The fuchsia glow radiating from a once darkened corner of a Ponce parking lot now greets 8 Arm’s bar patrons. Crowds gather nightly for cocktails inside the covered patio of this Eater Award winner, dwarfed by the area’s towering city market along the busy stretch of Ponce de Leon Avenue. The unmistakable source of that glow is a shipping container, transformed into Atlanta’s newest formidable bar.
The once uncovered patio bar was left vulnerable to the elements for most of last year. Still, the converted shipping container and its backbar painted a vibrant shade of pink and covered in palm fronds continued to pack in those nightly crowds. Fryer says he can’t quite put his finger on the “je ne sais quoi” vibe of 8Arm’s bar, only that he’s humbled it somehow all works.
“When I began discussions with Angus and Nhan before we opened, the goal was to create a vibe for the bar,” Fryer says. “I wasn’t trying to make the most interesting drinks, I just wanted to carry cocktails, wine, and spirits I enjoy drinking and to really connect with guests on a personal level.”
It’s not unusual to see Fryer and his team stirring one cocktail and shaking another while carrying on an intense conversation with a bar patron about a favorite book or movie. While they strive to actively engage with every person seated at the bar, it becomes challenging after 10:30 p.m. as cocktail seekers pack the patio.
Fryer changes the cocktail menu daily. The menu often reflects the 17-year bar veteran’s love for history or a book he’s reading or even his mood. Fryer recalls one menu was nothing but drinks based on warfare that included the tequila-based Mexican Firing Squad and 8Arm’s popular riff on the gin and lemon juice-based classic Army and Navy.
“At the beginning, the goal was to put on four or five old or forgotten classics—removing the ego from creating drinks so we could focus on the guests,” says Fryer. “Over time, we began tweaking the recipes and eventually started adding an original cocktail or two to the menu.”
8Arm’s mai tai, for instance, has become a best seller. It uses a chestnut orgeat rather than the called-for almond. Fryers says it adds more depth to the drink and keeps better when batched.
The cocktail menu comes with a brief history along with tasting notes on each drink listed. This layout is intentional. It allows Fryer and his team to offer information on the night’s drinks so patrons are able to make a more informed decision and keeps the rhythm going when the bar gets busy later in the evening.
“I don’t want our guests to ever feel intimidated by the menu. I want them to feel comfortable with what they’re ordering and commit to it with confidence.”
Fryer praises fellow bartender Nick Chaivarlis (former owner of Ink and Elm) for his contributions to 8Arm’s cocktails. He adds his own personality to the menu. Chaivarlis also affords Fryer the opportunity to leave the bar throughout service to tend to his other duties as 8Arm’s general manager.
Like the cocktail menu, the tight wine list at 8Arm is also intentional and includes both familiar and unfamiliar offerings. The list has expanded over the last year from eight to 12 by-the-glass choices. Fryer is hoping to pare it back down to eight.
“We are very careful about the wines we select for the menu. We work with great wine reps who get what we do here at 8Arm.”
Tim Willard, advance sommelier and former general manager of Le and Brown’s shuttered seafood restaurant Lusca, was brought on during the restaurant’s opening to help develop the wine program and assist in training. Willard now works as the Southeast regional manager for Domain Select Wine and Spirits. But his influence has helped set the tone for the wines offered at 8Arm.
The menu also includes a sizable selection of fortified wines like vermouth, sherry, port, and Madeira. Fryer likes to think of this list as the alternatives to a traditional glass of wine or a cocktail.
When asked why it all seems to gel at 8Arm’s bar, Fryer says, “We’re not perfect. We’ve got rough edges, but we’ve embraced them. So do our guests. There’s nothing contrived about this bar. That may be the real secret to our success.”