Spotlights in the rafters and a prominent but not overpowering stage off to the side quickly communicate that Venkman’s—despite a well-stocked bar and expanse of dining tables—is not your run-of-the-mill restaurant. Located in a former NuGrape soda factory in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, the restaurant-cum-music venue bridges the gap between quality dining and live entertainment.
“The entertainment is great because it brings people in, but it also adds a level of complexity so it’s been a challenge. The balance between the food and the music is something that not a lot of other places go for,” says cofounder Nick Niespodziani.
When Niespodziani and childhood friend Peter Olson performed with their band Yacht Rock Revue, the two noticed the food and beverage selections at concert venues left something to be desired. So in October 2015, the two opened their own restaurant-venue hybrid.
Given their band’s proclivity for retro tunes, Niespodziani says they wanted Venkman’s to remind guests of their “grandma’s basement with the shag carpeting.” The renovated space sports cognac leather bar chairs, low-hanging steel rafters from the original build, and a memorabilia-filled wall. In fact, the name Venkman’s is a shout-out to Bill Murray’s character in the original “Ghostbusters” movie.
True to its mission to serve high-quality fare, the business partners enlisted Chef Nick Melvin, who’s worked at such celebrated establishments as Empire State South and Serenbe Farmhouse. Niespodziani describes the menu as “creative comfort food,” with entrées like Bacon Udon and a vegan Pulled Mushroom Roll. Perhaps most impressive is its burger, which just a year after the restaurant opened won Atlanta magazine’s Best Burger Battle.
The restaurant also serves a weekend brunch with a selection of standards, as well as more unusual options like Duck Egg Hash and Breakfast Poutine. Venkman’s typically hosts acoustic music, bluegrass bands, and even puppet shows around the brunch daypart. The weeknight roster is a mix of jazz jams, trivia contests, and live performances. Weekend shows feature touring acts, ’80s cover bands, and more.
Yacht Rock Revue also frequently takes to the stage, which can be an unusual experience for Niespodziani. “I’m supposed to be singing the songs and performing, but I’m also thinking about all these business things at the same time,” he says, adding that he’ll notice things like if the kitchen gets backed up or if service is slow for a table.
Niespodziani and Olson might still be fine-tuning Venkman’s operations and menus, but thus far the restaurant is gaining traction for its successful pairing of two favorite pastimes.
“People are getting an experience they can’t get anywhere else,” Niespodziani says. “When it’s hitting on all cylinders and everything is great—the music is great, the food is great, the drinks are great—and I’m up there getting to be a part of all of it, it’s pretty special.”