On many Saturday nights, you can find me on one of the mismatched chairs at the Righteous Room, slowly sipping a Tecate and trash-talking with friends. The Poncey-Highland bar is conveniently located next to the Plaza Theatre and is my pre- or postshow hangout to discuss the art-house or cult-favorite film I just came from. On Wussy magazine movie nights, the bar fills with queer people dressed like characters from Clueless or whatever campy classic they’re screening. Film snobs mix surprisingly well with the punks and creatives chain-smoking at the tables outside. (The bar used to allow smoking inside, but fortunately stopped in 2020, when the city banned it.) But its convenient location isn’t the only reason for its popularity.
True dive bars have become harder to find in our ever-gentrifying city, where $16 cocktails are being served at every cafe and movie theater. Northside Tavern barely holds on to its Westside corner, where outside investors keep putting up towers full of national chains. The Earl, though home of the city’s best burger, probably survives in East Atlanta Village because it doubles as a music venue. The Local and its famous wings almost got erased by new development, but will live to see many more late nights on Ponce. But not every bar has been as lucky. Elliott Street Pub in Castleberry Hill closed in 2022—the same year that the Righteous Room’s Brookhaven bar shuttered abruptly.
Fortunately, the original location has been a reliable dive for more than 25 years. “Pray for ATL” originator R. Land’s irreverent art covers the brick walls. The bathroom is coated in more graffiti than paint and has an old mustard bottle as a soap dispenser—but is cleaner than most bars’ bathrooms. There’s a cigarette machine and an ATM, because they don’t take Amex. And workers from nearby restaurants come here to do shots after their shifts. I love a dirty gin martini made by a bartender with ridiculous facial hair as much as the next person, but knowing I can get a High Life and a shot of well whiskey for $5.50 tastes even better (order the Man Up). At the end of the night, I can regularly settle up for under $20—including food.
Oh, did I mention the Righteous Room has better-than-average bar food? There are burgers and decadent grilled cheeses, but the two menu standouts—potato wedges and the grilled rosemary chicken sandwich—are the most unexpected. The former are little canoes of potato, topped with salt and malt vinegar or chili and cheese; the latter is a chewy naan slathered with garlic-yogurt sauce and stuffed with house-marinated chicken, caramelized onions, and peppers. Whenever I don’t order the grilled rosemary chicken sandwich, I regret it. It’s bright and fresh to sop up the (very cheap) alcohol that you’re probably going to drink more of than you’d planned, because it’s just so easy to pass an entire night here, where the crowds are chill and the bartenders are chatty. I regularly find myself leaving at 1 a.m.—fairly sober, because it’s about the hangout, not the High Life.
This article appears in our January 2024 issue.