A Visit to the Largest Drive-in in the World: The Varsity Downtown

by AbbyFitz

Forget Six Flags, the Georgia Aquarium, Gone With the Wind museums, and Coca-Cola. The place you must see when in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, is the Varsity Drive-in.

I like hot dogs. Okay, I love hot dogs.

I know most people don't necessarily think of hot dogs as gourmet food, but I sort of consider myself a hot dog connoisseur.

Over the past few years, I have written a sort of a hot dog bucket list that I am eating my way through. Basically it's the top hot dog restaurants in the country.

Since starting my foodie bucket list, my goal has been to eat at the Varsity. I've passed through Atlanta on many trips, but I've never had the time to stop.

A few friends of mine recently asked my son and myself to take a trip to Atlanta to visit Six Flags and the Georgia Aquarium.

I only had one request: that we must eat at the Varsity. They reluctantly agreed just to indulge me, but they ended up loving it as much as I did.

When you have the opportunity to eat there, I'm sure you will, too.

Drive-ins: A Symbol of American Pop Culture

The Varsity Downtown Atlanta
The Varsity Downtown Atlanta
The Varsity Drive-in Restaurant
The Varsity Drive-in Restaurant

An Atlanta Icon Since 1928

Going Strong for Nearly a Century

Ask any Atlanta native what restaurant they frequent on a regular basis, and it's a good bet more than half of them will tell you the Varsity. They're very passionate about this historic drive-in.

The Varsity was opened in 1928 by a Georgia Tech dropout named Frank Gordy. Mr. Gordy focused on serving good food to college students at prices they could afford.

His formula still works. After nearly a century, his focus has become the Varsity's mantra.

The fact that the Varsity has been in business since 1928 and survived America's many turbulent economic periods since that time is a testament to the quality of their food and service.

It's no wonder natives and non-natives love this Atlanta landmark. Who can resist good, cheap food?

What'll Ya Have?

The Varsity: Not Your Typical Restaurant

The Varsity isn't your typical little mom and pop diner that serves locals and a few tourists who find their way there. This restaurant is built to feed a crowd quickly and efficiently.

This restaurant is so efficient that when nearby college Georgia Tech hosts home football games, the Varsity is able to serve 30,000 people in one day.

Belly Up to the Counter

50 Feet of Hot Dog Possibilities
The Varsity's Famous 50 Foot Counter
The Varsity's Famous 50 Foot Counter

When you step inside, you can easily see why the Varsity is able to serve so many people so quickly. The serving counter is 50 feet long and there are 25 cashiers yelling out "what’ll ya have?"

When asked that famous question, you'd better know what you want to order and respond quickly. If you have trouble making quick decisions, you might want to consider a different restaurant. 

Placing Your Order at the Varsity

Have Your Money in Your Hand and Your Order on Your Mind

Order Like a Native

The Varsity Has its Own Unique Lingo

Through the years, the cashiers have developed their own jargon. Atlanta natives have adopted their lingo to speed up the ordering process.

Impress the cashiers (and avoid looking like a tourist) by using some of these terms:

  • Hot Dog = hot dog with chili and mustard
  • Heavy Weight = hot dog with extra chili
  • Naked Dog = plain hot dog on a bun
  • Walk a Dog = a hot dog to go
  • Yankee Dog = plain dog with mustard
  • Strings = french fries
  • Ring One = order of onion rings

Beautiful Varsity Canvas Prints

Unique Urban Art

Varsity Food: Heaven on a Plate

Not For the Calorie Conscious

Yes, I know fast food isn't healthy, but it tastes so good!

Plan on blowing your diet for your visit to the Varsity. You can do extra sit ups to make up for it later. Trust me, it's worth it.

I ordered two chili slaw dogs, a regular order of fries, and a Varsity Orange. 

I had heard through rumors that the Varsity's serving portions were huge, but I wasn’t expecting what I saw when they handed me my tray.

Chili Slaw Dogs and French Fries from the VarsityAs you can see, my hot dogs are barely visible. You will definitely get your money’s worth at the Varsity.

One of the things the Varsity is famous for is their signature orange soda drink called a Varsity Orange. I was kind of hesitant to try it because I don't really care for orange soda.

I knew this might be the only time I'd be able to visit, and I wanted the full Varsity experience. Throwing caution and calories to the wind, I ordered it anyway.

I was surprised at how much I liked it. Even if you’re not an orange soda fan, it’s worth a try. It’s not overly sweet or orange flavored and complements the hot dogs nicely.

The hot dogs were heavenly. The coleslaw has just the right seasoning, not too sweet and not too tangy. The Varsity's chili is thick and meaty and not overly spicy.

I hope I'm able to eat there again soon. It's definitely worth planning a trip to Atlanta just to eat at the Varsity.

Fun Facts About the Varsity

Who Knew?
  • The Varsity is the largest outlet of Coca-Cola in the World
  • Roughly two miles of hot dogs are served everyday
  • 300 gallons of chili a day are enjoyed by customers
  • 5,000 fried pies are sold each day
  • Comedian Nipsey Russell was a carhop before becoming famous
  • The Varsity's original name in 1928 was The Yellow Jacket
  • It's the only drive-in in the world that has a two story parking garage

When in Rome...

Get the Full Varsity Experience

Boy and Girl Wearing a Varsity HatVisiting the Varsity just isn’t about the food, it’s a complete experience.

During my visit, I noticed there were families, school kids, college kids, and couples from many different backgrounds. Nearly all of them were wearing the Varsity's famous paper hat. Be sure to grab yours at one of the condiment stations and wear it proudly. 

Don't come to the Varsity expecting to have a quiet meal. The Varsity can seat about 800 people. It’s loud, but it's fun.

Not up to sharing your meal with 800 other people? Try the drive-in side of the restaurant. The drive-in can accommodate 600 cars. Some of the carhops have been known to actually sing the menu to you. 

Most of the Varsity employees have been there for years. Some started working there when they were 15 and are still going strong well past retirement age.

The employees are very friendly and don't mind sitting down and telling you stories about their years at the Varsity. This is where the Varsity comes alive, through the stories of those who've worked there since before many of us were born.

Discover the Fascinating History of Atlanta's Famous Drive-in

Two Great Coffee Table Books About the Varsity
What'll You Have: A History of the Va...The Varsity (Images of America (Arcad...

Plan Your Trip to the Varsity

Located in Downtown Atlanta

The original Varsity is located in at 61 North Avenue in downtown Atlanta. It can be very congested between 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., so plan your trip accordingly to avoid traffic jams.

If you're unable to make it downtown, the Varsity has six other locations in nearby suburban cities.

Updated: 06/05/2013, AbbyFitz
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AbbyFitz on 01/30/2014

Thank you. There used to be so many of these. It gives those who didn't live during their heyday a slice of nostalgia

ologsinquito on 01/30/2014

These types of places are quickly dying out, so it's good to know this one is thriving. This is a great article, and very entertaining. I'm pinning this to my See the World board.

AbbyFitz on 12/10/2013

It's really something to see. They food is great too!

DerdriuMarriner on 12/10/2013

AbbyFitz, "What'll you have, what'll you have, what'll you have?" the cashier keeps asking in the YouTube video.
The Varsity sounds like quite the place!

AbbyFitz on 06/06/2013

They have hamburgers and other sandwiches, too. They have several salads, but junk food tastes better :)

PeggyHazelwood on 06/06/2013

That sounds like a great place to go when Atlanta. I don't care for hot dogs but am sure I'd find something else I would love to eat there!

AbbyFitz on 06/05/2013

Thank you! Places like these can take you back to a simpler time

Digby_Adams on 06/05/2013

I love places like this. The picture of the staff on the Images of America series warmed my heart. The neon signs make me feel so nostalgic for a time I barely remember. Thanks for this lovely Wizzle.

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