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The Porter Beer Bar Lifts Atlanta's Dining Scene

Beer Bar Spotlight (Issue 17)
The Porter - Atlanta, GA
The Porter - Atlanta, GA

When Nick Rutherford and Molly Gunn opened The Porter Beer Bar in Atlanta’s hip Little Five Points neighborhood in 2008, craft beer wasn’t quite commonplace in the city yet. 

 “At the time, the only real beer game in town was Brick Store Pub in Decatur,” Gunn remembers. “They’d been open about 10 years at that point. But there weren’t really any other small, independent beer bars. When we were doing our research, we went to the Vortex restaurant and discovered that Delirium Tremens was the number one import there. So we thought maybe Little Five Points was ready for more beer.”


When The Porter opened in 2008, craft beer wasn’t quite commonplace in the city yet.


The Porter debuted with a beer menu of 25 offerings on draft and another 100 in bottles. The food menu, which featured suggested beer pairings, immediately upped the ante for kitchens at beer bars. A big part of that is Rutherford’s training as a fine dining chef. His daily specials, featuring local, seasonal and sometimes exotic ingredients, reflect years of working at some of Atlanta’s best restaurants, including Seeger’s and Quinones at Bacchanalia.

Depending on the time of year, you might find Foie Gras Torchon with crab apples, cranberry gelee, and milk toast on the menu, paired with Gouden Carolus Classic, or Chicken Gyoza with house-made wrappers, hibiscus ginger broth, basil, and jicama, paired with Hitachino Red Rice, or smoked 12 Hour Brisket with sour cream pirogues, carrots, and cippolini onions, paired with Sixpoint 3Beans.

 “That’s where I still get to have fun,” says Rutherford. “I could just set up a menu and walk away, but I still want to cook. On the regular menu, the house-made pastrami takes 12 days. Pretty much everything we do here is labor intensive. It’s silly sometimes.” Rutherford’s culinary talents remain a steady attraction, especially for regulars, some of whom dine at the bar several days a week. But the beer list, which now numbers 50 drafts and some 800 bottles, and includes more than 300 vintage selections, draws beer lovers from all over the world. And The Porter has been twice-nominated as a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Bar Program.

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Gunn’s perky demeanor and beer enthusiasm makes her the perfect presence at the front of the house, especially on hectic nights, when people are packed three-deep at the bar and lined up on the sidewalk during one of the frequent tap takeovers, famous anniversary parties or annual "epic" tasting events, such as “Where the Wild Beers Are” and "Epic Beer and Cheese."


The Porter's food menu immediately upped the ante for kitchens at beer bars. 


"During American Craft Beer Week and Atlanta Craft Beer Week, we always go kind of crazy," Rutherford says. "But I think it just came from holding on to a lot of awesome beer because it was available and we wanted it. Right now, we have something like 150 kegs set aside for epic events."

After six years, the narrow storefront hasn’t changed much. It still exudes a certain bohemian DIY character that feels more shabby than chic. “Having that layer of grime and personality helps us fit in more with the neighborhood,” Gunn says, laughing. But a recent expansion added much needed cooler space, plus the Cellar Room — a cozy private dining destination with brick walls lined with rare bottles and a long wood slab banquet table illuminated by antique light fixtures. “This is our fancy room,” Gunn says. “It displays the vintage beer, and people love to come in and go shopping and get inspired.” 

Asked what lessons they’ve learned about the bar, restaurant, and beer business since 2008, Gunn doesn’t hesitate or qualify. “It’s nice to have the beer geeks like you, but they’re not paying your bills,” she says. “We love to put on wild and crazy stuff but it’s important to have balance. We also get a lot of requests for more local beers now. It always a balance between trying to be the best bar we can be and giving the customers what they want.”