desolate Gulch, became what many consider Atlanta’s best bar.
The Jakobs’ ascension to nightlife nobility, of course, didn’t happen overnight. And their shift from the construction field to that of drink-slinging, concert-hosting, and even inn-keeping, among other trades, was particularly unorthodox, if not totally bonkers.
Now the brothers are making another surprising move. Last week, they put their now 13-year-old watering hole on the market for a cool $3.3 million. That’s a far cry from the $315,000 they picked it up for more than 15 years ago, and quite a jump from the $1.5 million they sought in 2014. The new asking price has as much to do with the success of the pub itself as it does with downtown’s ongoing metamorphosis, which includes the impending, multibillion-dollar development of the Gulch, the looming restoration of South Downtown, and the much-awaited rebirth of Underground Atlanta.
“Forty acres to the front of me, Hard Rock in the back, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” Mike says, nodding to the neighborhood’s circling development forces, the effects of which are visible from their Elliot Street stoop.
No doubt, Elliott Street Pub had been well-known for its downstairs music venue—once a mere storage space—since long before the Reverb by Hard Rock resort broke ground in its backyard. It’s made such a mark on the intown music community, in fact, that Mike says with a chuckle he thinks the bar should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame like New York City’s infamous CBGB. Long before Mike and Pete took hold of the tiny bar and its dank basement, the circa-1870s building housed, among other businesses, Dee’s Bird Cage, a raucous jazz club that once hosted the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight, and Isaac Hayes. The venue, which had been drawing crowds since the 1950s, shuttered in the 1980s or ’90s after a fire charred the structure’s interior, the brothers say.
“We took it out of hibernation,” Mike says of their 2004 purchase. But even that process wasn’t by the book. One night, as they were cycling around town, looking for a good spot to smoke a joint, the brothers stopped on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive bridge, which runs near what’s now Mercedes-Benz Stadium and hangs over part of the Gulch. A tortured, boarded-up building on a tiny, lonely street beckoned them, and they pedaled on over.
“It was a shithole,” Mike says. “It probably had an inch-and-a-half of posters on it from movies and rock groups. We pulled back the plywood that was just nailed into the wall. There wasn’t even a door behind it. We looked in, and the place was just burnt.”
There was no bar inside then, but there was a massive hole in the roof. The basement was severely flooded, thanks to years of rainfall. We need it, the brothers decided. The Jakobs won’t say how much it cost to renovate the aging, failing structure, aside from “a lot of blood, a lot of sweat, and a lot of clothing,” as Pete puts it. “We were constantly throwing our clothes into the garbage [during construction],” Mike says, noting how the soot from the fires clung to them.
While the Jakobs envisioned the space to be the home base for their construction company, a Budweiser sign left from the days of Dee’s Bird Cage reminded passersby that the area needed another place where they could down some drinks before and after Atlanta Falcons games at the now-demolished Georgia Dome. People would stroll past and say, “Hey, when are you gonna open the bar back up?” But it wasn’t until someone stole the brothers’ truck and trailer from in front of the bar—“a big dually pickup and a 20-foot trailer full of tools”—that they cemented the idea of ditching construction work for the bar business.
Elliott Street Pub opened in 2006, initially drawing a small crowd of neighborhood regulars, as well as some sports fans and government employees stationed at the nearby federal building. In their fledgling days as bar owners—Mike ran the front-of-house operations, while Pete manned the kitchen—the Jakobs were often roused from their posts by a blaring car alarm.
“One of the first days we were open, somebody was trying to break into a car out there, so we defended our place,” Pete says. “Mike’s bartending, and I’m making sandwiches. We hear the alarm, run outside, and see a guy with his feet sticking out of the car. So we dragged him out of the car, and . . . should I say this?” Pete pauses and asks his brother. “We zip-tied him to a tree, and then we proceeded with lunch.”
“The cops show up, pick him up. ‘Great, thanks, guys,’” Mike continues, quoting the police. “From then on, they knew, ‘These guys can handle themselves.’”
As Elliott Street Pub’s basement established itself as a budding, bustling concert hall, a punk band they’d booked had its way with the space, shaking and smashing beer bottles without regard for the Jakobs’ intimate den and its sound system. “So Mike poured a six-pack on their equipment,” Pete says.
“If you’re gonna fuck with my stuff, I’m gonna fuck up yours,” Mike follows.
The brothers haven’t exactly mellowed with time. Mike, for instance, has been sparring with City of Atlanta officials for weeks recently, lobbying against the powers that want to install paid parking meters in front of the bar. “Could you pave my street before we start talking about parking?” he said to Curbed Atlanta recently, saying the street hasn’t been resurfaced since before the 1996 Olympic games.
But they’ve also made friends in high places due to the bar’s popularity. In addition to the multitude of well-known musicians they count as friends, Mike and Pete have become close with city leaders and other major Atlanta players.
A few years ago, an elected official was pinned with a D.U.I. charge soon after leaving Elliott Street. A local reporter who they’d come to know and like asked if he could shoot footage for a story about the incident in front of the bar. “We told him we’d rather he not,” Mike says. They didn’t want that kind of press. “And if he did, I told him to be at least roman candle distance away.” The journalist wound up parking the news van on a nearby street, a safe distance from the establishment.
Until last year, the Jakobs were living in the loft above the pub. They’ve since turned it into two units, which they rent on Airbnb—the Elliott Inn, as they call it. Years earlier, the basement also was transformed. It used to be the pub’s main storage space, until one of the cooks, a saxophone player, asked if he could jam with some friends down there. As Elliott Street Pub attracted musician after musician—both popular and obscure—a drummer who was storing his kit in the dungeon asked, “Why don’t we play down here?” Pete responded: “Well, we could build a stage.” So they did.
These days, the bar’s walls have been lovingly plastered with hundreds of dollar bills—some fake, some foreign, and many decorated with personal messages—posted by regulars and tourists alike. Now, many of those long-time fans are now worrying about the fate of the legendary establishment. “People are all freaked out, like, ‘The next owner is gonna tear it down,’” says Mike. “Nobody’s gonna tear it down.”
There aren’t any historic statutes to protect the bar from demolition, but its owners hope the property, as well as its thriving businesses, is too valuable—both to the community and any would-be investor—to bulldoze. Plus, the Jakobs say they’re going to be very particular about who writes them a check. “We could be sitting on this for a while,” Mike says.
Asked what they’d say if CIM Group—the Los Angeles-based developer planning to develop the Gulch with potentially $5 billion worth of new constructions—made an offer, Mike says, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. And we can turn down anybody; we still own it.”
“I think companies like CIM still want places like us around,” says Pete, alluding to the bar’s cultural value.
Once the bar is sold, the Jakobs want to see the world—though not together. Mike says he’s been eyeing a Catamaran sailboat. Says Pete: “I’m gonna go see the stuff I haven’t seen, and then eventually end up on a boat. A different boat.”
As for the bar, Mike says he has faith it will continue to prosper without the Jakob oversight.
On the day it finally changes hands, he says, “I’m gonna cry.” Until then, though, Mike and Pete will keep smoking on the porch, greeting nearly everyone who strolls in. They’ll continue to bring in jazz, R&B, and hip-hop acts to perform to sardine-packed crowds.
“It’s an amazing place,” Mike says. “It does well now, but it’s ready for the next caretaker. We’re just way past anything that we ever thought this place would turn into.”