“In all honesty, the Local never fully reopened after Covid. And the renovations and everything that we’ve done in the last month and a half, it’s two years late,” says managing partner Steven Dixey of the beloved dive bar on Ponce.
The Local, known for its chicken wings and karaoke nights, has been in limbo since the beginning of the pandemic, starting with the mandatory shutdown of indoor dining in March 2020, followed by two failed attempts by developers to purchase the property after its reopening.
Dixey and co-owner Charles Kerns have been working on plans to renovate the two-decade-old bar since early 2021, put in motion before the partners entered into the first deal to sell the property later that same year. When the deal fell through within six months, Dixey and Kerns resumed with the original renovation plans for the Local, only to enter into yet another sales agreement with Atlanta developer Portman Holdings.
With renovations on hold again, Dixey and Kerns negotiated a short-term lease with Portman to keep the Local open. For the last two years, Dixey says, they’ve been operating the bar under the assumption the property would eventually sell, which is why it came as a shock to the partners and the Local’s 20 employees when the deal with Portman suddenly fell apart over the summer.
Dixey took a chunk of the money he and Kerns had set aside to pay severance to the staff after the sale went through and instead offered employees three weeks paid vacation as renovations at the Local finally got underway in September.
While regulars will find the bar mostly unchanged inside, the building itself needed a lot of work, something long overdue after two decades in operation. Most of these improvements are not visible, but will ultimately make a big difference for the bar going forward into the next decade. The Local also received a massive deep clean, along with a needed purge of all bar items. Even the people attending the Local’s popular Monday karaoke nights are enjoying an upgrade to the weekly event in a fresh sound system.
But the most significant upgrade is to the Local’s chicken wing service. The bar simply couldn’t keep up with demand for its wings anymore, selling out within an hour after opening. People had already missed out on the opportunity to order wings if they showed up after 5 p.m. It prompted the Local to begin posting on Instagram about the bar’s daily wing inventory to keep track.
“It wasn’t like a ‘buy more wings’ situation. There’s a big process that goes into making them,” says Dixey of the reason behind why the Local struggled to meet the demand for wings prior to its makeover.
With the renovations came a reorganized kitchen and new equipment and a shift from table- to counter-service, allowing the Local to increase wing output by 40 percent. Wings are now available Wednesday through Sunday, with Mondays reserved for pop-ups during karaoke. Moving forward, the Local will be closed on Tuesdays — a first for the bar — for routine maintenance and cleaning.
But all of this almost wasn’t. After the Portman deal fell through in August, Dixey and Kerns had some hard conversations about whether to move on from the Local or move forward with renovations. “Do we just walk away from all of this right now? I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about that very hard. Everyone seems to love us for some reason,” says Dixey.
More renovations are in the works, too, including enclosing the patio and upgrading the outdoor seating areas before next spring and summer.
“We’ve been sucked into this monster of the Beltline. We’re a Beltline bar now. But it’s still going to be the same staff,” Dixey says. “We’re still going to stay 21 and up. No kids. No bullshit. We are not afraid. It’s still going to be the Local. We’re just stuck in the middle of the Beltline now.”
And before you even ask, the Local still doesn’t do to-go orders.
Open 5 p.m., Wednesday - Sunday; 8 p.m. on Monday. Closed Tuesday.
758 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Atlanta.