Daydrinking, dining and downtime dovetail on the perfect patio for Atlanta’s gay urban explorers
By Mike Fleming
It’s hard to say what gets me going more. Warm weather? Weekends? Hanging with my gays? Sipping grown-up refreshments? Watching sexy joggers file by in short shorts? The best part about Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall in Old Fourth Ward is that I don’t have to choose. You don’t either.
Downtime and daydrinking collided on a recent Saturday that found the hip space two-deep at the bar with my lucky group at a sought-after table on the porch overlooking the bustling BeltLine. The lodge and travel motif – set off by a tree-bark bar, maps, communal tables, deer heads and a grizzly bear mural – is casual enough to handle my lively bunch, but just sophisticated enough to keep us in check if anyone really starts feeling his cocktails.
The libations themselves range from house takes on classic Bloody Marys and Old Fashioneds, to original fare with names like Fool in the Rain (with brandy, pear and thyme) and Tiger by the Tail (with chai gin).
But before you think there’s anything haughty going on, someone orders the Redneck Mimosa (Miller High Life and OJ), and someone else notices that the seasonal Patio Punch is served for parties of eight or 16, at $55 and $100 respectively.
A dozen local, artisanal drafts are on sale, but so are cans of Schlitz, Shiner and Jack’s. Wines come by the glass with a side jug for overage, and by the bottle. As a teetotaler, I had the seasonal lemonade, which was fantastic, and a refreshingly authentic ginger beer. What? Someone has to drive these queens.
You may have noticed by now, as had I, that Ladybird has a sharp focus on its status as a hip, Old Fourth Ward bar created with off-the-clock urban explorers in mind. Definitely go there for a pre-dinner nip, but take heart that you can stay for the food and be glad you did.
Campfire-inspired offerings include a double-stack burger that’s greasy and cheesy just the way the good lord intended, with house pickle and aioli that tweak it into something special. A fried chicken bucket with three sides puts the colonel to shame, s’mores pie was the bomb, and a grilled spatchock chicken melt with avocado and Swiss was so good that a second was ordered by a neighboring foodie, but too late: They were out of key ingredients.
Therein lies the biggest rub about Ladybird. The enjoyment of your surroundings may mean that the service is slow, if friendly. And you may not always be able to get what sounds good on the menu. Owner Michael Lennox and his pedigreed kitchen either haven’t found the right groove, don’t have enough competition to thin out crowds of hungry BeltLine revelers clamoring for a seat, or maybe daily menu adjustments, surprise substitutions and ingredient-availability issues are just part of the charming flexibility that is life on Atlanta’s new urban landscape.
Ladybird takes no reservations, which is fitting of the atmosphere and location. To circumvent menu shortage issues and to secure one of the coveted lanai tables, get there a little early. The gay gaggle shenanigans, and the aforementioned shirtless joggers, make the extra effort well worth it.
Want to go?
Where: 684 John Wesley Dobbs Ave.
Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail, Mile Marker 9.25
When: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends (Limited menu between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.