Sunday read: The caretaker of Manuel’s Tavern

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Brian Maloof, left, offers a few words before Fr. John Azar gives a blessing over the Tavern. Photo by Todd Leopold.

I first met Brian Maloof about 15 years ago, not long after he took over management of Manuel’s Tavern, founded by his father in 1956.

I was immediately struck by Brian’s friendliness. A former paramedic, he’d taken on the family business thanks to the aging of his father, the bar’s namesake, and his uncle Robert, as well as the health troubles of his brother Tommy.

Tommy had made a few changes — if I recall, it was he who decided to upgrade the quality of dishes Manuel’s offered, naturally bringing down a hail of protest from some regulars who thought their bar was getting too big for its britches — but it was Brian who had to maintain its reputation as Atlanta’s living room.

It has been a tall order, but Brian has fulfilled it wonderfully.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a big story about Brian as Manuel’s approaches its 60th anniversary, August 6, and its grand re-opening the same day. (The story is behind a paywall, but non-subscribers are allowed four freebies, so take advantage.)

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been eagerly following the progress of the renovation. The Team Trivia show I host is scheduled to return August 14, and I can’t wait.

But Trivia is just one part of Manuel’s attraction for me. In fact, though I’ve always loved the place, it’s become more special to me since Brian took the reins.

I’ve doing the Sunday Team Trivia show at Manuel’s since 1992. Though I’ve never been as regular as the regulars who show up most other nights of the week, the bar is more than just a weekly workplace — it’s close to my heart.

It’s where I watched Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, where I saw Barack Obama win the presidency (Manuel’s, a longtime Democratic meeting place, was ecstatic), where I handed the mic one Sunday night to a special guest, Jimmy Carter (I knew something was up when these tall, burly guys with earpieces came in the door), where I met my wife.

And yet, for all of my Sunday night shows and occasional weekday visits, I always felt a little intimidated there. The big-hearted but quick-tempered Manuel Maloof was a power in metro Atlanta politics for decades, and you’d see him keeping an eye on the world from a table by the front door. If he didn’t like you, he had no problem in tossing you out. Actually, it was considered an honor to be removed by Manuel, but you didn’t want to get on the boss’ bad side. Of course, Manuel being Manuel, he’d just as soon welcome you back in.

Manuel’s son Tommy, who oversaw the bar the first few years I was there, could be a sweet soul, but didn’t always seem a fan of Trivia. The first few years I was there I worried I would give him a reason to throw it — and me — out on the street. (What the gig hasn’t paid in cash it’s more than made up in friendship and camaraderie, and it’s a fine way to start my week.)

Enter Brian. If Manuel’s was a family before, it’s only become tighter-knit since. I certainly can’t say enough about this good man who has offered me so much support — and who has kept Manuel’s a home away from home for so, so many.

Including a bunch of chickens. But that’s a different story.

Anyway, it goes to show that Brian is living up to the family — and tavern — tradition. In 1988, Manuel gave an interview to The Associated Press in which he was asked how he wanted to be remembered.

“I hope they just say: ‘He knew what he was doing. He cared. He really cared,’ ” he told the reporter.

That’s Brian to a T. He cares. So I’m pleased to see that he’s getting the spotlight, too. Give some time to the Sunday read — and, if you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to drop by Manuel’s.

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