The pinnacle of self-defense, apparently, is not a gun or a bat or a knife; it is a well-used toilet brush. “It’s the best weapon in the bar,” Mike Jakob says on Wednesday, taking a smoke outside Elliott Street Pub, the Castleberry Hill establishment he’s long owned with his brother, Pete. “You want someone to leave, you don’t even have to touch them if you’re holding a toilet brush.” Mike knows from experience. He and Pete know a lot from experience—from running one of Atlanta’s most storied dives. But after 16 years, the pub’s story is ending.
The only business on Elliott Street—a strip perhaps short enough for a hotshot quarterback to toss a football from end to end—the Jakobs’ bar is yet another cultural casualty of Atlanta’s breakneck-paced evolution, following closures of longtime hotspots like the Highlander, Zesto, and Babette’s Cafe, and trailing anxieties about the potential demise of other beloved institutions in the name of new development.
Kicking retirement’s tires, the brothers listed the bar for sale in 2019. Earlier this month, they sold it to NFL star and Atlanta native Cam Newton, who owns a barbecue joint a block down from the bar with his brother, C.J. And although Newton promised the Jakobs not to raze the more than 150-year-old building—which lived many lives before the brothers came along—the writing is on the wall: the city is losing another staple, and it will be sorely missed.
Long Island natives Mike and Pete didn’t have many friends when they first moved to Atlanta from South Florida in 1995. But on Saturday night, just before Elliott Street Pub’s last last call, more than 100 bikers and bicyclists, grandmas and gutter punks, musicians and painters, and a guy who had chiseled abs and muscular pecs tattooed onto his torso flocked to the pint-sized pub for one last boisterous hurrah. “Now, I have Elliott Street family,” Mike says.
Of the dozens of friends, regulars, and randoms interviewed for this story, almost everyone sang the same tune: The Jakobs—who you could spot stacking roast beef on marble rye, or stocking the beer coolers with fresh Budweiser and Classic City Lager, or smoking pot on the curb, pretty much daily—made Elliott Street Pub one of Atlanta’s favorite watering holes. It was a place that hosted up-and-coming (and established) music acts, a few weddings, and block parties bursting with sparks from molten metal.
“I feel like Mike and Pete are it; they’re so personal, and the bar is just a bar,” says artist Dawn Martin as she dabs into oil paints to craft a picture of the pub from across the street on Saturday evening.
“These two guys have been the figureheads of the bar scene for this entire side of the city for fifteen-plus years,” says Angel Poventud, a train conductor who started coming to Elliott Street when the owners offered to be the home base for Faster Mustache—a massive bicycle race—in 2009. The pub was also famous for its “iron pours”—booming block parties where people would carve their own molds in which red-hot metal would be poured to create works of art—festive Christmas parties, raucous game day celebrations (or post-loss commiseration), and live music.
Jeff Crompton, a saxophonist who’s played on Elliott Street for years, says during Saturday’s sendoff that the Jakobs were always glad to showcase his “weird, slightly edgy” style of jazz, and they always wrote bigger checks than he expected. “It was always extremely generous,” Crompton says. “They were always so kind to the musicians.”
For more than a decade and a half, patrons were welcome to make their own mark on the pub, by stapling dollar bills—some American, some foreign, some counterfeit, some bedecked with kind, crude, or silly messages or drawings—to the walls above and around the miniature bar, which seats just 10. Some visitors tried to make their mark in other, uninvited ways. (That’s when you risk meeting the toilet brush.) A few years back, Mike caught a tagger marking up the men’s room with a spray can.
“As he came out of the bathroom, I grabbed him,” Mike says. “I’m like, What the fuck? and he says, There’s stuff on the walls already”—including graffiti and some nudie photos—“I said, Hang on. The bar was full of bikers, staring him down, and I said, You’ve got two choices: Either I paint you, or you come back and paint my bathroom.” The tagger returned to repaint the walls and was never seen again.
Another drunkard met the toilet brush during an Atlanta United game, after trying to explore Elliott Street Pub’s basement music venue, which was closed at the time, Mike says. They promptly escorted him out—luckily before he wound up with a mouthful of restroom residue.
But the Jakobs’ occasional dealing of vigilante justice hardly eclipsed the good sense of community they cultivated. Elliott Street Pub was a place to watch the Atlanta Falcons get spanked, score neighborhood rumors, foster friendships, and maybe fall in love. Mike met his now-wife Joy on the front stoop after she clocked out of the night shift at CNN.
For longtime friends Gudrun Hughes, a 911 operator, and Maigh Houlihan, a communications professional, Elliott Street “is our touchstone,” Houlihan says. Hughes follows: “This is our Cheers.” The two met at the bar in the mid-aughts during an Atlanta Photography Guild meetup and quickly bonded, becoming like family. When word began to spread about the impending closure, Hughes texted Houlihan, “Mayday, Mayday,” and called a reunion for the bar’s final Wednesday night. The women hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic, but they pick things up like they saw each other yesterday.
Hughes points toward the front of the bar and reminisces on her first visits: “My dollar bill is over there,” she says. Houlihan has her own, somewhere, too.
Mike estimates there’s probably $3,000 stapled to Elliott Street Pub’s walls. It’s all going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he says.
Thomas Kellum, a relatively new line cook who’d been coming to the bar since its early days, even considers Mike and Pete as “father figures.” His dad, who introduced him to the bar when he was a teenager, passed away about 15 years ago, and the Jakobs took the young man under their wing.
“They have taught me how to act in a bar, how to operate, how to tell people to go fuck themselves, how to be nice to people, and how to do things for yourself,” Kellum says. “This was always a safe place. Nothing bad ever happened to me here. If I had a bad situation going on with a girlfriend, I’d dip out here, sit across the street, stare at the skyline, and just think.” Kellum’s current girlfriend even gave Mike and Joy dance lessons before their wedding.
But for all the credit Mike and Pete are given for the beloved bar’s character, they don’t see things that way; to them, it’s everyone else that lent the pub its magnetism. “I love everyone we met and everybody who’s met us, and I’m going to hate not seeing everybody every day,” Pete says a few hours before locking the door for the last time.
As the Jakobs flip to the next chapter—which could be written from behind the bar at their next business venture, or perhaps from aboard the sailboat (for Mike) and trawler (for Pete) they’ve long dreamed of captaining, or maybe from somewhere else entirely—memories abound, and they can’t shake the feeling that Elliott Street Pub will never be replaced.
On Saturday, with live jazz wafting over the party, the bar runs out of PBR by dinnertime and serves its final Bud Light a few hours later. Some craft beer remains, but it’s going fast. The mayonnaise stash kicks around 11, and a server delivers one more grilled cheese just before midnight. The surviving cold cuts will go to the firefighters in the morning. Tonight, everyone is saying goodbye.
Minutes after the bell tolls midnight, with a few dozen loyal barflies still buzzing about, Mike says, “My voice is so shot, I can’t even call last call.” But he and Pete still have enough energy to shoot off a few fireworks—to mark what’s supposed to be the end of the final shift. It’s not until 12:43 a.m. that the barkeep serves the last beer Elliott Street Pub will ever serve, and, of course, Semisonic’s “Closing Time” is playing.