Say it ain't so! Reports out of Atlanta last week indicated that Harold's Barbecue -- an institution in Atlanta and the South for 65 years -- was about to close its doors for good. They might as well shutter The Varsity and the Cyclorama and put a padlock on the gates to Historic Grant Field.
We already have too few authentic barbecue joints in this world and Harold's has long been one of the best. I understand that it is a little out of the way. It is down by the Federal Pen, after all, and not in the best neighborhood. But I guarantee you, it is worth every bit of effort you have to put forth to get there and every mile you have to drive is worth the investment.
I also realize there are lots of new places to try and a lot more upscale spots to sample a little "Q-and stew." Paige and Daniel Farley introduced me to a place called Fox Brothers a few weeks ago, and I will admit that I liked it and can't wait to go back.
But y'all! Harold's can't be allowed to close. They do barbecue right. They offer succulent pork, slow-cooked for hours, along with ribs and Brunswick stew that I easily deem fit to eat -- and I don't endorse many folks' Brunswick stew. The atmosphere at Harold's is what the atmosphere should be at an authentic barbecue place -- especially one in a big city. By that I mean that it is unpretentious. They don't put on airs. They serve white bread with their pork, and blue-collar workers and men in five-hundred dollar suits sit elbow to elbow.
A few years ago I had the honor of meeting then-president George W. Bush. I liked George W. Bush. He talked like I do. He said "y'all" and "fixin' to" and it sounded natural coming out of his mouth. Now a lot of folks didn't like George W. and some folks tried to make him out to be ignorant and not too bright. Those folks were wrong. George W. Bush is one astute cookie and he proved it to me.
We shook hands and he was looking me over and I could tell he was trying to come up with something to talk to me about. He finally said to me, "You look like a man who knows good barbecue. Where would you suggest I go to get some good barbecue in this town?"
I answered, "Mr. President, I think you should try Harold's, down near the Federal Pen."
I had actually just eaten lunch at Harold's an hour or so earlier and knew that it was as good as always.
The president surprised me by saying, "You know, that's what my daddy said. I think I'll go over there and have a sandwich and some stew while I'm here."
But I just had to know something, so I asked him, "Mr. President, how did you know that I am a connoisseur of smoked pig?"
With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face he picked up the end of my tie and said, "Because you have barbecue sauce on your tie."
I looked down at my tie and he was absolutely right. I certainly did.
I wrote about the incident when it happened and for a while the clipping was on the wall at Harold's. I have no idea if it is still there but I aim to find out because as soon as I heard that Harold's was closing I made a vow to drive to Atlanta and have one last pork plate. Apparently so did lots and lots of other people because I read in the paper this week that Harold's has done a booming business the last two weeks and has run out of food by 4 p.m. each day.
"It's just like the old days," the manager said in a television interview.
So now Harold's is going to stay open for at least a month -- and maybe indefinitely. That's a good thing. We need to keep our historic institutions around, even if they are a little bit shabby and a little bit out of the way.
The next time I am anywhere near the Federal Pen I am going to stop in. Who knows? Maybe I'll run into George W. there. He would certainly be a sight for sore eyes.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.