Out of Town: Atlanta's Hippest Neighborhoods

by Andrew Collins

The cultural and commercial capital of the Southeast, Atlanta http://www.atlanta.net has rapidly become one of the nation's true A-list gay destinations, with its hugely visible and dynamic GLBT scene and a wealth of accommodations, nightspots, restaurants and shops with strong ties to the community. Atlanta's considerable sprawl and sometimes dizzyingly intense traffic can feel a little overwhelming at times, but if you venture away from the freeways and beyond the skyscrapers of downtown, you'll discover a number of engaging, vibrant neighborhoods rife with gay-popular bars, restaurants, inns and boutiques. Here's a look at some of the best Atlanta areas for exploring.

Inman Park and Little Five Points - 2.5 miles east of downtown

Inman Park http://www.inmanpark.org, which is considered to have been Atlanta's first suburb, had become run-down and derelict before gay and African-American gentrification took hold in the early '80s, leading to the restoration of many of its elaborate Victorian houses. The mix of interesting architecture extends south to neighborhoods like Cabbagetown and Grant Park http://grantpark.org, and the cool, eclectic shopping and dining pushes east into Little Five Points http://littlefivepoints.net.

Highlights for hanging out and eating well in Inman Park include Shaun's http://www.shaunsrestaurant.com, a chic contemporary eatery known for stellar regional American cooking, and Wisteria http://www.wisteria-atlanta.com, which presents a creative take on classic Southern fare - the fried chicken with bacon-braised collard green is among the best in the city. In the more dressed-down Little Five Points - where piercings and tattoos have been in style for years - check out famed emporia like kitschy Junkman's Daughter and Psycho Sisters vintage clothing, before snacking on hefty burritos at El Myr http://www.elmyr.com or a spicy Cajun pie at Savage Pizza http://savagepizza.com.

East Atlanta Village - 3 miles southeast of downtown

One of the most diverse and independent-spirited enclaves in the city, East Atlanta Village http://www.eastatlantavillage.net is a great area for walking, with a number of decidedly offbeat, arty and affordable businesses and restaurants set along two main streets: Greenwood Avenue and Flat Shoals Avenue. Highlights include a pair of gay bars, the fun-loving and quirky lounge Mary's http://www.marysatlanta.com, and the friendly lesbian bar My Sisters Room http://www.mysistersroom.com, which relocated here from Decatur a few years ago. Stop by Joe's Coffee http://www.eastatlantavillage.net/joes_coffee.phtml for strong java and a chance to mingle with a cross-section of neighborhood locals.

Virginia-Highland - 2 miles east of downtown

Just beyond Piedmont Park and the heart of Midtown's well-established gay scene, and with arguably the city's best all-around window-shopping, Virginia-Highland http://www.virginiahighland.com has been a fashionable place to live and explore since the neighborhood was developed roughly a century ago.

Rather than possessing one definitive center, Virginia-Highland comprises several small but lively commercial hubs. At Amsterdam Walk you'll find lively gay nightspots like Amsterdam sports bar http://www.myspace.com/amsterdamatlanta and Bellissima lesbian lounge http://www.myspace.com/bellissima_lounge. Drive south along Highland Avenue through Morningside, and past the intersections of Amsterdam, Virginia, and Ponce de Leon and you'll discover many more cool places to dine, drink, and shop. The old-school Majestic Diner http://www.majesticdiner.com, whose neon sign proudly proclaims "food that pleases - since 1929", can be counted on for late-night pancakes after the bars close - it's a short drive from several gay clubs.

Midtown - 3 miles north of downtown

With its central location just off the interstate and skyline of modern apartment, office and hotel towers, Midtown may not leap out as a particularly notable neighborhood for walking around. Indeed, valet parking is commonplace at Midtown's many fine eateries. But this is the heart of Atlanta's GLBT community, and it's unquestionably trendy and fun.

The neighborhood has a few cultural highlights, including the High Museum of Art and Margaret Mitchell House & Museum. And if the weather's cooperating, do not miss the 15-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden, which adjoins leafy Piedmont Park (a favorite haunt of the city's gay sun-worshipers and outdoorsy types). Here you'll find one of the world's most important displays of tropical orchids.

Midtown contains the lion's share of Atlanta's gay bars, including such popular haunts as Burkhart's http://www.burkharts.com video bar; Bulldog's, a one of the South's GLBT African-American hangouts; and Blake's on the Park http://www.blakesontheparkatlanta.com, a classic bar with a young, pretty crowd. There's also Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse http://www.outwritebooks.com, the city's highly successful source of GLBT books and literature that doubles as a cozy java joint.

Definitive gay brunch spots include festive Babs http://www.babsmidtown.com; Einstein's http://www.einsteinsatlanta.com, also fun later in the evening for drinks or dinner, and the Flying Biscuit Midtown http://www.flyingbiscuit.com, the original of which is in yet another cool part of town, Candler Park). Atlanta's branch of the upscale chain Ra Sushi http://www.rasushi.com is spacious, trendy, and enjoyable both for colorful cocktails and tasty Japanese food, while Ecco http://www.ecco-atlanta.com is reliable for first-rate southern European cuisine, including a dazzling selection of cheeses and cured meats.

Other stylish and sophisticated dining options of note include One Midtown Kitchen http://www.onemidtownkitchen.com, a bustling restaurant just northeast of Piedmont Park that serves some of the city's most memorable regional American fare, and Pacci http://pacciatlanta.com, which is set inside the hip Hotel Palomar and turns out sensational rustic Italian cuisine, including some of the best steaks in town.

Westside - 3 miles northwest of downtown

Known variously as West Midtown and Home Park http://www.homepark.org, the very eclectic neighborhood that broadly takes in Atlanta's Westside is most interesting these days along Howell Mill Road, south for several blocks from about 14th Street. Large warehouses and shiny new structures contain condos, lofts, and a smattering of galleries and restaurants, some of them superb. This part of the neighborhood is known as the Westside Arts District http://wadatlanta.org, and its culinary stars include Bacchnalia and its adjacent lunch room and gourmet-food shop Star Provisions http://www.starprovisions.com, the see-and-be-seen contemporary American restaurant Bocado http://www.bocadoatlanta.com, and the colorful coffeehouse Octane http://www.octanecoffee.com.

Castleberry Hill - 1 mile west of downtown

Rapidly up-and-coming Castleberry Hill http://www.castleberryhill.org comprises a patch of handsome warehouses and industrial buildings that have been collectively rehabbed into a notable arts district. Along bustling Walker and Peter streets, you'll find several provocative galleries. You might begin your explorations with lunch at the superb (and gay-owned) No Mas Cantina http://www.nomascantina.com, a festive Mexican restaurant that serves tantalizingly good tortilla soup and fish tacos. It's attached to a dramatic home-furnishings store filled with stunning, handcrafted furniture and decorative arts from Mexico.

Decatur - 6 miles northeast of Atlanta

An entirely separate city of about 20,000 that's a 10 to 15-minute drive from Midtown, Decatur is far more than a mere Atlanta neighborhood. This liberal-leaning community with a vibrant downtown does in some ways feel like an extension of Atlanta's GLBT scene. It's home to the gay and lesbian nightclub Traxx http://www.traxxatlanta.com as well as the seminal mod-Southern-food restaurant Watershed http://www.watershedrestaurant.com, which is owned by one-half of the Indigo Girls duo, Emily Saliers, and serves absolutely fantastic food. Don't miss the Sunday brunch, which features creamy chicken hash, corn griddle cakes and poached eggs. Cafe Lily http://www.cafelily.com, with its delicious pan-Mediterranean cuisine, is another great option for a meal.

Where to Stay in Atlanta

The Hotel Palomar http://www.hotelpalomar-atlantamidtown.com was opened by the favorite GLBT-friendly brand Kimpton in 2009 and has quickly become a favorite lodging choice for the design-minded, with its contemporary, understatedly elegant rooms. Try to get one facing south on a high floor, as views of the downtown skyline are impressive. It's an easy walk from Piedmont Park, gay nightlife and Midtown museums, as is the cushy Four Seasons http://www.fourseasons.com, a striking, 20-story hotel with a stunning 12,000-square-foot spa.

For a reasonably priced Midtown option that's strong on personality and ambience, try the gay-popular Artmore Hotel http://www.artmorehotel.com, which occupies a 1920s Spanish-Mediterranean-influenced building that's just steps from the High Museum. Also well-priced and with a sleek, smart design, the whimsically decorated Hotel Indigo http://www.hotelindigo.com has artful rooms with Nantucket-inspired blue-and-white furniture. There's also a 24-hour gym and a dapper little coffeehouse with comfy seating off the lobby.

In a city with relatively few historic inns, the gay-owned Gaslight Inn http://www.gaslightinn.com in Virginia-Highland stands out for its regal accommodations. In charming Inman Park, the King- King-Keith House B&B http://www.kingkeith.com occupies a dramatic 1890s "painted lady" Victorian with four period-style guest rooms plus a charming detached cottage. And just down the street from Piedmont Park and several gay bars and eateries, the eco-conscious and pet-friendly Stonehurst Place http://www.stonehurstplace.com is one of the city's most romantic small inns. The five spacious suites are exquisitely decorated and contain such plush amenities as iPod docks, flat-screen TVs with DVD players, and - in the top suites - fireplaces, heated bathroom floors, and two-person walk-in showers and spa tubs.

Andrew Collins covers gay travel for the New York Times-owned website http://www.About.com and is the author of Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.

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