The United States’ ninth-largest metropolis and the most populous city in the state of Georgia, metro Atlanta is home to more than six million people, to an array of atmospheric neighbourhoods and to a quintessentially Southern style. Famed former and current inhabitants include Jane Fonda, Spike Lee, Usher and Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. We’ll try not to hold the city to account for the decline of Justin Bieber, who moved there in 2008 to start his professional career.
Downtown you’ll find the gleaming dome of the Georgia State Capitol, the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center and the World of Coca-Cola. But go beyond downtown’s sights, stores and skyscrapers to discover this sultry city’s true character.
Follow main thoroughfare Peachtree Street northeast from downtown to Midtown, home to gorgeous Piedmont Park and the Botanical Garden, a multitude of restaurants, the main arts district and a large proportion of Atlanta’s LGBT population. Allow time to gaze and graze along the Midtown Mile, with its upscale stores and eateries.
Going north again takes you to elegant Buckhead, with its grand homes, luxury shopping at Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, and pricey destination restaurants and lounges. If you go southeast of Downtown, grittier Atlanta is on show in Sweet Auburn, a centre of black and civil rights historic significance that’s home to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site and birthplace.
In the Eastside district, gay-popular neighbourhood Virginia-Highland offers another shopping, dining and drinking scene, and beyond that lurks the city’s bohemian quarter, Little Five Points. Tucked alongside leafy, residential, LGBT-loved Inman Park, this offbeat corner is crammed with quirky vintage stores like Rag-o-Rama and the kitschy Junkman’s Daughter, independent record stores and coffee shops, a noticeable LGBT presence and what can seem like the majority of the South’s hipster tattoos. Charis Books nestles in a lively looking purple house on main drag Euclid and specializes in feminist and LGBT fiction and non-fiction. Candler Park, the gentrifying Old Fourth Ward — or O4W — and hip East Atlanta Village are other Eastside neighbourhoods to have on your radar.
In the Westside neighbourhood, where industrial scenery is swiftly giving way to artists, galleries and lofts, don’t miss Goat Farm, a 12-acre artists’ colony in an old wheel-making factory; the café is atmospheric. Just outside the city limits, Decatur is a longtime lesbian hotspot, perhaps courtesy of its women-only Agnes Scott College.
In the Midtown gaybourhood, eat at the lesbian-loved brunch temple Einstein’s or the boy-adored Joe’s on Juniper. The original, rainbow-flag-flying Candler Park location of the legendary Flying Biscuit Cafe has a lovely corner patio and delicious Southern food; the Midtown location is a major LGBT draw. The original location of lesbian-owned Highland Bakery is in O4W, and there are also stores in Midtown and Buckhead. Little Five Point’s LGBT-popular Vortex Burgers is a great place to court coronary failure and tackle items with names like Cheesy Cheese Goo, Hell’s Fury and Fat Elvis. Outside Oakland cemetery, stop for sustenance or a soda at Ria’s Bluebird.
Atlanta Pride is the big event on the LGBT calendar. It recently moved from earlier in the year to October. Atlanta Black Pride is held over Labour Day Weekend. East Atlanta Strut is a quirky one-day event held every September.
The city is about an hour by car from hip college town and quirky music city Athens (where REM and the B52s got their starts) and from the river city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. An hour north of the city, historic Dahlonega, in the North Georgia mountains, is the gateway to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Precious metal has given way to grapes, and this old gold-rush town has now struck it lucky with vines. There are plenty of galleries, quaint eateries and wineries to tour, plus some gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodations.
Situated in Atlanta’s arts district, the stylish 1924 Artmore Hotel, on West Peachtree Street, has a Spanish-Mediterranean feel and oodles of amenities. Another convenient Midtown address, the Marriott Renaissance, was, until 2011, a Kimpton Hotel Palomar and still has much of that boutique character. In Dahlonega, gay-owned Mountain Laurel Creek B&B welcomes all guests to its six rooms and suites and lone cabin.
With a reputation as having the best LGBT nightlife in the Southeast, Atlanta has a lot to live up to. But it lives up to the hype — and then some. Mainstream Midtown options include classics such as Blake’s on the Park and restaurant-by-day/bar-by-night Ten on the 10th Street gay corridor, and restaurant/bar 10th and Piedmont, situated in the old OutWrite bookstore space. Tripps is another down-to-earth mixed Midtown LGBT destination. If you’re feeling indecisive or can’t stay in one place for long, try Ansley Square, a mainly gay mall that’s home to video lounge Mixx, LGBT pub Burkhart’s (burkharts.com), martini bar Oscar’s and tiny watering hole Felix’s, plus LGBT book and video spot Brushstrokes. Neighbourhood sports spot The Hideaway is tucked away in the same complex. Jungle is the city’s largest nightclub, with big-name DJs manning the decks in the back, while lower-key events go on in the front Jungle Room.
Away from gaybourhood antics, just east of downtown in the Old Fourth Ward, super-hip Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium is a bar, table-tennis place, gallery (a painting declaring “Jesus loves lamb chops” or “The bigger the hair, the closer to God”, anyone?) and all-round out-there space. Sound Table, opposite Sister Louisa’s, is another excellent spot for sporting ’80s throwback attire and sipping hip libations.
Girl bar My Sister’s Room, once located in Decatur, is now happily resettled in East Atlanta Village. Another nearby classic, Mary’s, is a mixed straight/LGBT cocktail bar with laid-back crowds and karaoke. Traxx Girls hosts a couple of weekly parties around the city, predominantly for African-American women.