Thanks to Southern stereotypes, Atlanta sometimes gets a bad rap. And while it's a Southern city, to be sure, it's so much more. Atlanta is a bustling melting pot, offering up a little bit of everything, from the rap stars it consistently births, to a slew of tech startups, to an exploding food scene and a thriving, tight-knit arts community.
Atlanta may not have the idyllic weather of California or the sensory overload of New York City. But it has affordable housing and cocktails for less than $10, so there. On top of that, it offers plenty of options for getting weird after hours, whether you're looking to grind up on a dancefloor, knock back some after-midnight tiki drinks, eat breakfast surrounded by exotic birds, or hang out at a 24/7 Korean spa. For all that and more, check out this guide to spending a night in Atlanta. (One more thing: whatever you do, don't call it "Hotlanta.")
LOCAL ART TO START ALONG THE BELTLINE
Start strong (and prep for mass consumption and questionable decisions) by taking a leisurely stroll down one of the Atlanta BeltLine trails during sunset. In a city that doesn't always have its shit together (ahem, "blizzard" of 2014), the BeltLine's planned 33 miles of multi-use trails have helped put the city on the map when it comes to urban redevelopment. Begin at the entrance near Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park (watching out for reckless bikers), then head toward Piedmont Park while admiring a smattering of murals, public art sculptures, and scenic green spaces, like Historic Fourth Ward Park, complete with a skatepark. Bonus points for taking the detour just slightly off the path at the Old Fourth Ward for a once-over of the latest exhibit at Facet Gallery.
BANG YOUR HEAD IN EAV
For anti-arena music fans, The Earl in East Atlanta Village is one of the city's best intimate venues. The stage has hosted everyone from local up-and-comers The Coathangers and Big Jesus to nationally recognized acts like Deafheaven and Russian Circles, while maintaining a perfectly grimy, DIY feel. On most weekends, odds are good that they'll be hosting at least one solid live concert in the back room, which has its own bar for ordering tallboys like they're going outta style.
11 PM–12 AM
MIDNIGHT FEAST IN THE OLD FOURTH WARD
New neon-dotted Midtown joint Bon Ton Boil House was a hidden gem for about two seconds—then the local pubs wrote it up, and word got out. Now it's basically impossible to get a table during dinner hours without a sizeable wait. Lucky for the night owls, they recently started serving food until 2 AM, Tuesday through Saturday. Sidle up to the bar (no reservations required) and order a blackened catfish banh mi with a glass of their sazerac (rye, brandy, Herbsaint and Peychaud's bitters)—they've got it on tap, people.
More to do nearby: 8arm on Ponce was an instant hot spot the minute its doors opened, thanks to its excellent libations, inventive menus, and Instagrammable setting. Now that they've added late-night hours, you can kick back at the colorful, always-hoppin' outdoor bar for a cocktail served in vintage glassware, and a lobster roll for good measure.
HIT THE FLOOR IN EDGEWOOD
Alright, time to head to Edgewood and get weird. Owned by two local former gallerists and two Brooklynites, Mother Restaurant & Bar is equally well-known for its $2 Tuesday specials (that goes for tacos and tequila shots) and its weekend dance parties. Head up the dark stairwell by the front entrance, then prepare to sweat on the dance floor to anything from 80s dance and 90s hip-hop to new trap jams and club remixes. It's a great alternative to dealing with the youngins who can't hold their liquor at Ponce's MJQ and the obnoxious bros that crowd the Buckhead dance bars.
More to do nearby: Keep the party going by (carefully) stumbling across the street to Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, better known as the Church bar. It gets pretty packed on the weekends, but it's worth it to peep the tongue-in-cheek artwork and religious iconography, score a drink, weave your way to the patio, and make drunken flirty eyes at the attractive set hanging out back.
SAUSAGE FEST IN EAV
Time to alert the Lyft driver to bypass the fast-food drive-thrus that decorate Moreland Avenue and let you out at Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand in East Atlanta Village instead. Obviously run by geniuses, they're open 24 hours on weekends. Fresh, made-to-order chicken sausage (or veggie "chicken") takes time, though, so be prepared to stand in line for a hot minute. Don't worry, it doesn't seem so long when you're wasted. And for a second-wind sugar rush, their cake shakes are made with a straight-up blended cupcake for less than $4. Booyah.
EARLY BIRD SPECIAL IN BUCKHEAD
Why is this random-ass restaurant open 24 hours? Why is it in Buckhead of all places? And what's with all the exotic birds? Embrace these unanswered questions and get thyself to R. Thomas Deluxe Grill. Feel better about the night's debauchery as the sun rises by refueling amid some mid-80s California health-food vibes (it opened in 1985 as a self-professed "funky burger joint"). Kick back with one of their organic anytime-breakfast dishes, a plate of gluten-free pasta, or their fresh "9 Dollar Shake"—made with an array of healthy nonsense, from goji berries and maca to mesquite meal and blue manna.
SPA PILGRIMAGE ON THE BUFORD HIGHWAY
Time to greet the day—by getting nude, lying down, and detoxing in a room made of stone. A $25 entry fee grants you access to Buford Highway's 24/7 Jeju Sauna, an expansive 35,000-square-foot spa outfitted like a traditional Korean public bathhouse. Thrifty travel junkies tend to head here for a cheap, clean, safe spot to sleep (there's a sleeping room complete with mats) and charge their phones. With areas segregated by gender, Jeju's also got hot tubs, showers, a food court, swimming pool, exercise areas, and a variety of sauna rooms with walls made of various materials, including jade, crystal rock salt, wood, and charcoal.
More to do nearby: All the best places on Buford Highway are tucked into unassuming strip malls, and Pho 24 is no different. The 24-hour Vietnamese noodle house has a laid-back vibe, with a stacked menu of apps, noodle bowls, banh mi, smoothies, and more.
All photos by Ray Spears.