Atlanta: A Bartender Named Tinsel

I often say that there is a sign above my head that reads "tell me your story" in bright neon letters. It attracts all sorts, and generally comes in handy for a person who is a writer. 

This weekend, while in Atlanta, was one of those moments. After going to a wonderful wedding celebration for my friends Marjan and Tommy (which included a belly dancer) and scoring a Marc Jacobs gold sweater for $8 thanks to Stephanie (and my godson baby Jack), I met up with my friend Mandy.

Mandy is an Australian doctor who does things like play the sousaphone, ride a motor-bike, and travel the world creating poetry with a label maker. We connected last year at running camp where she told me she'd dreamt of driving to the gates of Graceland on a Harley, which she did.

Here for a six-week honeymoon (Australians have way better vacations), Mandy and her new husband had been traveling the country: Vegas, Phoenix, and a hop over to Europe while on this side of the world. She told me of her pact to keep trying for new adventures, something that I really admire, because she actually makes them happen.

So, gathering these facts: I was with my Aussie adventure seeking friend, and I have a sign perpetually lit over my head saying "tell me your story," we headed off to Johnny's Hideaway in the middle of the day. Johnny's, which is like a wedding reception that never ends (full of 65 year olds and hipster 30-somethings) is one of my favorite spots in Atlanta. And who wouldn't love a bar whose owner once was in tight with The Rat Pack, as evidenced by The Old Blue Eyes room packed full of memorabilia, and an Elvis corner adorned with a red jumpsuit and photos of The King?

The scene was markedly different than Johnny's on a Saturday night, where the disco ball turned and Bee Gees played. Four or five old timers sat at the bar. Mandy and I walked up.

"I'm new, so it's an open bar," said the fresh-faced woman behind the bar. When Mandy asked what was good the bartender replied that their customers didn't like anything fancy: rum and cokes, gin and tonics. I ordered the former, she the latter. Did the bartender really just say it was an open bar? Maybe not, as she accepted Mandy's $20 bill.

When it came time for the next one and Mandy took out her wallet, the bartender confirmed: it was indeed an open bar, a term that I had to explain from my Down Under friend. But that wasn't the most notable part. (And not really notable for me, because I was just having one cocktail. Had it been any other day -- or rather, Saturday night -- it would have been an Elvis-infused dream come true.)

Though in the middle of the day, the smell of smoke hung in the air, covered the red cloth barstools where we perched under a photo of Priscilla and Elvis. Like the inside of a Vegas casino inside a suburban Southern strip mall.

We asked the bartender her name, and she replied:


"Tinsel?" we both blurted out rather incredulously. As in Christmas?

The question begged to be asked. And here was the story.

Her parents were told that she would be a boy, and they'd picked out the name "Jordan." So, when she emerged very non-boy, they had no names. After some thought, her father suggested "Tinsel," and her mother agreed. But her father did not tell her mother the real origin. It was the name of his high school girlfriend, who he'd always pined for.

Tinsel went on to tell us the strange thing was that there was another girl with the same name a few towns over, and they both attended a senior prom. She said it was strange to hear someone call out "Tinsel" and not for her.

She told us to help ourselves to the nearby cold cut tray and we did, eating sliced cheese and turkey. Later, a woman around our mom's age came in asking Tinsel if they'd found her cell phone left there the night before.

"I woke up with a man's tie next to me, and no man" the woman chortled in her throaty laugh. Tinsel went behind the bar and pulled out the woman's cell phone. "Happens all the time," Tinsel said.


Mandy at Johnny's.


Related Links:

Remembering Atlanta's Mr Nightlife: Johnny Esposito, A Life On The Dance Floor

36 Hours In Birmingham: What Do You Show Visitors?

What I Learned At Camp: Part I