Pack the House: Rules to Live By

Image: Johnny's Hideaway

For the past 39 years, hordes of customers have been flocking to Johnny’s Hideaway in Atlanta, and coming back again and again. For 21 of those years, guests have been doing this under the watchful eye of owner Chris Dauria.

Crowd inside Johnny's Hideaway nightclub in Atlanta, GA -
Image: Michael Bradley / chuckyfoto.com

Dauria attributes his venue’s longstanding popularity to the hard and fast rules he has in place. Over the years he has, of course, made changes to Johnny’s Hideaway to keep up with the times. But the venue continues to have lines out the door, he says, because of his rules. They may be considered old-fashioned, but patrons keep returning.

Here are some of the non-negotiables at Johnny’s Hideaway.

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Line outside Johnny's Hideaway in Atlanta, GA -
Image: Johnny's Hideaway

Clock Patrons Who Enter

It’s no fun being in a bar or nightclub where you can’t move for the sea of bodies, says Dauria. That’s why he allows a maximum of 265 people into Johnny’s Hideaway at any time, clocking each patron as they come and leave.

“People don’t like to stand on line, but once you get inside it’s much nicer if it’s not packed,” he says. “Plus, for us, if the servers can’t get through the crowd and people can’t get to the bar, you’re not selling a lot of drinks.”

The Woman’s Right

In any disagreements that happen in Johnny’s Hideaway, the woman is always right, says Dauria. “It’s an old-school rule but it’s served us well, and a group of women know they can come in and not get messed with. A woman throws a glass of wine on a guy, the guy has to leave.”

This is because women drive the club business, Dauria says, and anyone who’s fairly regular sees evidence of this rule. “It doesn’t matter to us if we throw people out. There are no questions asked,” he says.

Serving Tried and True, Not Faddish Drinks

Dauria doesn’t want his bartenders pulling Tom Cruise moves; he wants them pouring as many drinks as they can.

“I appreciate the craft of making fancy cocktails, but we want to do volume,” he says.

Dauria doesn’t even offer draft beer because “every bartender can pop six Bud Light bottles faster than they can pour six draft Bud Lights, even if draft is more profitable,” he explains. “We don’t muddle, we don’t layer; we don’t do all the fancy drinks; all that can smother a bartender.”

Server-service Only for Guests at Tables

Johnny’s Hideaway is a small club with tables close together, and the paths between the tables leads both to the dance floor and the bar. Because of this, Dauria tries to keep foot traffic down and only allows wait staff to get drinks for guests sitting at tables.

This also minimizes traffic for patrons sitting at the bar. And it’s faster for everyone, Dauria says.

Relying on the Disk Jockey to Turn Over the Dance Floor

Jack the disk jockey is so miserable his ironic nickname is Happy Jack, Dauria explains. But he’s spun music for 20 years at Johnny’s Hideaway and Dauria wouldn’t think of getting rid of him.

“He can make sure the dance floor is filled by playing the right song; he is skilled at getting people out there.”

Your Chair is Your Chair for the Night

Once you’ve claimed a seat, it’s yours until you leave the club, Dauria says, even if you’ve been on the dance floor for the past hour. “This is not always well received on social media and Yelp, but we try to keep it as old school as we can without alienating everyone under the age of 40, he says. “It’s comforting to know your chair is still there.”

Dauria knows there are people who don’t like his rules and who refuse to come to Johnny’s Hideaway. But he also knows it’s not feasible to please everyone. “We follow the 95% rule—if we have 100 people through the door, we want to make 95 of them happy,” he says.

Despite standing by his rules, Johnny’s continues to not only be popular but the age of its average patron is dropping. It used to be 60, but now it’s 30, and late at night drops down closer to 25.

“We’ve evolved from a dirty, dusty hole in the wall to a place where young people like to come,” Dauria says.