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Does anyone actually like the Varsity?

Illustration of a woman eating a fried onion ring
Illustration by Uglylogo/

What’ll ya have? The chili dogs, triple-stack bacon cheeseburgers, and frosted orange shakes have made the 91-year-old drive-in restaurant an Atlanta institution. For presidential candidates, it’s a required photo-op. The diner is consistently listed on Atlanta tourism guides, touted as “the world’s largest drive-in restaurant” or “Atlanta’s favorite hotdogs and hamburgers.” Is it a tourist trap? Maybe, but its fans don’t care.

“We love this place. It’s a treat,” says Stephen Gissendaner, a Birmingham, Alabama native who was visiting Atlanta with his family on his birthday and picked the Varsity for dinner. Gissendaner first noticed the fast-food joint “years and years” ago when he was staying at a nearby hotel, saw the restaurant was packed, and decided to give it a try. He’s eaten there more than 10 times since.

For some non-tourists, the Varsity’s draw is not just about the food but the nostalgia. “I went to high school here,” says Renee Hunter, who’s lived in Conyers for more than 20 years. “[The Varsity] always used to sponsor the senior class; they’d bring us the hats for the homecoming pep rallies. When we got done with football games or if we would come into the city, we would always come in here and eat. It was cheap.” As the restaurant nears its centennial, Gissendaner makes a good point: “It can’t suck and be in business this long.”

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.