BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Smith’s Olde Bar is staying put – at least for the next five years.
The fate of the beloved music venue/watering hole in Morningside had been undetermined after the property on the corner of Monroe Drive and Piedmont Avenue was put up for auction in August.
Dan Nolen, co-owner of Smith’s, negotiated a lease extension through the end of the year. In December, the property was sold by the family of original owner Beverly Taylor to Selig Enterprises Inc. for $3 million.
And now, Nolen has a new lease and a new co-owner, Charlie Hendon.
Hendon, an Atlanta real estate developer and co-owner of well-regarded sushi restaurant Umi and new upscale Buckhead speakeasy Himitsu, has engaged in what he calls, “Not a play for profit, but a passion play.”
Hendon is an avowed music fan – two of his sons are musicians who have played at the venue many times – and said that his involvement is really about the music.
“Smith’s has been a great venue in Atlanta and provides a lot of opportunity for big bands and local bands to have a place to play,” he said. “I didn’t want to see anything happen to it.”
Hendon’s interest was piqued about nine months ago when he started to hear rumors that the venue, which has maintained its shabby-cool location since 1993, might be forced to close or move.
He initially considered buying the building, but knew that Steve Selig would be entering a bid. Knowing that Nolen’s original partner, Mike Reeves was planning to retire after 22 years in the business, Hendon stepped in as co-owner and couldn’t be more effusive about his new working relationship.
“Dan is just a super guy. He knows that place has its own personality and he knows how to operate it,” Hendon said, noting that Nolen will remain the day-to-day manager.
The new lease extends for five years with potential for options beyond that. Hendon said he’s sure Selig will want to redevelop the property at some point, but for the near future, Smith’s is secure.
Hendon and Nolen will immediately begin subtle renovations to the venue, such as a new roof and HVAC system and tweaks to upgrade the menu.
“We’re going to take our time and decide what’s best for us to do. It could be as small as replacing the carpet,” Hendon said. “We don’t want to take away from the soul of the place. I want it to remain that old bar feel, but at the same time, I think we want to do something to bring it up to (the level of) some of the newer places that are around town.”