Thanks to groovy shops, a lively arts scene, and happening restaurants, there's no question that once-stuffy Atlanta is now a city on the verge.
Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was," wrote Atlanta's own Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. These days Mitchell's hometown doesn't worry much about its formerly bland, conservative rep. The city has become a genuine cultural and culinary destination—witness the buzzworthy restaurant scene, incorporating everything from grits to foie gras, and dozens of art galleries and antiques markets. It's not just the new that draws attention in Atlanta, however. Only here will you find the world's largest diorama (the Cyclorama, a huge circular painting depicting the Civil War's Battle of Atlanta), its busiest airport, and the birthplace of its most popular soft drink (Coca-Cola, cheekily known as the house wine of the South). And there's no time like April to experience Atlanta's pleasures: this is the beginning of dogwood season, when the trees dotting the entire city proudly unfurl their pink and white blossoms. Pop open a Coke, kick back, and rest awhile.
BEYOND TARA: WHERE TO STAY Cigars, martinis, mahogany—there's definitely a gentleman's-club feeling to the 553-room Ritz-Carlton Buckhead (3434 Peachtree Rd. N.E.; 800/241-3333 or 404/237-2700; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $265). By night, its intimate bar attracts a hip young financial set in their best Brooks Brothers; by day, it serves an exceptional afternoon tea (reservations are a must). In the Dining Room, chef Bruno Ménard puts a Japanese spin on traditional French cuisine. The hotel's location, uptown near two posh shopping centers, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, couldn't be more convenient. • Straddling midtown and downtown—and across the street from the Fox Theatre, where the premiere of the 50th-anniversary edition of Gone with the Wind was held in 1989—the Georgian Terrace (659 Peachtree St.; 404/897-1991; www.thegeorgianterrace.com; doubles from $179) is in a 1911 Flatiron-style building with dramatic details: turreted corners, floor-to-ceiling Palladian-style windows, wraparound terraces, elliptical staircases. But it's not entirely a period piece: the sleek lobby and rooftop pool with its views of downtown skyscrapers remind you that you're in the 21st century. • The Sugar Magnolia Bed & Breakfast (804 Edgewood Ave. N.E.; 404/222-0226; www.sugarmagnoliabb.com; doubles from $95) has four cozy suites in an 1892 Victorian house, some with a private balcony or porch. It's located in historic Inman Park, once the city's first garden suburb and now close to a burgeoning bar scene and the High Museum of Art.
UPSCALE AND DOWN-HOME: ATLANTA'S BEST RESTAURANTS The Floataway Café (1123 Zonolite Rd.; 404/892-1414; dinner for two $90), housed in an industrial loft, serves Mediterranean-Southern fusion—fried Georgia white shrimp with green tomatoes and rich bouillabaisse made with red snapper. • The bistro Toulouse (2293 Peachtree Rd. N.E.; 404/351-9533; dinner for two $60) has colorful oversized murals, more than 50 wines available by the glass, and a menu of dressed-up comfort food such as buffalo meat loaf with mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms, and swordfish with tarragon beurre blanc. • Seeger's (111 W. Paces Ferry Rd.; 404/846-9779; five-course dinner for two $220, eight-course dinner for two $300), a Modernist space run by former Ritz-Carlton chef Guenter Seeger, offers guests two nightly tasting menus. Each is made up of dainty, jewel-like dishes that highlight a single ingredient such as stone crab, foie gras, or caviar.
CHIC SHOPS The leafy, bungalow-strewn Virginia-Highlands neighborhood is noteworthy for sophisticated stores and galleries. At Back to Square One (1054 N. Highland Ave. N.E.; 404/815-9970), you'll find folk art by "Missionary" Mary Proctor and Butch Anthony. • Katie Couric, Elton John, and Madonna are fans of designer Jules Burt's "diva" paintings—bold caricatures of pouty ladies. You can find her divas, and much more, at the Purple Hall (1037 N. Highland Ave. N.E.; 404/815-1077) • Mitzi & Romano (1038 N. Highland Ave. N.E.; 404/876-7228) specializes in flirty cocktail dresses from local designers and of-the-moment accessories such as Hervé Chapelier bags and chunky leather belts. • Stevie Nicks types float to Mooncake Clothing Co. (1019 Virginia Ave. N.E.; 404/892-8043) for seventies-inspired floppy hats, flowing scarves, and vintage jewelry. • Andrew Men Women & Home (1545 Peachtree St.; 404/607-1747), the store best known for its groundbreaking men's shop in Buckhead, has moved to a bigger space in midtown. It now offers a new line of Paul Smith women's wear, as well as Knoll chairs and other mid-20th-century furniture, in addition to its original collections of Etro and Cerruti.
WORLD OF INTERIORS Two areas in Buckhead—Bennett Street and Miami Circle—have become the city's premier places for antiques and flea-market finds. Best bets on Bennett Street: Bittersweet Antiques (45 Bennett St., Suite B; 404/351-6594), for English bone china, majolica, and antique British sporting goods; Nottingham Antiques (45 Bennett St., Suite A; 404/352-1890), for Eastern European kitchen tables and bed frames in oak and pine; English Accent Antiques (22H Bennett St.; 404/351-9433), which features 18th- and 19th-century European furniture; and the Stalls (116 Bennett St.; 404/352-4430), a mini-market with dozens of vendors selling everything from vintage kilim rugs and Moroccan light fixtures to linens and garden accessories. On Miami Circle, don't miss Curran Designer Fabrics & Furniture (737 Miami Circle; 404/237-4246), a showroom jammed with miles of exotic silks, trims, and tassels, as well as sofas and end tables; Antonio Raimo Galleries (700 Miami Circle; 404/841-9880), which has an outstanding selection of period maps, botanical prints, and leather-bound books; Maurice Chandelier (715 Miami Circle; 404/237-5402), where some 900 light fixtures are on display, many with a 19th-century provenance; and Objects (721 Miami Circle, Suite 106; 404/262-0423), a haven for French home accessories and cookware—copper pans, ceramic roasting dishes of all sizes, even vintage pots.
RAISE A GLASS To unwind after a day of antiquing, score a stool at Highland Tap (1026 N. Highland Ave. N.E.; 404/875-3673) in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood. You'll be served classic cocktails (huge Manhattans, martinis, and wonderfully spicy Bloody Marys) in a laid-back, no-frills setting. • A Sex and the City crowd—seductive singles swilling Cosmopolitans—haunts midtown's Halo Lounge (817 W. Peachtree St. N.W.; 404/962-7333), the stylishly remodeled basement of the Biltmore Hotel. Seventeen single-malt scotches are available by the glass, candy-colored lawn furniture is scattered about the indoor space, and the long, lit-from-below bar glows in several colors all night long. • Eddie's Attic (515 N. McDonough St., Decatur; 404/377-4976), in the newly happening Decatur area, showcases both up-and-coming singer-songwriters and big names such as the neo-folkie Indigo Girls (both local gals) and alt-rocker Ani DiFranco.
FINGER-LICKIN' GOOD: REAL SOUTHERN FOOD Atlanta has more-than-decent barbecue, but what you really want when you come to this part of the South is soul food: fried chicken, ham hocks, collard greens, and other damn-the-cholesterol fare. In the rapidly gentrifying Candler Park neighborhood, the Flying Biscuit Café (1655 McLendon Ave.; 404/687-8888; dinner for two $14) serves breakfast all day long. On the menu alongside standard eggs and gigantic biscuits: organic oatmeal pancakes, homemade granola, turkey bacon, and free-range chicken sausage. • In a 1790 log cabin called Greenwood's (1087 Green St., Roswell; 770/992-5383; dinner for two $25, no credit cards; open Wednesday-Sunday), the decorating theme—Day-Glo Grateful Dead posters on dark pine slats—doesn't deter diners from standing in line for chef-owner Bill Greenwood's honey-pepper-dipped fried chicken or fresh cherry pie topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. • There's nothing even vaguely healthful at Bobby & June's Kountry Kitchen (375 14th St.; 404/876-3872; dinner for two $20), where Smithfield hams dangle from the rafters and the fried okra proves just how delicious vegetables can be. • Mary Mac's Tea Room (224 Ponce de Leon Ave.; 404/876-1800; dinner for two $30) has been serving its marvelously yeasty rolls since 1945. And call your dentist: the iced tea here is the epitome of Southern "sweet tea."
Atlanta native Kelly Alexander is a senior editor at Saveur.
Mary Mac's Tea Room
If you only have one meal out in Atlanta, make sure it's in the yellow-painted, country-kitchen-style dining room of this 60-year-old Atlanta institution. The chicken and dumplings and the country-fried steak and gravy (dusted in seasoned flour and sautéed before being dolloped with savory sauce), enjoy a multigenerational and well-deserved cult following; sides and appetizers—fried okra with Parmesan cheese-horseradish dipping sauce, fried green tomatoes, hand-cut collard greens simmered in chicken stock—are as authentic as they come. Though you can't go wrong with any of the desserts, missing the peanut-butter pie would be a tragedy of Southern Gothic proportions.
An institution on Roswell’s Green Street since it opened in 1986, Greenwood's gets its personality courtesy of the 1960's kitschy décor, including Haight Ashbury signs, rusty cars, and sculpted busts overlooking its entrance. Owner Bill Greenwood's focus is on traditional southern fare that incorporates organic and sustainable ingredients. A proponent of the farm-to-table concept, Greenwood ensures that dishes are prepared using meat and produce from local suppliers whenever possible. Menu selections include rotisserie duck and chicken, meatloaf, and rainbow trout with traditional sides like broccoli casserole, collard greens, and cheese grits. For dessert, there's butterscotch-cream or blackberry pie.
Flying Biscuit Café
In 1993, Delia Champion partnered with Cynthia Moor and Missy Speert to open the original Flying Biscuit Café, set amongst the 1920’s Craftsman bungalows of Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood. Although the Flying Biscuit is now an ever-growing franchise across the Southeast, the colorful flagship location, adorned with pumpkin-hued walls, simple wooden furniture, and mismatched floral tablecloths, is still a favorite. Patrons can sit in the main dining room or the back room painted with sunflower fields while savoring Southern breakfast specialties like the award-winning grits and biscuits with homemade cranberry apple butter. Lunch and dinner dishes are available, as well.
Bobby & June's Kountry Kitchen
The Floataway Café
After modernizing a warehouse space using warm woods, pastel blues and greens, and plenty of natural lighting, Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison (also the owners of Atlanta's Bacchanalia) opened this Mediterranean-Italian fusion restaurant in 1998. Patrons can either dine indoors, surrounded by simple pendant lights, aluminum trim, and fresh flowers, or outside in the courtyard where the bushes are strung with Christmas lights. The ever-changing menu is driven by seasonal and local ingredients and may include such signatures as the wood-grilled hangar steak with pommes frites and the ricotta gnocchi with walnuts and African squash.
The grande dame of Atlanta's luxury hotels, the Ritz has pride of place on Buckhead's main drag, where fabulous shops and department stores abound (a trio of shopping centers adjacent to the hotel house Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale's, among others). The 510 rooms underwent a $38 million renovation in 2008; newly updated units have gleaming mahogany floors in the entranceway, custom millwork cabinetry, 400-threat-count sheets, flat-screen TV's, and iPod docking stations. Many have updated bathrooms too, with glass step-in showers and rainfall showerheads. At The Café, chef Travis Robinson whips up Mediterranean-inspired coastal cuisine; be sure to book your dinner table when you make your room reservation. And the hotel's enclosed second-floor junior Olympic-size pool and companion hot tub are just the thing to take the edge off after a long day—especially now that they were both renovated in 2012.
The Sugar Magnolia Bed & Breakfast
Built in 1892 by local businessman Colonel T. W. Latham, the Sugar Magnolia is a pale yellow Queen Anne Victorian house set in the historic Inman Park district, Atlanta’s first suburb. Many of the structure’s original elements, such as the fireplaces, grand staircase, and crystal chandelier, have been carefully preserved. Visitors can choose from two individually designed guestrooms, a spacious suite with a private balcony and sunken Jacuzzi tub, and a detached cottage suite offering a fireplace, kitchen, and open-loft bedroom. Guests also enjoy a complimentary breakfast, afternoon teatime, and evenings spent relaxing on the wraparound porch or rooftop deck.
Known as one of the most historic hotels in the city, this Midtown gem has carefully balanced the old world charm of the Georgian Terrace with Atlanta’s contemporary elegance. Reserving one of the 326 rooms and suites guarantees spacious floor plans and features like full kitchens, washers and dryers, HDTVs and complimentary Wi-Fi access. Of course, guests also have access to a rooftop pool, as well as a fitness center, that have great views of the city’s skyline. And when it is time to head out on the town, venues like the Fox Theatre are just a quick walk away.