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Community Rallies To Save Beloved Atlanta Tavern


* Bars and restaurants are struggling through the pandemic. Many have just not been able to stay in business. But there's a beloved watering hole in Atlanta that's been able to survive through the kindness of friends, Manuel's Tavern.

BRIAN MALOOF: Somebody from my family has been standing behind that bar for over 90 years.

SIMON: That's Brian Maloof talking about the actual wooden bar in the place he now runs. It once stood in the billiard palace his grandfather owned downtown before his father, the Manuel in Manuel's Tavern, opened his place in 1956. The tavern's been a democratic hangout. Lots of locally, even nationally known faces have come by for chicken wings and beer, and often without security details.

MALOOF: It really shocks me who comes in there, and we make it a policy that just to leave everybody alone.

SIMON: Jimmy Carter is a fan.

MALOOF: When he comes in, even to this day, everybody stands. It's really neat to see the respect.

SIMON: And then there is Manuel's decor.

MALOOF: So the easiest way to describe it is it's not pretty.

SIMON: Dark wood, a faded portrait of John F. Kennedy, behind the bar, and on the shelves, urns filled with the ashes of relatives, longtime employees and patrons. Manuel's has been a place for wakes, for wedding rehearsal dinners, holiday celebrations and fundraisers. But then came COVID-19. Business dropped 62%. Brian Maloof spent much of his personal savings trying to keep Manuel's around for another generation. But by November, he was discouraged.

MALOOF: You know, that's when we put up the white flag, so to speak, and started making plans to shut this thing down.

SIMON: Manuel's regular Angelo Fuster started a GoFundMe campaign. His goal was to raise $75,000, just enough to buy the tavern some time.

MALOOF: I was skeptical. I knew people loved us. I knew it would generate something. I didn't know it was going to do what it did. And he just asked me to be patient. And what a surprise that turned out to be. That was extraordinary.

SIMON: Donations began to come in - for the first five or so hours, a thousand dollars every 15 minutes.

MALOOF: Within a couple of days, I was able to inform the staff that we would indeed be open in 2021. And that was very exciting because just days earlier, I had just sent a letter out to the whole staff and told them how much trouble we were in.

SIMON: As of this week, the GoFundMe campaign for Manuel's has raised more than $180,000, enough to keep them in business through the spring, maybe in time to benefit from the economic side effects of the coronavirus vaccines. Brian Maloof is also benefiting emotionally, too, from comments like this.

MALOOF: (Reading) Brian, I met and fell in love at Manuel's. I had our firstborn James's baby shower there. Your family, so many memories, the history - and I cherish it all. It was our pleasure to help preserve a place so near and dear to our hearts.

And that was overwhelming, incredibly humbling and just overpowering, really.

SIMON: In a Facebook post, Brian Maloof thanked those who helped save Manuel's Tavern with these words.

MALOOF: (Reading) When the next major problem comes up, I will look back on these past months and weeks with more optimism, faith and hope. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. May God continue to bless us all. Brian Maloof, also known as George Bailey. It really is a wonderful life.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN FAHEY'S "REQUIEM FOR JOHN HURT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.