Barfly - A Social Mess brings virtue back to Buckhead
After a decade in the doldrums, nightlife in the Village meets its match
In his gelatin-proof, full-body spandex and Mexican wrestling mask, master of ceremonies Trey Humphreys is hyping the crowd of more than 1,000 in an inflatable pool onstage. Buttons fly from my tasteful Hawaiian shirt, ripped off by two slimy yet sugary sweet debutants. Slammed face-first into the lime green Jell-O by the capable coeds, my cognitive grip slips and slides back in time.
It was the early '90s and "Buckhead Brett" was the moniker one Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback would earn trying to drink the infamous triangle of Buckhead bars dry. He was quickly traded to some crap town in Wisconsin and went on to become one of the greatest QBs of all time. Today Brett Favre can thank the once-magical allure of Buckhead bar-hopping for granting him a one-way ticket to a Hall of Fame career. He found riches and championships; the people he left behind just got DUIs and STDs.
After a decade of legendary debauchery, the Buckhead Village became a nightly traffic jam and cluster-fuck of unwanted revelers. The party turned tragic when two young men were stabbed to death after an altercation erupted with NFL star Ray Lewis' posse on the night of the Super Bowl in 2000. The old moneyed blue bloods of West Paces didn't particularly care for the hue of the new visitors, so after a few more years passed - along with a few more victims of senseless violence - the Buckhead Triangle was razed, Old South-style.
Ten years later, it still sits in rubble and shame awaiting its rise from the ashes as a thus far failed shopping district. A "Rodeo Drive of the South" is the clout it aspires to, but a preposterous tagline like that only conjures up images of Kim Zolciak getting her nails done next door to a Quizno's.
A paper airplane's throw from all the aborted construction, there's a new mess emerging to reckon with. Humphreys, along with sidekicks Jennifer Lester and John John Delladonna, have concocted a refreshing party squad that's more tongue-in-cheek than cheesy Tongue and Groove. A Social Mess is their battalion, and their mission is quite hazy and poetic: "We are not promoters, clubbers, Affliction, smart, or good looking," states the self-deprecating modus operandi. It sounds like Humphreys wrote it on a cocktail napkin while sipping girl drinks from a beer helmet. "We are jean shorts, fake gold, the tears of a clown, and the sparkle in your eye. In the land of social clubs, we easily pull 8th place."
Their events usually center around the Pool Hall (30 Irby Ave.), the historic dump Humphreys recently purchased to complement his Furbus collection. Roswell Road and Irby Avenue are home to an old section of bars typically overlooked by outsiders to the neighborhood. Contrary to the misconception that Buckhead is all frills and flash, Kramer's, Red Door, and 5 Paces - all an 8-iron away from each other - are pretty much shithole dives of the highest quality.
For the most part, it's a typical Saturday night on Irby. The bars are crawling with cookie-cutter former frat boys, husband hunters, Young Republicans, and sorostitues. With their high heels scraping all over the busted concrete, these breezies could compete with those of any neighborhood in town - the place has more firm legs than a furniture factory.
But there's not much diversity in the crowd. Gathering his rip-away tuxedo, lacquered in green gelatin, Humphreys concedes, "I just hope people will eventually branch out."
The Buckhead Village didn't survive the indulgences of the '90s as successfully as Brett Favre. And Atlanta's 4 a.m. last call made out about as well as the two young men who picked a fight with Ray Lewis. But this scene of booze-hounds is alive and well. Buckhead still has its virtues - and they're as messy as they want to be.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed the Buckhead stabbing deaths to members of Ray Lewis' entourage, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. Although they were tried in relation to aforementioned deaths, they were both acquitted of the charges.