Atlanta is home to one of the most iconic local restaurant chains around: The Varsity.
This restaurant has been a staple to the Midtown Atlanta area for nearly a hundred years and has grown to be the largest drive-in restaurant in the world! Before you go to this Atlanta treasure, though, here’s some great backstory and helpful tips to make your experience that much better!
The Varsity: Atlanta’s favorite fast food chain
What is The Varsity?
A brief history
The Varsity is a local chain of fast food restaurants that have been Atlanta staples for nearly a century, with its largest and most popular location right in the heart of Downtown Atlanta across from Georgia Tech.
Founder Frank Gordy opened the first location in 1928 in Midtown Atlanta, banking on the foot traffic from the nearby trolley stop to bring customers by. His gamble paid off, and around 300 people visited the small restaurant on the very first day of business. The most expensive item on the menu cost only $0.10, and the restaurant made about $48.00, which is about $750 today.
After a few decades’ worth of wild success and excellent service, The Varsity soon held the title of “World’s Largest Drive-In” in 1950, and snagging a job as a carhop there was a coveted title. By that point, the two-story restaurant covered two entire city blocks, which it still does today!
Fun fact: The Varsity is the single-largest restaurant consumer of Coca-Cola (another Atlanta invention!) in the world!
Over the years, the restaurant has turned into a local and cultural icon for Atlanta, with several well-known faces working at and frequenting the fast food joint.
First employed in 1937 as a carhop, John Wesley Railford, calling himself “Flossie Mae,” was a much-beloved employee who dressed in colorful hats and sang the menu to patrons. His jovial personality and eccentric clothing quickly cemented him as one of The Varsity’s most treasured members.
Another famous employee was Erby Walker, who was known for providing speedy service to the winding lines of anxious football fans, which he did by hollering his catchphrase, “Have your money out and your food on your mind, and I’ll getcha to the game on time!” During his time at The Varsity, Walker was given the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch during the Olympic Torch Relay in 1996. Walker also coined the trademark phrase “what’ll ya have?” that cashiers still use to this day. He loved the restaurant so much that after he retired in 2001, he returned to work a few months later. Walker worked at The Varsity for over five decades until his death in 2008, becoming one of the restaurant's most beloved faces and receiving a spot in the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Celebrities often emerged or showed their faces at the famous Atlanta restaurant, including the likes of Clark Gable (who stopped by during the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in 1937), Nipsey Russell (who began his comedy career entertaining guests as a carhop), President George H. W. Bush (who stopped by for lunch in 1990) and President Bill Clinton (who was introduced to the restaurant by longtime-guest Governor Zell Miller in 2002).
The restaurant chain currently has five locations in the Atlanta and Athens areas.
What to know before you visit
Eating at The Varsity is all about the experience. It’s a fast-paced environment that’s steeped in culture and history, so make sure you’re prepared to play the game if you want to eat there! That means learning the lingo, having your cash in-hand and your order absolutely memorized.
The Varsity’s official lingo
The language is an important part of The Varsity experience, so if you want to order at this iconic fast food restaurant, be sure to brush up on your Varsity lingo! None of that “One hot dog with a side of fries to go, please” nonsense, either; you get to say fun stuff like “one Walk a Dog with Strings” or “a Naked Steak Sideways with two Bag of Rags, please.”
Here’s what the official Varsity website has listed under its Lingo page. Varsity cashiers run at high speed and ruthless efficiency, so make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about before you go up to order!
Hot Dog: Hot dog with chili and mustard
Heavy Weight: Hot dog with extra chili
Naked Dog: Plain hot dog on a bun
MK Dog: Naked dog with mustard and ketchup
Regular C Dog: Hot dog with ketchup
Red Dog: Naked dog with Ketchup
Yellow Dog: Naked dog with mustard
Yankee Dog: Plain dog with mustard
Walk a Dog: Hot dog to go
Steak: Hamburger with ketchup, mustard and pickle
Chili Steak: Hamburger with chili
Glorified Steak: Hamburger with mayo, lettuce and tomato
Mary Brown Steak: Hamburger with no bun
Naked Steak: A plain steak
Varsity Orange: The original formula
N.I. Orange: Varsity Orange with no ice
F.O:. Frosted Varsity Orange
Joe-ree: Coffee with cream
P.C.: Plain chocolate milk always served with ice
N.I.P.C.: Chocolate milk with no ice
All the Way: With onions - Can be a hot dog, chili, steak, etc.
Bag of Rags: Potato Chips
Sideways: Onions on the side
Ring One: Order of Onion Rings
Strings: An order of French fries
How to order at The Varsity
Ordering at The Varsity is a test of wills, and you will most certainly leave there a more confident person that you entered.
Just kidding, it’s really not that stressful, but there is a certain element of speed involved in the ordering process.
Since the restaurant is located nearly directly across from The Georgia Institute of Technology, The Varsity has historically been the site of many pre-football game meal rushes. So, just like Erby Walker said, make sure you have your order memorized and your money out and ready, and know that all the people in line behind you will thank you dearly for it.
Here at The Varsity, you also have a lot of options when it comes to where you’d like to dine. The massive restaurant complex features television rooms dedicated to Fox News, CNN and ESPN for guests to watch live streams while they eat, plus a skyline room that bridges the road and connects the parking lot to the main building. If you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry, as there are over 800 seats to choose from!
So, what are you waiting for? If you live in our luxury Atlanta apartments, then head over to The Varsity for an experience of a lifetime!
Featured photo courtesy Unsplash/Richard Mohan