SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
People still wanna go where everybody knows their name.“Cheers,” the wildly popular television show from the 1980s called Boston home. Once inside this basement bar, you’d catch a glimpse of Bostonians’ feet as they maneuvered the busy sidewalk just above, unaware of the fun that was going on in the bar below them. Fast forward to today. What could this bar from the Northeast, that primarily served cheap beer, have in common with a sushi restaurant in the heart of the South and known for tattooed staff and craft cocktails? Quite a lot, actually.
“Cheers” wasn’t based on the bar’s decor or cuisine and cocktails served. “Cheers” was about the characters and how they interacted with each other and, in a small way, it was an extension of the city it called home. Atlanta’s Bottle Rocket shares a similar story.
Only a handful of episodes were not shot at the bar in “Cheers.” Entering Atlanta’s Bottle Rocket restaurant, the bar is the main attraction. Some tables remain idle, as patrons know most of the action is at the bar. While mixologists whip up craft cocktails like the Georgia Boy (almond milk frothed with sorghum-infused rye whiskey, poured over Mexican Coke on ice), the sushi chef, crafting plates as diners watch from the other side, engages in a spirited conversation about the latest fubar by Atlanta politicians.
When it comes to sports, “Cheers”’ regulars rallied behind their beloved Red Sox, but Bottle Rocket has traded baseball for zombie slaying. The restaurant gets packed during “The Walking Dead” season and no one wants to miss a minute of the the intense, zombie-slashing show, filmed in Georgia. The commonality of love for the AMC thriller runs strong through all the patrons, with many even dressing in character for premieres.
“Cheers” also had famous guests drop in from time to time: Emma Thompson, Alex Trebek and Red” Sox third baseman, Wade Boggs. Bottle Rocket can name drop, too. It’s a known hangout for The Walking Dead” stars. Norman Reedus pops in from time to time with his latest arm candy. Even Giancarlo Esposito (Gustavo from “Breaking Bad”) has enjoyed a meal and other late night shenanigans at Bottle Rocket.
If ever there was an eclectic gathering, it was the “Cheers” gang, with young, old, educated and uneducated, snooty, and boorish. But somehow this group always had each other’s back. There’s no ego or condescension with Bottle Rocket’s patrons either. Even though we’re living in times where race conflicts have reemerged, it’s never an issue at Bottle Rocket. All races, ages and income levels seem to find a cohesive bond, whether that’s over sports, drinks, neighborhood events, or all of the above.
Know it all “Cliff the Mailman” has been replaced by graphic designers, sipping on craft beer as they work on their latest project, lifting their heads once in a while to chime in on the conversation. No nonsense sushi chef, Jen Anderson, is the resident Carla, albeit much more attractive, dispensing her witty, R-rated humor during sushi classes. Proprietor Josh Calvin and his partner/long-time love, Bonny McKinnon, remind us of Sam and Diane, minus the spastic relationship.Unlike today’s staggering number of television choices, “Cheers” rose to popularity during the must-see TV moments of our past, becoming a community for viewers and a source of office conversation at the water cooler. Similarly, Bottle Rocket has established roots in the Atlanta community by hosting potlucks during holidays for those who can’t be with family, and sponsoring charity events in the neighborhood.
“When we had a cigarette machine, all the neighbors had their own keys so they could come grab smokes any time they wanted. There were also times when we’d forget our keys but knew we could count on one of the regulars nearby to let us in,” says Calvin, who’s even officiated a wedding inside the bar at the behest of one of his regular patrons.
What made “Cheers” such a hit? There were diverse but relatable characters and the atmosphere at the bar was a convivial one. Even if you walk into Castleberry Hill’s Bottle Rocket as a complete newbie, not knowing anything about it or anyone there, you’ll be greeted with friendly faces and, by the time you are leaving, everyone at the bar will know your name.
Malika Bowling is a freelance food and travel writer based in Atlanta and Editor at Roamilicious.com. She's the author of Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and Food Blogging 101. She has been featured on HGTV and The Huffington Post and has been a contributing writer to USA Today. Malika has also served as a judge at various culinary competitions and food festivals.