A shack on the bank of the Chattahoochee River in Vinings kept the liquor flowing like water during Prohibition.
Not only that, but a gentleman could grab a glass of whiskey, then saunter across Paces Ferry Road down a short dirt path to a series of shacks along the river. In those shacks, the urban myth goes, were women who could help a gentlemen pass the time for a couple of dollars.
It was more of an hourly thing if you catch my drift.
The United States outlawed liquor between 1920 and 1933. Teetotaling Georgia didn’t allow the sale of alcohol from 1908 until 1935.
Today, the spot where that shack stood is one of the state’s great restaurants, Canoe. It has a full bar, a patio along the blue water and paths meandering through landscaped gardens to the riverbank.
Coincidently, given the property’s history, the bricks on the exterior of the building were salvaged from the Four Roses Distillery warehouse, which was destroyed in a 1902 fire. The remnants remained on the side of Little Nancy Creek for decades before the bricks were used to rebuild the building.
By then, it was Robinson’s Tropical Gardens, the site of many a prom and special occasion for more than five decades.
The Robinson family is OV — Old Vinings.
The family first came to the area with the railroads in the 1830s and remained. They were there when Union Gen. William T. Sherman set up camp there during the Civil War. Both the Shermans and the Robinsons were Catholic, and patriarch Richard Robinson was friendly with Sherman as a result.
That didn’t matter much when Sherman commandeered Robinson’s livestock, but Sherman did help Robinson get reimbursed later by the federal government.
Through a number of marriages, the Robinsons are kin to the Randalls, of Randall Mill, and the Paces, of Paces Ferry. They keep up the historic Pace Family Cemetery on Mount Wilkinson to this day.
An industrious lot, the Robinsons worked several jobs in the community around the turn of the century and into the 1900s, including operating a chicken shack on Paces Ferry across the street from the current Canoe. Over time, they purchased the property across the road and opened an event and entertainment space that could accommodate 1,000 guests.
It was Robinson’s Tropical Gardens, and while there were gardens around the building with dual rounded-roof lines, there wasn’t much tropical about it. There were palm trees printed on the menu.
According to Susan Kendall’s book, “Vinings,” Robinson’s Tropical Gardens opened in 1945. While it burned down several times — including the time it was rebuilt with bricks from the distillery — it hosted many high schoolers and college students over the years for various functions.
Ever industrious, the Robinsons even built a quarter-mile dirt racetrack with embankments across the street. The cars kept wrecking into the stands and injuring spectators, so they had to cease operations. Those embankments are still visible along Paces Ferry.
Robinson’s closed in 1973. The building went through a few different iterations including a casino before Mary Hataway purchased it in 1987. The Soiree Catering and Events owner turned it into Patio on the River. It was one of the earlier fine dining establishments in Atlanta, certainly in Vinings.
It became Canoe in 1995, when George McKerrow of LongHorn Steakhouse and Ted’s Montana Grill fame partnered with Ron San Martin and executive chef Gerry Klaskala to open one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in the South.
There are pictures on the walls there of the old Robinson’s Tropical Gardens and the Patio by the River. I have yet to see a picture of the shack that preceded all of those.
A quick personal note: Given the current crisis, the publisher has asked me to put down my pen for a month or two as the newspaper navigates these difficult times. They graciously agreed to publish some old columns while I am on hiatus.
Hopefully, I’ll be back to work soon.
Until then, thank you — as always — for reading.