Six hours before Auburn and Georgia kick off, Bulldog fans are piled into the booths and tables of The Varsity on Broad Street. They munch on burgers, hot dogs and fries as they intently watch a TV showing Florida losing to South Carolina.
A week later, at The Varsity in Midtown Atlanta, blue and gold-clad Georgia Tech fans swarm the counter. Cashiers shout “What’ll ya’ have” at the customers, which comes across as more of a demand than a question.
The Varsity celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, and it has had a presence in both Atlanta and Athens since 1932, meaning the restaurant has existed through the majority of the 125 years the rivalry between Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets has endured. The Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry is known as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate,” but Bulldog and Yellow Jacket fans have one thing in common: every gameday, numbers of them flock to their respective Varsity.
“There’s really nothing like it,” said Steven Simms, who serves as a general manager for several Varsity locations.
An Atlanta tradition
The seventh parking spot from the beginning of the drive-in at The Varsity in Midtown Atlanta holds a special significance for Sue Tharpe. It’s where her husband proposed to her.
A longtime Atlanta resident who now lives in Macon, Tharpe said she has frequented The Varsity throughout her life. Many of those occasions, she said, were gamedays. Tharpe remembers long sheds set up along North Avenue near Bobby Dodd Stadium on Georgia Tech gamedays.
Under these sheds were long tables, where fans would eat their chili dogs and onion rings they bought at The Varsity.
The restaurant’s ties with Georgia Tech run deep. Its founder, Frank Gordy, was a Georgia Tech dropout who opened The Varsity in 1928 to cater to students.
“When you think about Georgia Tech, with it being just right across the road from the campus there, you automatically think about The Varsity,” Tharpe said.
As often as Tharpe visited the Midtown eatery on Georgia Tech gamedays, the Yellow Jackets don’t always play at home. In the years Georgia Tech played its in-state rivals in Athens, she and her husband would make the trip to enemy territory, but they would still grab lunch at The Varsity, those times at the Athens location.
Classic food in the Classic City
On the day of the Auburn game, three managers are busy working at The Varsity in Athens. Each have been working at that restaurant for at least two years, and they have worked even longer for The Varsity as a whole.
Simms said he estimates that sales at The Varsity in Athens double on the day of a home game. He also said the crowds have ratcheted up in the last two seasons, as Georgia’s on success on the field brings more fans to Athens on Saturdays.
The Athens Varsity was the second location to open, but it did not lag too far behind Atlanta. Gordy opened the restaurant in 1932. It was originally located on College Avenue across from the Arch. Today, it is located on Broad Street, outside of downtown.
Now The Varsity is one of Athens’ premier gameday spots, as Bulldog fans file in to get their fill of gameday grub. It’s a sight that can’t be compared to any other establishment. Well, except maybe one.
“The only one you could compare it to is the one downtown [Atlanta] on a gameday,” Simms said.