Please let me know how the chicken fried steak tastes.
Atlanta’s Buford Highway is so rich with eating and drinking hotspots that Anthony Bourdain made sure to use the location as backdrop during one of his visits to the city. The Rusty Nail somehow escaped inclusion, but not for lack of 18-foot smoker out front in the shape of a gun, as that’s exactly what rests outside of the Atlanta dive bar’s front door. The visual appeal while the thing is turned off is pretty considerable, let alone during times of use when the barrel emits a steady stream of smoke like a smoldering gun.
Outdoor elements aside, The Rusty Nail is the Atlanta dive bar that elicited the biggest, “Oh really?” when I let people know I had visited. Those in Atlanta that this reviewer consulted with to create the best possible itinerary knew of The Rusty Nail, to be sure, and were impressed that its level of diveyness was palatable enough to visit. Suffice to say, not having been to every dive bar int eh city, The Rusty Nail is an easy pick for momentary favorite, the dive bar promise of the bar’s exterior matched by what goes down inside.
The Rusty Nail feels like a Texas dive bar-style saloon crossed with the kind of local diner that sells heavy doses of chicken fried steak and biscuits & gravy. And I say that with great confidence as the nightly food specials are featured on a whiteboard hung on a lattice wood partition just inside the front door and Thursday’s offering just happened to be chicken fried steak. The round shape of the building creates some interesting visual anchors inside, where a circular bar sits in the center of one of the interior’s two halves. Built-in booths line the space, both on this “bar side” of the building as well as what looks to be a bit more of a restaurant on the opposite side, it too ringed with booths amid a few low tables.
To maximize the space, The Rusty Nail has hung TVs on the inside of the ringed ceiling above the bar, allowing for pockets of available viewing that would otherwise be impossible with the low-hanging ceiling that creates a bit of a narrow visual pathway for those seated at the bar. Also lining this halo of sorts above the bar is sporadic stained glass, because of course, most of it serving as backdrop to liquor bottles. Christmas lights run the length of not just this space but almost all of The Rusty Nail’s interior, paired with low lighting to create a sense of dive bar coziness.
While sitting at the bar is the clear recommendation here, there are other spaces to explore, including a dart board alcove in back sectioned off with the same wood lattice found out front. In addition to the odds and ends that come with running a dive bar, this dart room is lined with trophies of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of these trophies is that while most dive bars include a handful of random softball trophies from 1985, these are up-to-date dart trophies, in a dart room, the kind of logical display seldom found in an Atlanta dive bar or elsewhere.
And, of course, the entire space is lined with nothing but wood. In addition to the lattice work that can be found throughout, the built-in booths are made with vertical slats, the halo above the bar is fully wooden and really every visual surface features more of the same. The dart room bucks the trend, using wildly different horizontal wooden slates instead of vertical. Every nook and cranny is filled with some kind of decoration, mostly made up of photos of regulars taken both inside the bar and elsewhere, again showing off the sense of community built here.
This is a rich, rich environment for visual stimuli, much of it described here and much of it better left discovered. There are stickers scattered everywhere, beer signs of all varieties and the men’s bathroom includes a handful of pictures on a bulletin board above the urinals in addition to a printed out joke about mozzarella sticks (which I will not spoil here). For those reasons, for the 18-foot gun out front, for all of the visual appeal inside, The Rusty Nail is worthy of every “Oh really?” received and is a true anchor to the Atlanta dive bar scene.