By Maria Saporta
The iconic painted Coca-Cola sign on the iconic Manuel’s Tavern is being restored in time for the bar’s grand reopening.
A specialty painter based in Roanoke, Va., Jack Fralin, will begin working on the sign restoration on Monday – blasting off the paint down to the brick before hand-painting the sign back to life – a process expected to take most of the week.
“We found a way to get it done because it’s so important to the community,” Ted Ryan, the archivist for the Coca-Cola Co., said in a recent interview. “These signs strike a nostalgic chord. In Atlanta at Manuel’s, you would see that sign, and it would make you happy.”
Brian Maloof, owner of Manuel’s Tavern, said it was “extremely important” for the Coca-Cola Co. to agree to restore the sign. (Manuel’s will restore the companion Manuel’s sign right next to the Coke sign).
“Your first impression, when you think of the tavern, is the Coke sign,” Maloof said. “It’s a big statement about Atlanta. And it’s a big statement about who we are. When you tell someone about where we are, you say: ‘It is the place that’s got the Coke sign.’”
The Coca-Cola Co. has not been in painted wall sign business for about 100 years. A century ago, wall signs accounted for a quarter of the company’s advertising budget until they were replaced with billboards.
Today, the remnants of wall signs – also called ghost signs – still are visible in communities all over the country. And a wave of nostalgia combined with the revitalization of main streets in towns across the nation has unleased a demand to have the painted signs restored.
“I have folders full of letters asking for signs to be restored,” said Ryan, adding that it’s usually up to the bottler to redo those signs. In Atlanta, the company is the bottler, which made the Manuel’s sign a corporate decision.
“A lot of people asked us about it,” Ryan said. “The renovation of the building gave us the perfect opportunity to have the sign restored.”
Maloof credited Angelo Fuster, who handles communications for Manuel’s, for being persistent in getting the company’s approval.
The company then turned to its bottling partner in North Carolina – Consolidated – which has restored a host of painted signs in its territory – several times using Fralin, who can do the Coca-Cola logo free-style.
Historically, the company would give painters large stencils they could use to paint the signs using the official Coca-Cola red for the logo.
Today, the company evaluates each request on a case-by-case basis, depending on the significance of the sign.
“There is no policy,” Ryan said of the factors involved. “It’s time and place. It’s the customer and building.”
The company would not disclose how much the restoration will cost. The last time the Manuel’s sign was restored was before 1996 before the Summer Olympic Games.
“That sign has been the centerfold of one of Coke’s annual reports,” Maloof said. More recently, the sign was featured in photos of when President Barack Obama came to Atlanta on March 10, 2015 and his motorcade stopped at the Tavern. Manuel’s has gained fame for being a gathering place for politicians, journalists, law enforcement, intellectuals and community activists.
Maloof is thrilled the sign is being restored at the same time as the Tavern, which has been closed since the end of last year. The refurbished Manuel’s is expected to reopen in early August in time for its 60th anniversary on Aug. 6.
“It’s eye rolling good,” Maloof said of his spruced up establishment. “I think that every single inch of electrical wire and every single inch of plumbing is new.”
The tavern will have all new kitchen equipment and new bathrooms. The interior space has been reconfigured slightly to make room for a couple of new retail shops along North Highland Avenue.
The tavern will be slightly smaller – losing seating for about 40 people. The largest meeting room now will be on the south side of the Tavern along the wall with the exterior Coca-Cola sign.
Maloof said he has a hard time believing that such a large company as Coca-Cola would care about a spot like his.
“It’s tremendous,” Maloof said. “I’m just hoping my son or my daughter won’t have to worry about the sign for a long time.”