20 People to Watch - Greg Best: The Bar Owner

After a yearlong post-Holeman and Finch sabbatical, Atlanta's cocktail visionary plots his return

If you care at all about the Atlanta cocktail scene, you're probably already aware that Greg Best and Regan Smith, both former partners at Holeman and Finch Public House, are preparing to open a new place in Krog Street Market. Even if you don't care about Atlanta cocktails, there's a good chance you're aware of that news. Best has been the poster boy for Atlanta craft cocktails ever since he helped launch the revolutionary Holeman and Finch gastropub in 2008 and set the bar for, well, all the other cocktail bars in town. More ink has been spilled chronicling Best's impact on Atlanta than bourbon spilled behind his bars.

Best and Smith left H&F in September 2013, eager to reassess. "I needed a swift spiritual kick, since I was starting to feel like I was on rails I didn't want to be on — but didn't really know what rails I did want to be on," Best says.

Since leaving H&F, Best has been "on sabbatical," using the last year to explore and to reflect on the craft cocktail boom he helped ignite. "I was ... able to ... resign myself to the fact that I don't need to fight the good fight for cocktails, because there are people more talented than me doing that. I can now be more relaxed in what my style of drink-making is. That was an exciting and humbling realization," Best says. "Cocktail culture moved so fast and furious in this city over the past several years that it's now riding that line of becoming too precious, which runs the risk of shifting the focus from the drinker to the barkeeper."

The idea of shifting focus from the individual (the bartender) to the collective (bar, restaurant, neighborhood, city) inspires Best. "Sure, people should know our names, because we serve them," Best says. "But our drinks shouldn't be extensions of a single person's ego. We need to represent our bars and the city, not the bartender."

As was the case at H&F, Best will be the very visible face of the new Krog Market installation, while Smith will be the driving force behind service and execution, he says. The pair hopes to open some time around the end of March 2015. While construction on the 1,650-square-foot space hasn't started yet, local design firm ai3 is working on the plans. According to Best, there will be an overarching theme of simplicity with standard issue materials. Beyond that, Best keeps the specifics to himself.

"The plans are basically done," Best says. "But we've kept them in a flexible place — we want to be able to see what's happening around us and respond to that, not locking ourselves into an aesthetic during a point in time when so many other places are opening around the city."

The Krog Street Market setting, though, is a major factor shaping what Best and Smith will ultimately serve up at the yet-to-be-named operation. "I'm a firm believer in the mentality of restaurants and bars caravanning, circling the wagons, and being stronger together. Krog — it's like a unique co-op. So many of our friends are operators there, and we want this to be a model for how restaurants and bars can interact in this city. We want every single place in the market to be slammed on a nightly basis, feeding off each other and complementing each other, creating a collaborative front."

Best says he's anxious to rejoin Atlanta's bar community, and perhaps redefine his role within it. "Most people define me as a bartender," he says, "but it's hard for me to look at myself that way. I love it, but as an operator you become much more than that — a restaurateur, an entrepreneur. We're simply excited about Krog Street Market and this side of the city. I miss my guests, the people I take care of! And I can't wait."

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