Travel far and wide across the southeastern United States, and you’ll stumble across plenty of amazing bars and restaurants. I’ve already found the best college bars in the South, a list that includes breakfast shots in Nashville and the same margaritas Johnny Manziel used to guzzle in College Station.
Athens, Georgia is of course home to plenty of bars and points of interests as one of the nation’s premier college towns. You can catch a Bulldogs game between the hedges at Sanford Stadium then drink fishbowls and party like it’s Mardi Gras at a bar called Bourbon Street.
No place in SEC, however, contains the chilling and eerie backstory like that of T.K. Harty’s Saloon in Athens.
T.K. Harty’s Saloon: Athens Most Popular Hangout
Established in 1971, Harty’s was one of the most popular bars in Georgia back in the 1970s. Everyone from University of Georgia students to the working class packed the joint after work or class. It resided in an area of town called The Station, which hosted the city’s nightlife and produced popular rock bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s.
“I first came here as a graduate student in the fall of 1975,” Gilbert Head, who used to frequent the bar like many college students, told Red and Black Magazine. “We would go get a pitcher of beer. You could hang out on the deck, it was a great place to kill an evening.”
All of that changed when Harty’s owner, Theodore “T.K.” Harty, was murdered at the order of a rival restaurant owner. To this day, locals say the wild-west-style saloon is still haunted.
Harty’s Saloon’s Rival Business
Harty’s Saloon had competition.
A man by the name of John Henry Mooney II opened a nearby pizza place, Somebody’s Pizza, that sold slices inside of old train cabooses that had been transformed into seats.
To entice people to come to his bar and restaurant, Mooney began selling pitchers for half the cost of what Harty’s Saloon sold them for. One promotion Somebody’s Pizza became known for was nickel beers (oh, how the times have changed!).
So in 1977, Harty took action. He bought the lease of the buildings to The Station on Hoyt Street that housed Mooney’s pizza place and tried to evict his rival business owner. Eviction attempts led to a nasty feud, including a dispute between the two that led to an attempted arson of Harty’s popular outdoor deck.
Mooney Hired a Hitman to Kill Harty
Things took a deadly turn when one day Harty was found shot dead slumped over his desk on Aug. 30, 1977. He was shot execution-style in the back of the head, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Mooney had hired a hit man by the name of Elmo Liston Florence to do the job. Florence worked as an electrician at Mooney’s restaurant. The two probably would’ve gotten away with the murder if not for Florence’s mouth.
Florence was having drinks with friends when he bragged about his assassination of Mooney’s rival. That led to Florence’s and Mooney’s convictions for murder in 1978. They were sentenced to life in prison.
“[Florence,] who did the foul deed, was kind of an idiot,” Head told Red and Black Magazine. “He got drunk one night in a local watering hole and proceeded to brag about how he was the guy that took care of T.K., and if you had anyone you needed taken care of, for a few dollars he could make that happen too because he was a rough hombre.”
Mooney Escaped Prison, While Florence is a Free Man
Shortly after his conviction, John Mooney escaped from Wayne Country prison in 1980. Nine years later he was caught after the murder mystery case was profiled on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries,” according to OnlyInYourState.com.
Mooney is serving a life sentence at Dooly State Prison in Unadilla.
Florence was freed from prison at age 76 in 2007 some 30 years after he murdered Harty. He had been serving his time in Bostick State Prison in Hardwick.
The murder of T.K. Harty rocked the Athens and is still the creepiest and most terrifying story in city’s history.