It’s several days before the official start of Black Gay Pride, but already Darrell Williams is buzzed on the spirit of ATL.
“Beautiful people, strong drinks, all-you-can-eat,” Williams says as he sips on a Sour Apple frozen cocktail at the Daiquiri Factory in Midtown. In town from South Carolina for a week’s vacation, Williams feels as if he is in paradise as he dines among the post-work crowd that fills the patio, inside tables and wait list at the Daiquiri Factory, and as he nears the end of his second vodka-infused slushie.
“We couldn’t get a crowd like this on a Saturday night, and it’s a Monday here,” Williams says. “It really makes you feel welcome, like this is normal, and like you can be you. That’s why I love Atlanta, and we have to come here every time I come to Atlanta.”
The Daiquiri Factory has become a staple for LGBT Atlanta visitors and residents alike, organically growing into a hub of the city’s black gay social scene.
“It’s a good place to gather with friends, and we usually stay at least a good three hours,” said a gay Atlanta resident who only gave his first name, Larry. “This gives me a different vibe than anywhere else. It’s just laid-back and welcoming.”
“There’s no pressure, it’s come as you are,” adds Larry’s friend Leah Powell, a heterosexual who enjoys coming to the Daiquiri Factory during what would normally be considered Happy Hour (Georgia law prohibits genuine Happy Hours).
“We always come in the evening, after work,” Powell says as she and her friends finished enjoying their drinks and the Daiquiri Factory’s snow crab buffet.
“I’ve never been here at night,” Larry adds. “And it’s hard to find a spot like this outside of the nighttime.”
The seafood-dominant menu, colorful row of spinning frozen drinks machines and tiki decor of the Daiquiri Factory tickle Liz Jackie’s Trinidadian roots as she and her friend Celeste White partake in the restaurant’s famous Monday special.
“We come at least once a month, and every time we come here we have fun,” Jackie says. “The vibe is good, the drinks are good.”
“The drinks are amazing,” White emphasizes with tipsy giggles.
“And you got to enjoy those crab legs, honey,” Jackie adds.
Despite its reputation and clout of black gay Atlanta, it’s dollar has remained largely transient: promoters renting venues rather than owning them, money flowing out of the community without much return for the community itself.
“I like to spend my money here,” says Jay Palmer, a black gay Stone Mountain resident who is a friend of Williams’s. “I like to support a place that I feel like supports me, and it definitely feels like home here.”
The Daiquiri’s Factory’s assent into one of the premiere venues for black LGBT Atlantans occurred naturally.
“It just evolved into what it evolved into, I didn’t go after any particular crowd,” says Kechia Matadin, who opened the tropical-themed restaurant and daiquiri bar in 2010. “In the beginning, [the crowd] was very Georgia Tech, very college, and we did a lot of formals.
“As more black people found out that an African-American owned it, more black people started coming in,” says Matadin, who is proud that the Daiquiri Factory has established itself as a place where people feel comfortable, black or white, male or female, gay or straight.
“I’ve always been about inclusivity, and I think everyone appreciates that,” she says. “I just want to have a business where everyone feels comfortable. No one likes to feel uncomfortable going anywhere they go, and thank God I had parents that taught me that.”
Crossing boundaries is almost a part of Matadin’s business model, given the broad appeal of daiquiris.
“Everyone loves them—it’s not just for men, it’s not just for women, it’s just fun fruitiness,” says Matadin, who owned two fruity-drink night clubs in Savannah before moving to Atlanta in 2009.
“I just knew that Atlanta was a very progressive city, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Matadin, who was undaunted by launching a restaurant during the eye of the economic downturn that overwhelmed so many businesses back in 2010.
The sluggish economy actually helped Matadin secure a favorable lease on prime property on 7th and West Peachtree streets, and the Daiquiri Factory’s surging popularity has positioned Matadin to open a new restaurant and bar at the former Piebar location off Monroe Drive and Interstate 85.
Cirque, set to open in about six weeks, will be a more upscale version of the Daiquiri Factory.
“We’ve done away with the plastic cups and it will be all stemware,” Matadin says. “It’s going to be a different menu, but similar. Of course, seafood; I’m from Savannah and we’re surrounded by water, and so it’d be hard for us to open a new restaurant and not include seafood on the menu.”
While the Daiquiri Factory hosts a vibrant late-night scene, Matadin says she enjoys offering an alternative social scene with her restaurants.
“I think a lot of promoters are guilty of only promoting nightlife,” Matadin says. “But not everyone is a clubhead, and some people just want to come out and have a few drinks and then go home.”
The community’s embrace of the Daiquiri Factory during the last four years has been “joyous,” Matadin says.
“Had it not been for the patrons of the Daiquiri Factory, Cirque would not exist, and I just want to keep going,” she says. “I want to be the Queen of the Daiquiris.”