Southern Bar: The Clermont Lounge

Nobody hates the Clermont Lounge

Illustration: Tim Tomkinson

Located in Atlanta, on Ponce de Leon, in the seedy basement of a now-shuttered motor lodge, the Clermont has been “alive since ’65.” Not much has changed.

Tattered velveteen paper clings to the walls amid band flyers and warnings from management not to bring cameras. No need, really. What you see will be seared into your eyes. Both a dance club and a club with dancers, the Clermont is an intimate, smoke-filled shrine to raunch. The square footage is tight. The dance floor tighter still. If you plan to exhale, you will have to brush up against your fellow man. Or stripper. It’s like Delhi. With nudity.

Less a dive than a complete submersion, the Clermont is not clean. (If you drop something on the floor, best just to leave it, eyeglasses, wallets, and pants included.) Nor is it pretentious. The dancers feed their own quarters into the jukebox to perform. The cups are plastic. Cash only.

The performers, many middle-aged and up, look like real people. With real parts. If you want to be seen or meet the real estate agent of your dreams, best to head to any other bar in Atlanta. Unlike those so-called hot spots, the Clermont is inspiringly democratic. On any given night you will see college kids, hipsters, retirees, Navy SEALs, artists, stockbrokers. You will also see veteran dancer/poet Blondie crush a PBR can with her breasts. (Cash only.)

As with the best Southern haunts, continuity counts. Most of the dancers have been around for decades. Saturday’s disco night has been happening virtually since disco was a thing. Same DJ. Same bartenders. Same toilet shared with the talent, who more often than not chat you up and tell you how pretty you are, the way grandmothers are supposed to, except not naked.

Thing is, no one cares at the Clermont. About how you look. Or what you earn. Or the mistakes you’ve made. There is nothing you can do at the Clermont that 1) hasn’t been done and 2) will offend anyone in the joint. How many places can you say that about? Cover charge: free to $10. Absolute abandon? Priceless.