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Elizabeth Schulte Roth | Photo: James Camp | May 29, 2014
Johnny’s Hideaway has topped our social standout list for 35 years. Notable locals reminisce over the beloved retro-chic watering hole.
Johnny Esposito Jr., son of the late owner, Johnny Esposito, aka Mr. Nightlife: "My dad started a club in Cocoa Beach, Fla., in 1966, booking acts like Frank Sinatra Jr. and Louis Armstrong—totally influenced by the big band [era]. He wanted to [bring] that legacy to Atlanta and opened Johnny’s Hideaway in 1979. He liked creating the party—letting people enjoy themselves and loosen their neckties."
Alex Hitz, celebrity chef, entertainer and author of My Beverly Hills Kitchen: "When I was in high school, my friends and I alternated between several different posh nightspots: the parking lot at the Burger King on Peachtree Road, courseside in the dark at Bobby Jones [Golf Course] and, when we felt really swanky, Johnny’s Hideaway. Trust me, we were the youngest people in there by at least 35 years. This was the ’80s, and the swingle generation—Long Island ice teas and electric slides galore. It was graying but going strong."
Karyn Greer, Emmy Award-winning anchor at 11Alive: "I remember moving to Atlanta back in 1989, and Johnny’s was the after-hours spot. You would see everybody who was somebody getting a late-night bite or drink. I love the ambience."
Michael Krohngold, co-owner, Tongue & Groove: "I recall taking my now 90-year-old mother, Honey, to Johnny’s Hideaway 25 years ago. As we enjoyed a martini (or two) at the bar, she looked around the room and said it seemed like everyone there was old. As we left, and were waiting outside for valet, she struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman and found out that they had something in common—both recently had triple-bypass surgeries."
Hannah Huffines, director of public relations, Concentrics Restaurants and Hospitality: "My favorite memory would have to be one of the many amazing dance-offs I have participated in—usually with elderly gentlemen who can shake a leg."
Liz McDermott, interior designer: "I have been going to Johnny’s since I was in my early 20s, certainly way before it was cool to go there. After all, where else could you go and be a movie star when the average age was at least 70! That was then, and times have changed. Now we often walk in and see my college-age kids there, who, of course, flock to us because our credit cards work."
Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor and president, Buckhead Coalition: "One of the more interesting images of Johnny’s Hideaway was the self-branding of the original proprietor, Johnny Esposito, who appeared to want a reputation as being a factor in a ‘Southern mafia.’ As such, he was intriguing to watch as he held court at a key seat midway back from the door bouncer, from which he could see and be seen. He is missed."
Holly Firfer, CNN correspondent: "Six blondes, three brunettes, two gay men, an assortment of boys and a Brit. Where else can you take that motley crew and celebrate life? Johnny’s Hideaway! And that is exactly what Kara Worthington and I did for our joint birthday party this year. [There] you can never be the worst dancer (trust me on that one), and you can sing an ’80s tune and not feel like you are ready for the retirement home—because someone next to you is still begging to hear their 1967 prom song."
Marian Goldberg, store manager, Cartier, Lenox Square: "I was there for [Firfer’s] birthday party. My friends hadn’t seen me in a while, and requested my favorite, Rick Springfield. It took about two notes in before I was like a lightning bolt, racing to the dance floor—but without a drink in my hand, of course. Because that is absolutely not allowed!"
Joanne Chesler Gross, owner, JCG Public Affairs: "I have celebrated a few milestone birthdays for friends at Johnny’s. My first such occasion, I was 25 and we were the youngsters. The crowd was happy to see us. I was literally pulled onto the dance floor by folks I did not know. If your group wishes to be left alone, come early and hide at a table in the back."
Drew Brown, director of visual media, SCAD Atlanta: "My most humbling Johnny’s Hideaway moment was several years ago after the Swan House Ball when my lovely friend realized her handbag was under a table. I was sent to fetch it, which was a bejeweled Judith Leiber clutch in the shape of a swan. (Oh, the irony.) After 20 minutes of crawling around on the floor in formalwear, the swan was retrieved. Terrified, but otherwise unscathed."
Vikki Locke, owner/partner, LRK Media: "We danced the night away in celebration of a good friend’s 40th birthday recently. I felt so young! My husband loves the fact that Autumn, the bartender, has been there 12 years and has a drink—dry gin martini with a twist of lemon—ready for him when he arrives."
Angela Smith, co-owner, Park Tavern: "I went with girlfriends after celebrating a birthday at Park Tavern. We were all dressed up in the most awful ’80s prom dresses for Yacht Rock’s Bad 80s Reagan Rock night. We went to Johnny’s and were instantly a big hit with the sweet older guys on the dance floor!"