Disco Kroger's last dance
Play that funky music while I buy some produce and antibiotics
Growing up in Atlanta, you heard the stories, passed around the cafeteria without verification, tweets before social media: There’s a dance club where they have panthers in cages! And sharks swimming below the dance floor! There’s drugs everywhere and a bunch of secret rooms and people doing it right there in the middle of the floor!
The club was Limelight, the time was the 1980s, and the stories were all true … or as close to true as you could discern in the midst of a glittering, bass-pulsing, all-night cocaine binge, where beautiful people danced, sweated and broke commandments by the armload.
And when they were done, they went grocery-shopping.
Just steps from the Limelight, in the same Buckhead strip mall on Piedmont Road, the cold fluorescent lights of a Kroger beckoned Limelight survivors, enticing them to stumble over and grab some snacks, drinks, protection, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, whatever. This was the legend known as Disco Kroger, and legends never die … they just get redeveloped.
There’s one hell of a Netflix series just waiting to be told about Atlanta in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The City Too Busy To Hate had become The City That Decided To Just Party Instead, and between the anarchy-on-water Chattahoochee Raft Race, the rise of Ted Turner’s SuperStation and the hedonism Ground Zero of the Riverbend Apartments near what is now the Braves’ home, Atlanta was establishing itself as a destination for young Southerners who wanted to do something other than join the old man’s law firm or marry their college sweetheart.
Looming over the entire scene was the Limelight, a onetime fading dinner theater transformed into a vast, glittering paradise dedicated to every single one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Celebrities of the day — Tina Turner, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol and more — paid visits to the Limelight every time they passed through town.
The club’s doors opened at nine every night, but the line to get in the door started assembling several hours earlier. Bouncers at the door played St. Peter, deciding who would be admitted and who would be sent off into the night, humiliated. Anyone who protested the bouncers’ decree could expect a simple reply: “It’s not up to you to ask and it’s not up to me to answer.” (One Limelight myth deconstructed: The four-hour long lines were a bit of a PR creation. Bouncers would deliberately keep people waiting outside, so that passers-by would see the long line and assume — rightly — that whatever was happening inside made it the place to be.)
Those fortunate enough to make it through the club’s doors found themselves in disco nirvana. Pulsing neon lights traced the club’s contours. Below dancers’ feet swam two sand sharks, at least until dancers’ shoes would scuff the floor so badly they obscured the view. (Another myth deconstructed: there were no live tigers or panthers there. One was brought in for a photo shoot, and hustled right back out again. The thought of a panther loose in a nightclub was a bit much, even for the ‘80s.)
One night, confetti would rain down from the ceiling; the next, manufactured snow would create a funky Winter Wonderland. Dancers would straddle the line of morality and good taste, sinning now and asking forgiveness later.
Here’s a crowd-shot video of what a typical night was like at the Limelight:
Now, all of that looks wonderful and glorious and yes, it’s great that all y’all were having so much depraved fun. What interests me is what came afterward: the moment when the Limelight declared You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here, and all those revelers re-emerged into the real world and thought, goddamn, I’m HUNGRY.
You can probably guess how things went at the Disco Kroger round about 5 a.m.: foraging in the produce department, making out in the cereal aisle, bowling frozen turkeys, that kind of thing. There are no innocents in the grocery store before dawn, but there are some damn good stories.
This is about the time that I entered the picture. As the Limelight wheezed through its last days, we started traveling downtown in the predawn hours every Fourth of July to run the Peachtree Road Race. We’d park in the Limelight shopping center’s parking lot — it offered easy access to the starting line — and the contrast of earnest, limber runners about to run six miles through Atlanta with bedazzled, coked-out zombies coming down hard off their highs was both jarring and hysterical.
The Limelight was too good to last, and it didn’t. The club earned the name “Slimelight” as the clientele fractured; Atlanta’s gay and jock communities didn’t exactly mix well in the 1980s. A misbegotten attempt to open up the Limelight for corporate events and ladies’ tea socials killed the last of the club’s counterculture vibe. By 1985, the club shut its doors for good, and all that was left was the Disco Kroger … and probably some stubborn infections.
Disco Kroger is part of the esteemed network of themed Kroger stores throughout the greater Atlanta metropolitan area — Cougar Kroger (named for its most notable patrons), Soviet Kroger (frequently bare shelves), Krogay (catering to the LGBTQ+ Midtown demographic), Stinky Kroger (near a waste treatment plant), and many more.
Most notable of them all, of course, is the fabled Murder Kroger, so named because of the bodies, plural, found there. Everyone with a financial interest in it has tried to rebrand it “Beltline Kroger,” for the walking path that runs beside it, but — yeah, Murder Kroger forever. (Full deep dive on Murder Kroger coming sometime down the line.)
But Murder Kroger’s fate was that of all themed Krogers, the eventual fate of Disco Kroger: redeveloped and sanitized, cleaned up and gentrified. It’s a neater Atlanta, a safer Atlanta, but a more corporate and standardized city, too. One day, the party always stops.
You can still see the bones of Disco Kroger if you look hard enough. The heavily remodeled store still stands, and in the foyer as you walk into the store, above the rows of shopping carts, hangs a small disco ball, barely bigger than a basketball. Drive around the side of the store, past a massive new popup store named “Candytopia” that’s all candy, nothing but candy — whoo, there’s a metaphor for you — and you’ll see the old entrance of the Limelight, stairs now leading down not to a dance floor, but to a vast art supply store.
Back in 2012, a local Atlanta artist named Dr. Dax, with the help of a Los Angeles collective called Loss Prevention, created the outstanding mural above, so bright and resonant you can almost hear the strains of “Dancin’ Queen” as you gaze upon it.
Disco Kroger’s days are numbered. A developer has plans to knock down the whole shopping center — of course — and craft something that’ll be millennial-friendly, faux-authentic, and utterly soulless.
If there’s justice, though, whatever forced “Enclave at Piedmont Pointe”-type name they come up with won’t stick, and everyone will just keep calling it Disco Kroger, no matter what’s built there.
As for the once-young party people who once shone at the Limelight? They’re grandparents now, the ones who lived that long. They have memories finer than any movie, and they surely smile silently as they watch their grandchildren twitch their way through janky TikTok routines. You call that dancing? Kid, I could show you some REAL dancing …
The party always ends, but the memories live on forever. Have a great week, friends. See you back here next Saturday.
This is issue #59 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our recent hits:
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What is a Diablo Sandwich, anyway? Solving a “Smokey and the Bandit”mystery
A journey to the heart of the real America: Buc-ees.
What it was like to cover the Beijing Olympics inside a locked-down China
Beneath the waters of the South’s most haunted lake
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