• Atlanta

    Naked Dog Walking

    I’ve made an effort in the past few years to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’ve even cut back a little on my meat consumption, but I will make an exception for one place – the Varsity. It is one of my life’s goals to eat at every Varsity.

    I read recently that the Varsity had purchased some land in Cobb County to build another restaurant. I will be one of the first in line when it opens.

    For readers who might be grease-challenged, I should clarify that the Varsity is the “World’s Largest Drive-in,” has been operating since 1928 on North Avenue and is one of Atlanta’s most historic spots. Like many significant cultures, it even developed its own language (Naked dog walking, an FO and a bag of rags …).
    The article reported it will be the Varsity’s fourth restaurant, but as I count it, I’ve eaten at six already. I fancy myself as a Varsity connoisseur – two words that have probably never been printed next to each other.

    In fact my first childhood memory is sitting on the front steps of our apartments, at the intersection of Peachtree and Spring streets and crying hysterically as I waved good-bye to my family as they drove off down Spring Street. I thought they might be driving off forever. Turns out, they were just heading to the “Greasy V” for a few chili dogs and fries. Maybe I’ve felt deprived ever since.

    A big moment in my life occurred when the Varsity branched out closer to my neighborhood and opened the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh (which I think serves the freshest food and has the snappiest service). Two more locations were built in Athens and became mandatory stops on the way to Georgia football games as a child or late at night after visiting friends attending college there. A great tragedy occurred when the company decided to close the famous downtown location right across from “The Arch.”

    I was among the first visitors when a Varsity opened in Gwinnett County. I was most impressed by the conveyer belts that transport the food from the “chefs.” They were a color I had never seen before at other Varsitys: white!

    I have sometimes suffered in my goal to eat at every Varsity. When I attended one of the first events at the Georgia Dome I had already eaten a big meal. But when I spotted a new Varsity Express I found the fortitude to eat another.

    When I lived in other states during the early part of my career I would always look for a suitable substitute for my favorite meal: a chili dog, chili pickle steak – both with Vidalia onions – a fry and a ring and a Frosted Orange. But there was none. Thus, any return to Atlanta started – and ended – with a stop there.

    Not everyone shares my obsession. Once I took a college friend there and she was horrified by the experience. Years later we were in a group and someone mentioned the Varsity. I overheard her say, “Someone took me there a few years ago. I can’t believe anyone would take me to such a place.”

    When my friends Charles Driebe and Mike Egan and I threw a joint 40th birthday party, we didn’t hesitate on choosing the caterer. Susan Gordy of the Varsity Jr. pulled a truck up into the Egan’s driveway and set up a deep fat fryer. We served onion rings, French fries and fried pies to all our friends and families – even to my Mom, brothers and sisters who had driven there without me years ago.