It was almost a decade ago that a man I was hopelessly smitten with took me to a little Atlanta hole-in-the-wall before a Mountain Goats concert. We sat outside in the spring sunshine, and I was so overwhelmed by my feelings and the beer list (and my feelings about the beer list), that I copped out and simply ordered the weirdest thing I could find. The result was a floral, astringent brew that tasted not unlike facial toner.
It was the first time I’d dated a man who cared about things like craft beer and fine dining. It was also the first time I tried a beer that wasn’t in the usual wheaty, bready, palette I’d discovered in college. The romance didn’t last and the beer blew my mind. But my love for the epic Porter Beer Bar’s lengthy bottle list and unctuous, unstoppable mac ‘n’ cheese continues to this day.
In the eight years since my introduction to Porter, I’ve introduced all my favorite people to the place. My friends and family have also developed a lexicon that might, to outsiders, make us sound more like Baptists than craft-crazed beer enthusiasts. “Do you want to go to church this weekend on our way to the airport” my cousin Ryan might ask me. He’s terrified of flying, but he isn’t looking for last-minute absolution. Instead, we started calling Porter “church” because the beer list is the length of a bible.
That was true when it first opened, and it’s only expanded since then. “We only had 25 drafts and about 100 bottles,” co-founder Molly Gunn said of Porter’s early years. “Now we have 50 taps and over 800 different bottles of beer.” She and her husband have made it a policy to only stock beers they love, until the craft beer movement really overflowed. Now they adhere to the Craft Brewer’s Association’s guidelines in addition to collaborating with breweries they have an enthusiasm for.
The food, however, has remained a truly personal labor of love. “My husband and I always worked in fine dining restaurants, but we wanted something more casual where folks could afford to eat there more than once a year or on special occasions,” explained Gunn of the menu. In addition to bar food standbys like gooey chocolate brownies and burgers, Porter serves up truly inspired fair that you won’t find anywhere else in Atlanta’s booming food scene.
Three or four years ago, they had a dish featuring strands of jellyfish dressed in a bright vinegar sauce. I hadn’t seen the likes of it since I spent the summer in Hong Kong. Last spring, my cousin and I feasted on pickled ramps foraged in the Appalachian hills. It’s not unusual to find fun combinations like duck carnitas tucked into Asian-style steamed buns or crunchy crab rolls packed with pickled apples, shallots, yogurt mousse, and yuzu pudding.
Molly and her husband thank their chef co-owner Nick for the inspired eats. “We like to travel and he frequently gets ideas from different things we try when we travel to other countries,” she noted. “Also, we personally eat at The Porter all the time and like to encourage our regulars to do the same. We don’t want to eat the same thing every day! No one does, so Nick changes it up all the time.” That makes for a mighty fine weekly communion for those lucky enough to live in Little Five Points.
After all, you can’t talk about Porter without making a mention of the neighborhood in which it resides. It’s hard to imagine the dark sanctuary of Porter, packed with gnomes and vintage suitcases and with its secret inner sanctum lined with ultra-rare bottles, existing anywhere else in the ATL. This artsy rock ‘n’ roll ‘hood is home to music venues, tattoo parlors, funky boutiques, vintage clothing stores, even a hip-hop sneaker library.
“We ended up in Little Five Points because we live nearby and we love the eclectic funky vibe of the neighborhood,” said Gunn. “Little Five Points has not changed a ton in the 10 years we have been open, but we have gotten some new neighbors which are awesome like the Wrecking Bar Brewpub down the street from us!”
Indeed, Porter has not only been a mainstay of Little 5 Points, but in many ways set the tone, serving as an anchor that even out-of-town fans like me come back to time and time again. Or sometimes as often as twice in one day, as happened one weekend when I brought my mother there for the first time. She liked her lunch so much she didn’t want to go anywhere else when dinner time rolled back around. But that’s what happens when, as Gunn put it, the Porters team pours their heart and soul into every pint and plate. Talk about devotion.
Header image courtesy of The Porter Beer Bar.