Gene & Gabe’s (now Smith's Olde Bar), 1578 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30324
Gene Dale (January 10, 1934 - April 25, 2018) was a restaurateur and showman.
For 25 years, Hollywood celebrities and the Atlanta’s elite packed Gene & Gabe’s, a supper club with New York flair and northern Italian cuisine that Dale co-owned at Piedmont and Monroe until 1990.
“Gene & Gabe’s was the Sardi’s of Atlanta,” said Carolyn Calloway, a longtime friend and cabaret performer who sang at the restaurant’s piano bar and appeared in several productions at Upstairs at Gene & Gabe’s.
The restaurant for years was center stage for opening night cast parties for big-name productions at “Theater Under the Stars” and other venues.
“On any given night you might see Joan Rivers, Rock Hudson, Paul Lynde, Waylon & Madame, or maybe even President Jimmy Carter and his family in the dining room,” Calloway said.
His Upstairs, which is now Smith’s Olde Bar, became “ground zero” for Atlanta’s cabaret scene when it opened in 1980, friends said.
Gene Dale was born on January 10, 1934 in the Commerce area. The 10th of 13 children of sharecroppers, Dale had an adventurous life.
He left home right after high school for jobs as a soda jerk in Athens and then as a disc jockey in Charlotte, N.C.
Hit by the acting bug, he spent time in New York and California, where he landed some modeling assignments, as well as jobs in summer stock and other productions with celebrities, including Joan Rivers.
While in New York, he became maître ‘d at Upstairs at the Downstairs, “a society hang out,” said Teresa Dale, his wife of 40 years.
Nephew Jeff White said that “New York got him out of that small-town mentality.”
That showed up in his Atlanta restaurant, where the walls were painted red and covered with artwork and giant mirrors, and patrons included a star-studded Who’s Who: Lana Turner, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and a list of others too long to mention.
Gene & Gabe’s was padlocked by the IRS for unpaid taxes in 1990, and Dale went on to work in community theaters in Canton and Highlands, N.C. He had been in failing health for about 15 years.
Dale made the restaurant very welcoming to the gay community and, after the AIDS epidemic hit, opened its doors to help with critical fundraising, said Thurman, daughter of longtime Georgia Democratic Party Chair Marge Thurman and a dedicated Gene & Gabe’s patron.
He died on April 25, 2018, of complications from a fall. He was 84.