Joshua Fryer can be found crafting cocktails at 8 Arm’s outdoor saloon on most evenings. Dayglow purple lights illuminate the shipping container’s back bar that is covered in painted palm fronds as new wave bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and The Cure (pre-Wish album) play overhead. It’s a little bit of South Beach meeting Empire Records.
Decked out in one of his funky collared shirts with a mop of curly hair atop his head, Fryer is in his element at 8 Arm. Here he can be both tender of drinks and host with the most. At a bar that allows him to create unpretentious riffs on the classics while talking music, movies, and books with patrons, his focus on hospitality and building relationships with guests beyond the drink has created a stable full of regulars. Many have followed him from his previous stints behind the bars of Ration and Dram and The Lawrence.
Fryer has been slinging drinks since he turned 21 and says he spent his early 20s hopping around the East Coast and working in bars in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and St. Augustine, Florida, before returning home to Nashville to pursue a degree in international politics. The bar was simply a way to pay the bills and have a little fun before life had to get serious. Graduate school at Georgia State brought Fryer to Atlanta seven years ago. But this time, working behind the bar in a new city brought his life into focus: “I fell in love with Atlanta and the people in the industry here. I knew I was finally home.” He eventually dropped out of grad school to work full-time in the industry he loved.
After 17 years behind the bar, Fryer is still in love with the industry he chose over grad school. His cocktails showcase an ability to achieve both playfulness and elegance in a glass without the need for overwrought pomp and circumstance. Keeping it simple gives him the ability to provide guests with damn good drinks (ask for his Gibson) and a comfortable space in which to relax and enjoy them. Fryer puts it into perspective: “Bars and restaurants are places of culture, history, and communion. We can strive to make great food and beverages but if the vibe is off, it isn't worth it.”
Here, now, are Fryer’s recommendations for drinking around Atlanta when he isn’t behind 8 Arm’s bar.
529. You can often find an interesting band playing, and no one can philosophize with you about music and film like Jacob.
Happy hour bar or lounge
There's something I really love about sitting at the bar at The Porter in the afternoon with a beer from the cellar.
I rarely ever brunch, but when I do, Ration and Dram's build-your-own biscuit is a favorite of mine. It goes great with the brunch punch — especially if you can snag a table on their beautiful patio.
Place for drinking and dining
BoccaLupo is a personal favorite of mine for dinner. I usually go with the tasting menu and wine followed by an after-dinner amaro. Speaking of amari, Noni's on Edgewood has a fairly big amari selection at some of the best prices in the city — and the fries are the best!
Bar where you're a regular
Joystick Gamebar and Georgia Beer Garden. Johnny Martinez and Brandon Ley (who own both of these bars) are awesome guys. While Edgewood Avenue can be unbearable on weekends, you'll often find me at one of these bars when I have a weeknight off. I owe a lot of my friendships and professional connections in Atlanta to Joystick. These guys and their staff are family.
Out-of-town fave (regional)
It used to be this dive bar in Nashville called FooBar but, unfortunately, due to owner disputes, it closed back in September. That said, my late nights at FooBar usually started at another really good bar just down Gallatin Road called No. 308.
Out-of-town fave (national)
When I lived in D.C., I loved going to Bistro Francais in Georgetown for crab-stuffed avocado and a glass of wine. But after 41 years, it apparently closed last fall as well.
Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands is one of those destinations that anyone with the opportunity should take. It is a two-hour sail from St. John, USVI, and is along a stretch of beach without a dock where locals anchor their boats a few hundred feet off shore and swim in to drink delicious painkillers at the bar where the cocktail was originally created. The name of the bar came from the wet money everyone paid with after swimming ashore. They hang the bills up with clothespins behind the bar to let them dry. The whole experience is beyond amazing, and I hope more than just once in a lifetime.
Go-to cocktail order
Americano. It's an easy drink that doesn't knock you on your ass. Its low abv allows me to handle the inevitable shots that end up happening.