Driving to Atlanta my air conditioner stopped working just north of Macon and I-75 became a parking lot near Forsyth. Sitting in the sweltering Georgia heat two things kept me sane, the promise of an icy cold hotel room and a burger at the Vortex Bar & Grill. After navigating my way up one of Atlanta’s many streets named Peachtree I checked in, changed clothes and made my way towards Vortex’s Midtown location.
The Vortex is located at 878 Peachtree Street NE in a part of town peppered with funky restaurants, outdoor bars and high rise office buildings. Several tables straddled the sidewalk and were full of people knocking back beers enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon. I made my way inside. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and the restaurant packed with hipsters. I took a seat at the bar next to a Serbian guy slamming Bud Lights and crushing Marlboro Reds who gave me a curt nod when I sat down.
A quick bit of history, in 2005 the Georgia Smoke Free Air Act was passed restricting smoking to places that did not allow minors. Many restaurants caved to the legislation and banned smoking. The Vortex took an alternate route and became an adult only establishment that continued to allow its patrons to light up while enjoying a meal. As a non-smoker I braved the black lung and gave a tip of the cap to their defense of liberty.
A bartender covered in tattoos and wearing a corset slid two menus across the bar. The first was the Vortex’s extensive drink menu. I flipped to their beer listing and ordered a Coffee Ale by Boulevard Brewing Company. The beer was very good and I turned my attention to the food. Appetizers, salads, and sandwiches are all offered, but I knew I was going to get a burger. The only question, was which one. I briefly considered one of their legendary Bypass Burgers before sanity intervened and I realized a half-pound sirloin patty topped with a fried egg, three slices of American cheese, four slices of bacon and slathered in mayo was a bad idea. (By the way the largest burger on the menu, the Triple Bypass consists of three burger patties, three fried eggs, fourteen slices slices of American cheese, and ten slices of bacon, all packed between two grilled cheese sandwiches and costs almost $30.00.)
I eventually settled on a classic bacon cheeseburger cooked medium rare. I did this so I could see how their basic burger stacked up to others I’ve had around the southeast without being buried under a pile of teriyaki glaze, chipotle cream sauce or creamy peanut butter. For a side I beat the six-year old me into submission and ordered regular French fries instead of tater tots.
Waiting for my burger I watched Brazil dismantle Spain in the Confederation Cup final while an elderly couple molested one another on the adjacent bar stool. My burger arrived on an oval white plate a short while later. A thick beef patty sat draped under slices of cheddar cheese and topped with three strips of bacon. A large pile of shoe string French fries was nestled next to the burger. Per my usual routine I ate the pickle, lettuce, and tomato slice off the top bun before liberally applying ketchup and taking a bite. The bun was fresh, the burger was juicy, and cooked just as I ordered. The beef and cheese and ketchup combined to make for one helluva tasty burger. As for the fries, they were out of a bag, but were hot and well seasoned.
There is always a fear when you visit a place that is featured on best of list it will fail to live up to the hype. Thankfully, the Vortex did and I had a great time and burger at their Midtown location. Am I ready to declare it the best burger in Atlanta? Not until I’ve sampled several other joints. I am, however, willing to bet they have some of the best t-shirts, and before I left grabbed one that summed up my experience quite nicely.
Sweet Tea & Bourbon’s Rating: