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Inside Atlanta

February 22, 2012

Piedmont Park flooded with Music Midtown revelers

My favorite editor once described Atlanta as the not-as-cool little sister, and it fits so accurately. It’s no big sister city like L.A., NYC, Miami, or Chicago. Despite desperately wanting otherwise, it will forever be the Jan to Marsha Brady.

I get asked the question often enough to finally warrant an article, “Where in the world does one head if visiting the ATL?” I moved here in 2000, and the past 12 years are the most I’ve lived anywhere. There are several things you should know about my adopted city: First, a car is required. Atlanta (not unlike Dallas) is a highway city and public transportation isn’t the way to go for more than one reason (it’s run in four primitive directions, North and South line, East and West, and frankly, MARTA is a culture shock no one from out of town should be subjected to on a first visit).

Second, hitting the right neighborhood in Atlanta is key to a good time. While Buckhead was the posh spot reigning supreme in the 1990s boom, hipper intown areas today are Little 5 Points (L5P), Virginia Highland, Old Fourth Ward (O4W), Midtown, and Inman Park.

Here’s the whole pop on where to go and what to do in Atlanta.

The charming Highland Inn

I recommend staying in Midtown or somewhere in that vicinity. W Midtown is in very proximity to Piedmont Park and puts you in the heart of the city. I’ve written about Stonehurst Place in greater detail here, it’s a great option as well. Another to consider in the same area is the Loews, which is pet friendly and houses Exhale Spa if pampering and working out is on the agenda.

The Mansion on Peachtree is decadent, a great treat if you want to be in Buckhead. For a more low-key spot, the Highland Inn is charming and in a great locals-only area with very reasonable rates. But, perhaps the most iconic spot above all is the grande dame, the Georgian Terrace. This historic hotel hosted the premiere gala for “Gone with the Wind” in 1939. If nothing else, have a drink at the bar (called Livingston), just to say you did.

Historic Clermont Hotel, which houses the Clermont Lounge

For outdoor shopping you cannot do much better than Virginia Highland or L5P for its fabulous boutiques lining the equally fun districts. For indoor shopping, head to Buckhead for Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza—both have a good mix of high-end stores peppered with the usual mall department store suspects. Nearby, the Shops around Lenox are quite good too, with a combination of local boutiques (local designer Bill Hallman’s studio is here) and chains (Lululemon, Tootsies). Local shopping collectives like At the Collective, Beehive and Youngblood (in Inman Park, Edgewood and Poncey-Highland, respectively) all sell merchandise from a slew of ATL-area artists and designers. Two parts of the city I haven’t yet mentioned are Decatur and the Westside. Both areas are worth a wander. The Westside houses great restaurants, galleries, and shops (including the über-chic Jonathan Adler). Decatur is just seven miles from downtown and its square is simply adorable.

A few of my favorite galleries are Jackson Fine Art, Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, Get This!, and Kai Lin. For a not-so highbrow night out, head to the Clermont Lounge. Alive since ’65, this (ahem) gentlemen’s club is a rite of passage. Leave your inhibitions and expectations of bottle service at the door. Once inside, you’ll be treated to dancers whose median age is about 55 … and be sure to tip—it’s their livelihood.

Sun in my Belly’s famed shrimp and grits

Where to begin on food in Atlanta? This is the most written about beat I’ve covered as a journalist in this city. Some of my favorite spots (in no particular order) are JCT Kitchen (I crave its angry mussels more often than I care to admit), the Earl (perfect, no frills burgers), Iberian Pig (amazingly good tapas and a divine wine list) Taqueria Del Sol (best fish tacos outside of California), Empire State South (I ♥ Hugh Acheson), the Vic (excellent sandwiches washed down with Jack and coke slushies), Sun in my Belly (my favorite spot for Sunday brunch), Sublime Doughnuts (the name doesn’t lie), and lastly, any Anne Quatrano restaurant (she’s the best Atlanta’s got).

In addition, since you have the car and all, a Buford Highway run is something that must be done. Nobody expects Atlanta to house decent ethnic cuisine, but a trek North of the city is totally worth it. Drive up to Buford Highway and the surrounding area for authentic Vietnamese (Nam Phoung) Japanese (Sushi House of Hayakawa), and Dim Sum (Golden House). Nom nom.

Do let me know if you’re heading here … I’m a decent tour guide and will certainly do my best to roll out the welcome mat.