Vortex Bar and Grill, Atlanta
I’ve been to some strange places across the country, but it’s hard to say I’ve seen anything quite as surreal as Vortex Bar and Grill in downtown Atlanta. From a lot of crazy things on the walls to strangely lit bathroom halls to a list of rules on the menu, including one that proclaims the Vortex to be an Idiot-Free Zone, it’s just a weird, weird place.
I’ve certainly never seen anything quite as adult, as Vortex is the first restaurant I’ve been to that does not allow anyone under 18 inside the building, although that’s because of a Georgia law that states that restaurants that choose to allow smoking must be 18-and-over at all times. Given how the waiters and waitresses reportedly act at times, that might be a good thing.
But food-wise, it’s a real shame, because 17-year-old and younger Atlanta residents are missing out on some incredible burgers, and a wide variety of them. Vortex lists 25 burgers on its menu, and that’s if you only count using a beef patty. If you branch out to veggie, turkey or bison (OK, they also allow chicken for another 25, but chicken is not a burger), it jumps to 100 possible burgers available. All beef burgers are made with choice sirloin, which is surprising for a burger (sirloin usually has too little fat to make a juicy burger), but it works well at Vortex. When you make great burgers using that kind of meat, you have to be doing something right.
Regardless of patty, most burgers are put on an egg bun, which makes for a great flavor. The array of burgers starts at the basic Plain Ol’ Vortex Burger, which is just lettuce, tomato and red onion on the burger and goes all the way to the Triple Coronary Bypass, which includes two half-pound patties set between three grilled cheese sandwiches in place of buns, and also throws eggs, bacon and American cheese on for good measure. Plus, you get a bowl of fries and tater tots covered in melted cheese. It costs $27 and likely includes a free call to a cardiologist.
In between, you have burgers that aren’t likely to kill you in one setting, such as the Holy Guacamole (topped with jack cheese and guac, of course), Hungry Chuck’s Cowboy Burger (ham, jack cheese, honey BBQ sauce), the Hell Burger (pepperjack, roasted jalapeno and habanero relish. They say on the menu not to order it if you’re a pussy, and I did not make that up) and my choice, the Blue Shroom Burger.
The Blue Shroom, as its name implies, is topped with sauteed mushrooms and Vortex’s blue cheese spread, plus a couple strips of bacon and the standard burger toppings. On the menu description, they say, “It’s so good, you’ll see God.”
While I didn’t have a meeting with the Heavenly Father on this trip, they aren’t off by much. The thing that really makes this burger stand out from the typical mushroom cheeseburger is the blue cheese spread, which is creamy and flavorful as well as a perfect complement to the char on the grilled burger. The bit of bite you get from the tangy blue cheese is fantastic, and it goes great with every other flavor between the egg buns. Throw in a sweet tea for a beverage (come on, you’re in Atlanta, your choices are sweet tea or Coca-Cola) and either fries or tots as a side and you have one of the best meals in one of the weirdest settings ever.
Sure, the restaurant might look like something out of an Oakland Raiders game. But all that matters is whether or not you can produce a product worth eating, and while it’s unorthodox, Vortex certainly accomplishes that goal. Any weirdness or atmosphere issues can be ignored for a burger this good.
Time to go: Lunch. I wouldn’t say you should go around dinner unless you like long waits and a strange crowd. I’ve heard things get very interesting later in the night, but that’s just a rumor.
Wait during my visit: None, but I came for a late lunch. I would not expect this to be a common occurrence.
Location: Vortex can be found at 878 Peachtree St. NE in Atlanta. There’s another location in Little Five Points, to the east of downtown Atlanta.
Parking: Personally, I wouldn’t. Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of places to park, and you’ll pay for the privilege. The thing to do is take the Red or Gold Line of MARTA (Atlanta’s rail system) to Midtown, and walk a quarter-mile to Vortex. It’s a fairly easy walk.
Cost: With a non-alcoholic beverage, you will be out for under $15 if you don’t order the Triple Coronary.
Website: Vortex Bar and Grill
Specialty items: Burgers