Why you should go: For good old-fashioned neighborhood bar ambience, with good old-fashioned food to match.
Rumor has it you've been here for decades. I've been here 25 years. I worked for the Zilleys [owners Dianne and Peter] when they had the old Shuffle Inn on the Beltline. I was their first girl bartender. I was 22. I'm 55 now. I quit for a full-time grocery job, but they called me to come back and work at the Laurel. I said I'd do it for a while, but I never left! The Zilleys are like family, they're very good to me.
What's changed? In the old days the Laurel was cozier, more relaxed. I had a lot of regulars who came in every afternoon, sat in their favorite spots, had a beer and played cards. Most of the old-timers have passed. I'm working with a lot younger people these days. But the new afternoon regulars still have their routines. You can set your clock by some of 'em, it's amazing.
We remodeled six years ago. The grill used to be in the bar where people could see it. We used to just have burgers, Reubens, ham and cheese - not a lot. Now there's a real kitchen in back, and the menu's expanded. Fish fry, prime rib dinners, lots of different sandwiches - and fries. In the old days you'd just get a bag of chips. People always asked, "Do you have fries? Why not?" There was one guy who did it on purpose; he'd ask every single day. I'd say, "Oh man, why do you keep asking?" And he'd say, "I'll keep doing it till you get 'em!"
And beer. When I started we had Bud, Bud Lite, Berghoff, Berghoff Dark and I think one more on tap. Now I have 20, and I can't rattle off the names. Plus we're always updating - all these seasonal beers nobody had ever heard of back then.
People used to converse more when we just had a couple of little TVs, but now it's the big thing. We've got flat screens everywhere. Customers come in and want the news on. Some of 'em like Fox, some of 'em can't stand it. But we have enough TVs - we have Fox over here, CNN over there.
One more thing that's changed - I don't work nights anymore. With the expanded menu and the smoking ban, a lot of families come in for dinner now, but I can't stay awake that late. It takes younger waitresses to handle the evening shift.
What makes the Laurel legendary? The stability. People work here a long time. We don't have much turnover - there's another gal who's been here about as long as I have. Dianne puts in a lot of hours. The Zilleys' son works here too. And, of course, we always have steady customers.
The other thing is that we're open 365 days a year. We used to be the only bar in town that was open Thanksgiving and Christmas. The place would be jam-packed, you could not move. We still do it, but nowadays other bars are open too, so it's a little less crazy in here on holidays than it used to be.
What do you do when you're not here? I get weekends off. I love to work around my house - lawn work, painting, whatever. If I need to build something I'll build it - I can do just about anything for my house!