Friday Time Machine: Walter’s BBQ

Sometime between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I grew tired of loud-ass punk rock music, and drifted towards the “local music” scene. Which was great, as it was 1986 at the time, and “local music” included bands from both Atlanta and Athens. So my “local bands” included R.E.M., Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, Dreams So Real, Love Tractor, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, and a host of other great bands of the time.

We’d often skip school and go to Athens. Part of this was because none of our parents worked anywhere near there, so our chances of getting caught were slim (I’d previously gotten busted when my dad, driving to a dental appointment, saw my car parked in Little Five Points). The city of Athens was also chock full of college students, so we just blended in with the crowd, making us a tough mark for the rarely seen (but always feared) “truant officers”. Having said all that, the main reason we chose Athens, of course, was that we were unrepentant R.E.M. fanboys and weren’t ashamed to admit it.

We’d sometimes drive around Athens for a bit and check out the architecture of the fine old Southern homes. We’d sometimes try to find where Pete Buck or Michael Stipe lived (we found Pete’s house, no luck with Michael’s). We’d try to find the railroad trestle featured on the cover of R.E.M.’s Murmur album (we found it on the second trip). We’d sit on the hard-ass granite benches at the corner of Broad and College and discuss girls or politics or music or books or religion while we waited for the record stores to open. Then we’d go to Wuxtry and quietly look through the records, straining to hear the names of the bands that the real college kids were talking about. If we had a friend named Chris Haskins with us, we’d try to talk him into buying us some beer, since he looked 25 even when he was 17.

But one thing we absolutely had to do on every trip was to eat at Walter’s Barbecue. Walter’s was the subject of a song on R.E.M.’s Dead Letter Office outtakes album. I believe it was an aborted attempt at a jingle for a radio commercial… but I could be wrong. In any case, on the way out of town, you’d see this little place:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

This picture is from 2004, long after Walter’s had changed hands. And no, I don’t know who that chick in the picture is – I accidentally stumbled across this picture via Google Image Search and it made me all nostalgic. And that’s why I’m writing this post. Anyway, here’s a picture of R.E.M. eating there in 1984:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

I think I sat on every single one of those stools the band’s sitting on. Heh – and look at how much hair Michael Stipe has! It’s funny to see him eating chicken, too… Vegan, my ass!

Walter’s had an awesome hot sauce for the BBQ, and he made the world’s best Brunswick Stew. I don’t know what happened to ol’ Walter, but you can still see him in his heyday in the excellent documentary Athens, GA Inside/Out.

3 thoughts on “Friday Time Machine: Walter’s BBQ

  1. Don

    I remember that red sauce. Hot. BBQ was moist. Dirt packed on the top of the fans. It was very good. He had a sign, masters in bbq or something. Also went to the 40 watt club and seen bands for $2. I still have a white T shirt from that era.

  2. Morgan Bearden

    Before it was Walter’s, it was the Arctic Queen – an ice cream joint. Some folks called it the Frigid Bitch.

    I lived just a short distance away at the intersection of King, Holman, & Sunset. I remember taking my girlfriend who was from the Washington, DC area to Walter’s sometime in the late ’70′s … that sort of place was a new experience for her. I believe we both had a half of a chicken and then went to a Geography Department party.

  3. rob k.

    Jim, I read somewhere that whatever Michael was eating in that pic WASN’T chicken or any kind of meat. He was the only one not eating the chicken, so I guess he was still vegan back then. Great story, by the way.

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