Atlanta community rallies to preserve a beloved bar facing demolition
LISTEN: For real estate developers, new Georgia residents present an opportunity to reinvent old neighborhoods. But for locals who cherish the culture of their community, these new projects can pose a threat to places they consider essential. GPB’s Amanda Andrews explains how members of Atlanta’s Little Five Points community are pushing to save something more than a bar.
Since the Star Community Bar first opened in 1991, ownership has changed a few times, but the people visiting the bar have been a constant. Candler Park residents like Dee Dee Chmielewski has been a regular at the bar throughout its 31-year history. She said as she grows older, the bar becomes increasingly multigenerational.
“I started coming here when I was very young, when I was barely old enough to walk through the doors of a local bar,” Chmielewski said. “At this point, my children, and my friends’ children, are now old enough to walk through these doors.”
Star Bar is well known as a music venue where many local bands got their start. Rock groups like Mastodon and Drive-By Truckers played early shows at the bar. One of the many musicians who played at the Star Bar was future co-owner Dusty Mumma and his wife, Amy Mumma. He said the experience encouraged them to move to Atlanta 15 years ago.
“I was in bands forever and I played here before she even came here,” Mumma said. “And when we finally decided to move, I'm like, 'I know where I want to be. I want to be in Atlanta because of this building, this bar, the community.'”
Mumma became one of four co-owners just before the pandemic. To keep the bar open, they expanded past just being a rock 'n' roll dive bar to do more service work in the community.
“We do so many charities every year," Mumma said. "We were the first place to do the big Narcan training when people were dying from bad cocaine. We were the first place that did a big event here that there were people lined up the street.”
Now the community is looking to return the favor by organizing to preserve the bar from redevelopment.
The Little Five Points Community Improvement District proposed a development plan which includes buying properties in the neighborhood to use for new construction. Proposed ideas include building 166 apartment units and a parking garage on the block, and replacing Star Bar with a three-story building for retail space.
News of the demolition quickly spread beyond the Little Five Points neighborhood. A petition to save the bar has over 7,000 signatures. Longtime bar patrons like Brigitte Warren said saving this bar is a fight to preserve local culture.
“We're losing so much of our city neighborhoods to mass development, and they're all looking the same and they're losing their personalities," she said. “Little Five Points is one of the last holdouts in that.”
During a community meeting at the bar, some people in the Save the Star Bar movement were concerned new developments in the neighborhood would compromise the rock 'n' roll culture of the bar. Former owner Jim Stacy offered a counterpoint: New people can breathe new life into the bar.
“We can't be exclusionary, we can't be classist, and we can't ageist,” Stacy said. “What we need to be doing is we need to be focused on fostering a new generation of counter-culture, a new generation of artists, and a new generation of rabble rousers to continue this going forward.”
Stacy said building that community requires more organizing at the bar instead of on social media.
“Everyone here is charged with bringing more folks in,” Stacy said, “making sure happy hour's packed, making sure the benefits are overflowing, making sure the shows are well attended, and making sure you don't shut up about how important this place is.”
There are still many steps to approve the development plan before any construction can begin. Approval could be granted as early as February 2023. Until then, supporters of the Star Bar plan to speak out at every opportunity.