Southern Sojourn – The Best of Atlanta

Please enjoy a piece by my dear friend Ally Batty, with photos by Sarah Dodge. The talented two are the authors of Go That Do There,   an insightful and entertaining account of their road trip across America, which you should check out immediately – if not sooner.

When I tell people I am from Atlanta, the conversation invariably turns to a few topics: my lack of a Southern accent and increasingly, the city’s reputation as a leafy mecca for Southern hipsters and new business.  Like many Atlantans, I have few traces of the both maligned and lusted -over Southern dialect.  We are a motley crew of old southern money, new business transplants, historically black colleges, changing neighborhoods, and both good and bad urban planning.

In truth, Atlanta is both everything and nothing it is made out to be.  If you come to Atlanta looking for narrow-minded frat boys and vapid debutantes, you will find them.  But you will also find easy interracial friendships, fierce southern progressives (and the odd thoughtful, intelligent conservative), and an abundance of smart, young entrepreneurs who are weaving a gritty, gorgeous, and delicious cultural tapestry of folksy southern charm and New South economic savvy.  So without further ado a few of my favorite Atlanta spots:

 

L5P

Little Five Points (so named because its center is comprised of a five street intersection) is like a counterculture Disneyland.  L5P, as it is affectionately known, is a bizarre little commercial district  wedged between dicey neighborhoods and streets lined with old Victorians.  It’s the kind of place where on any given day you could pick out a good healing crystal, drink a craft beer, and get a Prince Albert.  My church youth group used to hand out pb&j’s to the substantial homeless population in the neighborhood and were routinely turned away by offended L5Pers who merely appeared homeless.

West Egg

A vegetarian-friendly, southern-style brunch with a hot, hipster waitstaff, a breezy patio, and a Great Gatsby reference? Oui, merci.  West Egg‘s location on the industrial west side is gorgeously mirrored by the restaurant’s clean, wood and concrete-accented interior.  Try the fried green tomatoes, black bean cakes with eggs, and the pimento cheese grits.  This is Atlanta doing Brooklyn better than Brooklyn can.
 

Clermont Lounge

Ok, this is a weird one.  Mention Clermont Lounge to any Atlantan, and they will immediately recognize the name.  Not so strange for a list of best-loved Atlanta spots, right?  Here’s where it gets weird: the Clermont Lounge is a strip club in the basement of the now-defunct “pay-by-the-hour” Clermont Hotel.  Furthermore, all the strippers are either overweight, over the age of 40, or otherwise less-than-desirable.  I may catch some slack on this, but there’s nothing like dancing to funk music with a mixture of bachelorette parties, hipsters, sketchy old men, and a 65-year old named Peaches who can open a beer between her breasts.

Inman Park

In my opinion, perfect Atlanta.  Beautiful Victorian homes with wide porches, old growth trees, and commercial districts within walking distance.  In-town neighborhoods like Inman Park made it difficult to explain in college how I grew up both within and without the city. There is something so magically Atlanta about the ambient, percussive chirp of cicadas mingled with the thrush of traffic.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

People often knock Atlanta for being an urban desert.  And in many ways, the downtown effectively closes down on Friday at 5 pm.  But sprinkled throughout the deserted office buildings and shuttered former department stores are beautiful, old churches surrounded by courtyards and brimming with shade trees and hydrangeas.  Downtown churches are thriving with parishioners who travel from all over to hear the good word and share some gossip over bitter, burnt church coffee.  I grew up at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church which perches like a grand, old matriarch along Atlanta’s pulsing arteries, I-75 and Peachtree Rd.  Bitter about the church’s homeless outreach programs, a neighboring restauranteur once paid a handful of homeless people to come into church on Sunday and sit amongst the seersucker suits and Lily Pulitzer.  Imagine his dismay when we all shook hands and hugged during the Peace, and not one Buckhead Betty batted a perfectly curled eyelash.

So, yeah, Atlanta rocks.  Buy yourself a Delta sale ticket (oh heck, and one for me too!) and come get lost on Peachtree.
– By Ally Batty

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