If you want to visit Athens, GA, go to a football game, catch a concert at the Georgia Theatre, cruise the botanical gardens. If you want to understand Athens, go to The Grill at around 1:45 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night. Take the second booth to the left, order a large feta fry and a chocolate shake, and begin the countdown. The bars close at two, and you have a front row seat to the best circus in town.
Haggard sorority girls, musicians finishing gigs, bartenders ending shifts, college boys taking a breather, and lifetime Athenians alike come together for the same purpose: They are drunk and they are hungry.
The Grill on College Avenue has been opened, and occasionally closed and then opened again, since 1955. It's an Athens institution in the same vein as the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta, except less naked. Usually. Often, you don't remember what you did before arriving at the Grill, and sometimes the only way you know you ate there is by finding the crumpled receipt at the bottom of your purse the next morning. Or the heartburn.
A few warnings: The late night scroungers can cause in-restaurant traffic jams and often exhaust the wait staff. And don't be fooled: the staff does not like you. It might take a solid hour to get your meal from your black-clad, sleepy-eyed server, but hang in there. The wait is worth it, because of two words: Feta. Fries.
Feta fries have been touted as the ultimate can't-miss dish for grubbing late night in Athens. But aside from this sharp, cheesy, perfect match to thick, crinkle cut and salted fries, the menu boasts an entire diner smorgasbord. Try a patty melt or a milkshake 24 hours a day, but don't go before midnight. Before midnight you can't get breakfast.
But the Grill isn't all about the food.
Well, it is about the greasy, fatty, drunk people food, but it's also about the combining of Athens cultures in a way that can only happen under the influence or at odd hours. Get a high five from a frat boy, borrow cab money from a local, and hold the door open for Miss Georgia, because here we are united in inebriation.
Ask any University of Georgia student or longtime Athens resident about their most treasured Grill moment, and most will quickly blush red, then tell you a story that happened to "their friend." The worst of these always seem to end with people passing out in the bathroom or discovering your busboy has a bird in his pocket. There are many beautiful, respected restaurants in Athens but none with the moxie and occasional irreverence of the Grill.
The Grill represents the end of a twenty-first birthday celebration or the beginning of a late night party. When you're too wired after a long shift serving shots to
underage hooligans bar patrons to go to sleep, it provides a place to complain about how low tips were. No matter if a show was amazing or mediocre, there's always The Grill. Whether you remember your time there or not, it cannot be missed.
The saying goes: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." What it really means is that it's time to head to The Grill.
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