The VICE Guide to Atlanta
Where to eat, drink, shop, and play in the ATL.
All photos Dustin Chambers
Atlanta is often an unapologetic caricature of itself, fully embracing an identity as both an internationally revered hip-hop mecca and a regional safe haven for Confederate flag-phobic, civilized folks. The traffic does thicken closer to the heart of the city, but reactionary road rage may be easily pacified flipping between one of the two very legit classic rap stations, OG 97.9 and Boom 102.9. It's hard to get mad when D4L is readily available at almost all times (EVEN BETTER—Fabo occasionally chats on Boom's airwaves).
It's an ATL-official language rule to address more than one person with the gender-neutral "y'all." There's enormous ethnic diversity, which makes for interesting neighbors as well as a stacked bill of highly dope, authentic non-American cuisine. Atlanta, despite its home in the country's stereotypically conservative and sometimes-backward Southeast pocket, boasts remarkable inclusivity.
As a relatively inexpensive metropolitan hub, the place is flooded with artists hailing from all over the Southeast and the globe. Combine that with viable city funding for public art projects, and you get expansive, well-done (and well-compensated) murals spanning both DeKalb and Fulton Counties.
Atlanta is "Southern" in cool and logical ways, in that most people are nice enough, and it's located in the Southern part of the country. As a whole, Atlanta is an anomaly within Georgia. It's politically liberal and full of folks marginalized in more rural parts of the state—which basically translates to very queer-friendly. If you were weird somewhere else in the state, you're chill in ATL.
There's a deep-running driving culture, despite attempts to push toward mass transit with the MARTA train (convenient only to/from the airport, really). This means two major truths: 1) Atlantans freely wear attractive yet uncomfortable shoes because walking is an oft-scoffed option and 2) no one owns an umbrella. We'd rather an Uber surcharge or getting soaked over re-evaluating this aesthetic.
Logistically, "ITP" means "inside the perimeter," a.k.a. I-285, the interstate acting as barrier between the glitzy Atlanta proper and sad suburbs prone to adding the term "Hotlanta" to their nail salon neon signs (that area is called "OTP," meaning "outside the perimeter," a.k.a. "you don't need to visit this part").
The road signs may be tiny, and the mass public transit limited, but that may be for Atlanta's own protection—so it may continue to exist in its quiet coolness, an oasis of affordable creativity and camaraderie among ragtag, proud OGs and adoptive ATLiens alike. What Andre 3000 said in the 90s still rings true today: "The South got something to say." Try listening.
NEIGHBORHOODS WE LIKE
Atlanta has changed drastically over just the past five years. It has become a transplant haven, in part due to its relatively affordable cost of living. And since establishing itself as a hip-hop capital of the South, the city has had Hollywood filming an exponentially increasing number of movies and TV shows within its limits. The neighborhood that rappers referred to as Little Mexico now has a specialty coffee and beer bar. An abandoned military base in Big Boi's stomping grounds will eventually become Tyler Perry's next studio. In another five years, the neighborhoods as we know them now could well have changed again. For now, though, these are the neighborhoods we roll with.
East Atlanta Village
The intersection of Flat Shoals and Glenwood Avenues Southeast is practically a nightlife district, but it is fueled by PBR instead of sparklers. Among other landmarks are music venues 529 and the Earl (read more about them in the Music and Nightlife section), which are a walk down the street from each other and help host two music festivals: the Atlanta Mess-Around for debauched punk in the spring (PBR has actually been a sponsor), and A3C for every iteration of hip-hop in the fall. Since Feed Your Head! Music and Bound to Be Read Books closed, that same intersection hasn't offered much else for when the sun comes up—except for coffee. Fortunately, between Joe's and Hodgepodge, you'll find the most diverse caffeinated drink selections in town.
Little Five Points
L5P is where Atlanta rapper Young Thug roams in his "Stoner" video to holler at a girl with both hoop earrings and plugs in her ears. If he were actually to shop there, he'd likely hop across Moreland Drive between sneaker and sportswear boutique Wish and kitsch warehouse Junkman's Daughter. Granted, during the weekends that requires patience, as L5P transforms into a tourist trap with its heavy traffic and parking lot fees. But there is truly something there for the ATLien in everyone. Check event listings for A Cappella and Charis Books. For music: Criminal Records has the most variety; Wax 'n Facts has vinyl, new and used, covered. And Moods Music's hip-hop, R&B, and soul sections are more robust than most other stores combined, period.
This artist's hub risks pricing out longtime residents nowadays, but at least its nightlife is still budget-friendly. Your favorite local rapper and/or his touring DJ kicks it at Spin.
Old Fourth Ward / Poncey Highland
O4W's biggest trademark may now be the billboards for email marketing juggernaut Mailchimp. Those were erected across its headquarters at the mixed-use Ponce City Market, inside the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building next door to Murder Kroger—sorry, the future home of 725 Ponce. Is that grinning mascot Freddie a sign of progress? For techies and restaurateurs, absolutely. But between PCM and the stretch of shops and restaurants off Ralph McGill Boulevard, O4W threatens to be overtaken by J. Crew shoppers and the condominiums sprouting like weeds. For refuge, head to music venue the Masquerade, dance caves MJQ and El Bar, bars like the Bookhouse Pub or pizza dive Jack's. And for our sake, please, pray on our behalf that venerable watering hole Manuel's Tavern reopens this spring like it's supposed to.
During the day, take a walking tour through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s past life, from his birth home to Ebeneezer Baptist Church and the grave sites of both him and his wife, Coretta Scott, nearby in the King Center. Head two blocks north to the Jackson Street Bridge for that postcard-worthy shot of the Atlanta skyline. Once the sun sets, however, that very same historic district also hosts a thriving bar and nightlife scene that includes sets from internationally touring DJs. Atlanta is a city that gets caught between preserving its history and developing to meet some abstract idea of what transplants might want, and Sweet Auburn is proof.
Sometimes transplants will confuse West End with Westside, the burgeoning Midtown neighborhood that houses the first Octane Coffee location. But there isn't a trendy coffee shop in sight at this humble, historically black neighborhood. To wit, West End's two biggest landmarks are house museum the Wren's Nest and the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home. (You may recognize the latter from Real Housewives of Atlanta thanks to Phaedra Parks's ambitions of becoming "the Vera Wang of funerals.")
This is where Emory University students go for a night out in the town. Look no further than Moe's and Joe's, the bar with a logo that actually riffs off PBR's. It's no wonder why: It serves a ton of the stuff.
Midtown used to have LBGT institution Outwrite Books, which was also proof of how an independent bookstore can add heart to a city. Since Outwrite closed four years ago, Midtown can feel soulless at times, aside from a few specific locations. Piedmont Park, which hosts Music Midtown and the free Atlanta Jazz Festival, is fine. Wil May's #COOLFridays at the W Hotel are more than fine. The HIGH Museum of Art is the city's biggest, though with its balance of marquee names and regional darlings, it doesn't play it as safe with its exhibitions as some would think. And the all-vegetarian, 24-hour R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, just outside the limits, is the best place to people-watch. Among the things you'll see: people who stayed after last call at Opera Nightclub, strippers and nurses after their graveyard shifts, suits during their lunch breaks and maybe Andre 3000 or Usher.
Recently T.I. performed a greatest hits concert at Campbellton Road's Greenbriar Mall to announce his co-ownership of TIDAL. "Before there was a Perimeter Mall, before there was a Phipps Plaza [in Buckhead], this is a place where I came," he said. Greenbriar Mall does have history: The first Chick Fil-A in existence is here, and Tip himself would get kicked out for hawking mixtapes in the parking lot. But the only reason you may need to visit there (and the aging, historically black Campbellton Road in general) is to see past glories. The intersection of Headland and Delowe is where Rico Wade of Organized Noize first met Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Goodie Mob shot its "Soul Food" video at JJ's Rib Shack. Snap photos there to show your friends.
Future hails from Kirkwood, as he reminds us on the back cover of his 2015 album DS2. The Kirkwood that he recalls is also referred to as Little Mexico. But that same neighborhood, which is next to the quaint Oakhurst and downtown Decatur, has also been where Oprah Winfrey scouted a Craftsman bungalow to shoot Selma. Head to the BP along the two-block strip of restaurants off Hosea Williams Drive, next door to the Arden's Garden, for a souvenir from Kirkwood as Future might remember it: a gas station mixtape.
Inman Park / Cabbagetown / Grant Park
These growing neighborhoods, with public whiteboard/frequent music video site Krog Tunnel at their heart, have become trendy thanks to their many recent additions. But let's face it: The new Krog Street Market is where transplants can impress their parents, if not grandparents—and prove that Atlanta is "a safe place to live."
Truth be told, you'd be perfectly fine skipping downtown altogether, but if you find yourself in the shadow of Atlanta's towering skyscrapers, there is a tad bit of (sterile) fun to be had. As expected, the neighborhood has its share of tourist attractions: World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium, SkyView Atlanta's Ferris Wheel. Downtown Atlanta is largely a business district, so it mostly shuts down after 6 PM. That said: Skip World of Coca-Cola for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Skip Underground Atlanta for Walter's Clothing. Head to Trader Vic's, home of the Mai Tai, for the sheer novelty, and check out the avant-garde art and music venue Eyedrum. See the Hawks play at Philips Arena, bonus points if a hometown rap hero (T.I., Jeezy, 2 Chainz, Ludacris) performs during halftime. And actually, downtown has one option for the after-hours: Magic City, the strip club where Future is rightly treated like the mayor-elect.
WHERE TO EAT
Atlanta's food scene is huge, and chances are you'll find whatever your stomach desires here, whether that's fancy (or not) BBQ, good Mexican, or authentic Szechuan that will set your insides on fire. We take our food seriously. So seriously, in fact, we have an entire highway dedicated to the culture of food—Buford Highway. Our local neighborhoods are filled with good spots, pop-ups, hidden gems, and everything in between. In Atlanta, a local chef may explode overnight at a hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot, or a restaurant may create an award-winning burger while using the kitchen of a game bar. A pho place might transform like Cinderella into a late-night bar and restaurant. A woman may become a legend through her burger joint, and a farmers market becomes both a tourist attraction and the hottest bar in the city.
In ATL, anything is possible, and that's why it's so fun to eat here. We push boundaries; we adapt foods and create something better. It's hard to pick favorites. Come with an open mind and an empty stomach.
Nachos usually exist in a pile customized for trough-style consumption, but not at Superica. Fuuuck no. The Americanized Mexican resto offers a finite number of corn chips expertly and ornately arranged with precise allocation of nacho toppings. The ambiance doesn't suck, either, with locally handmade tables staggered throughout the space and a reliably decent soundtrack. Patio seating makes for an ideal ceviche-shoveling environment, made even better by stellar people watching. Not to be missed.
If you're walking into Illegal Food, we're hoping you brought an extra shirt. These burgers are saucy minxes that will explode all over your clothes, and you'll be glad, so glad. The Hank is one of this city's not-so-hidden treasures, made with local ingredients (yes, even the cow), melted cheese, special sauce, and nestled between two warm buns. It's packed with flavor and is oh-so beefy. It keeps topping best of lists around the country, and it's well-deserved. Pair your Hank burger with a side of okonomiyaki fries, a nice take on the Japanese-style pancake. Arrive hungry and ready for a great burger that'll make you come back again and again. At least until the dry cleaning bills become too much.
Bottle Rocket doesn't feel like your traditional sushi bar when you first walk in. The owner's a curly haired, husky white dude with tattoos, and his top chef is an equally tatted brunette from the burbs. But the menu has a gang of sushi options and even a few "Chalkboard Specials," where you can gobble up standouts like the Soft Shell Crab Sammich. Its location in the cut of Castleberry Hill makes it both easy to miss, and an ideal way to get your raw food fix on without stressing about the date-night crowds looking to do the same at double the price.
It's been written up in all the fancy food and wine mags and it's got Anthony Bourdain's seal of approval, so you know this place is legit. Parking's a nightmare (if we give you the keys and you park our car ten feet away from me, we hate you), but the meal and cocktails are worth it. The menu changes seasonally and ingredients are always fresh to death. Sip a Southern Son, made with 12-year-old bourbon, house vanilla bitters and maple shrub before starting things off with the gooey feta dip, then enjoy a perfectly-cooked fish or meat dish of your choosing—everything from griddles chicken and wild-striped bass to confit rabbit leg and sorghum-glazed quail have graced the foodie-friendly menu. Living your best life, done and done.
Empire State South
Hands down, this is one of the ten best restaurants in the city. Chef Hugh Acheson is a James Beard Award–winning author, and a legend of the city's culinary scene. A few bites of Empire's breakfast, lunch, or dinner will illustrate why. You might worry that its Midtown location and wealthy, trend-seeking clientele add up to dishes with barely enough grub on them, and prices that will put a serious dent in your wallet. You're right about the latter. But the portions are plenty big, and one bite of the "In Jars" on the lunch appetizer menu, or digging into the farm egg with fried rice, and you'll realize that old adage—"you get what you pay for"—is true.
Anytime is a good time to visit Octopus Bar, but it's just before midnight when the place really comes to life. There's little to no signage out front, and inside the graffiti-covered walls offer a vibe that's more after-hours hang than gourmet-dining experience. The menu changes daily, and that leads to plenty of room for creative ramen dishes, and things like rabbit and shrimp wontons, or poached chicken. You really won't know what you're getting into food-wise until you just go. And make sure to check that watch before you do, as the bar doesn't open until 10:30 PM.
Ann's Snack Bar
The Wall Street Journal once called the burger here the best in America back in 2007. If you've ever scene the "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld, imagine a similar experience, but the uber-strict owner behind the counter is an older black woman, and rather than broth, she's pushing burgers the size of an entire plate. Ms. Anne passed away in 2015, but the legend of her famous "Ghetto Burger" lives on, and you can have one if you follow the simple (and numerous) rules in place. Example: "Please Do Not: Curse In Snack Bar." Abide by the law, and be blessed by a burger from the Gods.
Everyone in Atlanta has an opinion on who can lay claim to having the best BBQ in the city. Whether or not, the city's tops is still up for debate, but there's no list of the best Cue in ATL that doesn't include Daddy D'z, a funky, run-down Grant Park haunt. The owner knows you'll probably judge the place by its looks, which is why it has posted this message prominently on its website: "Remember what your momma told ya... 'Don't judge a book by its cover.'" The coma that follows your plate of brisket, mac 'n' cheese, string beans and the thickest loaf of cornbread you'll ever stuff inside your body will feel like dying, which is fine provided the afterlife comes with a side of Daddy D'z sauce.
Down the street from Daddy D'z on Memorial Drive is a Mexican restaurant that's easy to overlook. Maybe it's the fact it's nestled in the same busted parking lot as an on again, off again check cashing business. Or it could be that, at the end of the year, the Mexican family who actually runs the place shuts the business down to spend the holidays with family back home. Sitting down for the insanely cheap tacos or slurred-speech-inducing margaritas feels like having a home-cooked meal straight from some talented Tia's kitchen. Mi Barrio has plenty of regulars, and is sometimes beset upon by new kids who've happened upon the block for the first time. It's on the smaller side, and parking can suck, but if you're able to squeeze in for a seat, don't hesitate.
The only thing as good as the names of Victory's sandwiches—"Beast on Yeast," "The Hambo," "Castro"—is the flavor punch they pack. No one would look at you sideways if you ordered two or three different choices, and sometimes that might not even be enough. These guys have got enough booze on tap to help you polish it all down, but there's one drink that's been the mainstay in both of Victory's Inman Park and Downtown Decatur locations, and that's the Jack Daniel's and Coke slushy. You'll want to get there on the earlier side, especially at the Inman Park location, because those booths and patio benches fill up quick .The aforementioned slushies make for slower-paced exits.
The good thing about ATL is we love our brunch. The bad thing about ATL is we love our brunch. What this means is you're going to wake up and hop from place to place, and wait time to wait time trying to find a good plate of eggs, biscuits, and gravy. Home grown is arguably the best bang for your breakfast buck, and many of the ingredients used are grown in a garden behind the Reynoldstown establishment. If you're dining for two the wait time is on the quicker side, but really, waiting 20 minutes for $7 plate of food that only your mom dare try and top is worth the time investment. The staff must be given free meals because they're typically too happy to be taking orders from hungover locals on a Saturday morning, but it's all part of that welcome feeling you get sitting down to grub.
Sweet Auburn Curb Market
What started as the Municipal Market back in 1924 has stood the test of time, and gone on to become a must-stop for locals looking for unquestionably killer grub. With more than 20 individual businesses inside, what's often referred to as the "Curb Market" by natives is the farmers market you can get lost in without freaking the fuck out. You grab a muffin from the baker and skim through some good literature from the bookstore close by. Drop in on the butcher, and pack the car with pounds of meat. Grab a burger from Grindhouse or an arepa from Arepa Mia. Now you know why this place has lasted so long.
They say there's no slice like a New York slice. That is, unless it's being served up at Fellini's in Atlanta (yeah, we said it!). There are seven locations from Decatur to Buckhead to choose from, and though it may not come from the streets of Brooklyn, you'd be dumb to sleep on the pies being pushed at the Candler Park location. You can go thin crust, or roll thick with a slice of Sicilian. If you're smart, you'll ask for the creamy Italian dressing, not for your salad, but for dipping your pizza into. Each Fellini's has a patio and is open until 2 AM. It's a great spot for late night pie, and is one of the better, more tasty choices you'll make after hours.
Once a railroad station, Kimball House is now one of the best restaurants in the city. Both its food and decor are sleek, and the French-trained chefs on staff are masters at highlighting every ingredient they cook with perfectly. The menu changes often and seasonally, so something you fall in love with may not always be available, but it's the kind of place that rewards you for stepping outside your comfort zone. When in doubt, order a big ass selection of the fresh oysters and wash it down with one of the absinthe drinks, which are a specialty there. Like, for instance, the "Afternoon Delight," a refreshing bubbly cocktail made with absinthe and a hint of pineapple.
Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall
Right by the Atlanta BeltLine, you can find the perfect patio. It belongs to Ladybird, a campfire-themed restaurant done right. After you walk the two-ish miles of the Eastside Trail, stop by for a drink. Before you open the menu, know that you're going to order the spatchcocked chicken—a campfire smoked bird served on a wood board with fresh tortillas and delectable sauces. It's perfectly shareable and paired with grilled onions, peppers, and potatoes. Pair it with a cool beer from a selection of local brews. If you're not that hungry, order one of the trail snacks instead, including the pimento cheese fritters and navajo fry bread. It's an outdoorsy place for the non-outdoorsy folk and well worth the visit.
Gaja Restaurant and Bar
Gaja is an anomaly. Hidden in an alleyway in East Atlanta Village, the bright and soothing mint green outside wall and door greet you like a warm hug. The Korean restaurant on the other side is decorated with large, attention-grabbing Korean film noir posters and cartoons. The atmosphere is small and intimate (we're talking around ten tables), but the high ceilings and concrete give it a dive-y feeling, but in a good way. This place is still a relative new kid on the block, but it's already killing it with its dishes. Don't miss the dak (Korean style fried chicken), and the galbi (a marinated short rib that melts in your mouth). Wash it all down with a carafe of makgeolli, a sweet Korean beverage that'll knock you on your ass if you're not careful.
This new cat about town has staying power. The restaurant is in the heavily gentrified area of Inman Park, but heading that way is so worth it. The decor skews toward minimal upstairs, and a gorgeous bar displaying all of BeetleCat's available seafood downstairs is quite a thing to take in. Another bar downstairs has an altogether different ambiance; the nautical, pirate vibe is alive, and the bartenders mix better, faster drinks. The same menu is available in all seating areas and focuses primarily on fresh, affordable seafood. Your must-eat list is long, but we suggest the raw oysters, the crudo, and the incomparable lobster roll, stuffed with a whole damn lobster. A great way to Sea Atlanta. (Sorry.)
WHERE TO DRINK
Atlanta has always had a penchant for hidden spots and word of mouth. You can't truly experience the city unless you know someone here. It's the truth. And that spot you loved a few years ago, it's probably long gone as the monster that is gentrification has landed among our city limits and is quickly spreading. But hey, what's awesome about ATL is it always says "Fuck it" and just builds cooler places. Somehow your heart recovers, and your nostalgia settles.
We are still fighting the good beer fight, but the ingenuity of our craft beer scene hasn't been thwarted. For the first time in almost a century, there's a distillery within the city proper. The bar scene, whether you like your watering holes dive-y or mega-fancy, is spreading its wings. Whatever, wherever, and however you decide to imbibe, Atlanta will take care of your thirst. The devil came down to Georgia for a reason, right? Just don't let him steal your soul.
Righteous Room champions $12 bottles of wine notably differentiated only by "red" and "white." Its fried dive bar food is cheap and effective at soaking up excess Georgia-brewed beers for the classier crowd. A quick corkscrew trip to the back of the bar reveals a fully loaded jukebox offering extensive Modern Lovers and Fugazi. There's a lot of Morrissey, too, if you're feeling especially shameless—which you likely will be. Most patrons check their pride at the door with the patio's fixture: a stately, senior pug.
Proof and Provision
Underneath the historically bougie confines of the Georgian Terrace, there's a bar that's equal parts intimate lounge and speakeasy cellar. This place is home to some of the best cocktails in the city, period. Some choice offerings include the "Firm Handshake" (Redemption Rye whiskey, Leopold Bros. fernet, Demerara, Boker's bitters), as well as the "It Calms The Nerves" (James E. Pepper rye, copper and kings immature brandy, cinnamon rose-hip brown sugar syrup, and dead rabbit orinoco bitters). Trust me, it sounds crazy, but after taking a swig, it'll all make sense. Since drunk munchies follow heavy drinking, the menu here's got that covered thanks to plates featuring blue cheese cole slaw, and deviled eggs with bacon. The crowd is a nice mix of hotel guests, booze enthusiasts, and the occasional bro who makes a beeline for the exit when he realizes he's the only customer wearing Crocs.
Brick Store Pub
Technically, this place is in Downtown Decatur, which really ain't that far from Downtown ATL. MARTA (our sad excuse from public transportation) still sucks, but you can easily hop a train and have it let you out a few blocks from this Southern booze staple. Since 1997, the place has served up two stories of arguably the best beer selection inside the perimeter. In the last ten years, these guys have curated over 900 different kinds of booze from all over the world, and have become perennial mainstays on all of the city's "Best of Atlanta" lists. And while the beer is the main draw, do not sleep on the snacks. If you try any of them, roll with the Bavarian Pretzel with mustard. Unfucking believable.
This place isn't as big as Brick Store Pub in Decatur, nor does it have the history, but it's got the right to call itself competition for Atlanta's best beer selection. At over 800 different brews on the menu, it's hard to knock this Little Five Points sip 'n' dine. There's also an extensive wine and cocktail list, and there are plenty of snacks to coat the stomach. A perfect Atlanta day could easily involve sitting outside the Porter on one of their wooden benches, and scarfing down some of the famous salt and vinegar popcorn. And remember, you can come back the morning after for the "Hair of the Dog" brunch, which is tops.
Old Fourth Distillery
It took several starts and stops for Old Fourth Distillery off the ground. Folks in town didn't let the delays keep them from coming out to support the city's first actual distillery since 1906, though. Now Old Fourth serves up its signature brands of vodka and gin, and for some reason, drinking the goods directly from the source makes them go down easier. Typically, locals would have to travel far out of the city limits to do that, but now they can get their clear liquor fix a block down the street from where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up.
There's no exact science behind this, but there's probably a place selling hot wings every other block in Atlanta. In the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, the place to go for arguably the best wing/booze combo around is this hipster haven. Grab a booth, park it at the bar, or chill outside on the patio watching drunken kids stumbling out of MJQ on their way to Clermont Lounge (you'll find both in the Music and Nightlife section). Back in the day these dark, character-heavy spots were the norm on Ponce De Leon, but with the invasion of the mega mixed-used projects like Ponce City Market, there's been worry the legendary street would lose some of its ATL charm. That ain't the case here.
Walking into Argosy feels like entering a giant, modern-style log cabin filled with people celebrating birthdays, going away parties, and Friday fucking night. The place is massive, and you're going to want to have a seat on one of the couches or on one of the log stools. From there, you'll be treated to an impressive drinking menu, and corresponding list of food options. Go with the pizza. Also, Argosy has one of the best patios in East Atlanta Village, and that's saying a lot.
The Glenn Hotel Sky Lounge
Many locals might tell you the best panoramic view of downtown with a cocktail in hand is experienced at the Sun Dial at the Westin. They're wrong. Five dollars and 13-floor elevator ride will take you to the roof of the Sky Lounge in the Glenn Hotel, and the view alone is worth the price of admission, as is the $10 you'll also drop on a fancy cocktail. The crowd's mostly made of hotel guests, and groups of grad students drinking their dissertation sorrows away. The sights of Centennial Olympic Park and the downtown skyscrapers are more than enough to take your mind off of the J. Crew clientele hogging the bar.
Little Trouble is all about atmosphere—you'll feel like you're on the set of Blade Runner. Of course, it has good signature cocktails too, and those are best consumed with a group—some cocktails are two for $10 or four for $36. The people watching at LT also can't be beat. Definitely worth your time, especially if you just stop in for a drink or two.
The Sound Table
The Sound Table is a spot to go if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the city. It's the perfect fusion of solid food, creative cocktails, and great music (catch DJ Passport for reggae on the first Sunday of each month). The crowd tends to skew on the older side, which makes it a great place to pregame, because you're going to get fed, drunk, and danced-out way before the clock strikes midnight. This area of Old Fourth Ward on Edgewood Avenue has been overrun with college kids, and transplants discovering the area for the first time, but this place exists in the eye of that terrible storm without being phased.
The Bookhouse Pub
Who killed Laura Palmer? If you know the answer to that David Lynch trivia question, then you'll feel right at home at the Bookhouse. The Twin Peak–themed bar is nestled in an always rowdy section of Ponce de Leon Avenue next to a parking lot that's nearly impossible to find a space in. Sit in the laidback front patio, inside, or behind the bar itself in the treehouse-like backyard. Sip a quick brew—there's a hefty beer list, from local to not so—or grab a "Log Lady," a vodka-infused drink that packs a punch. The bartenders are quick and no bullshit, which adds to the appeal. The walls are lined with books and local artist Barry Lee's Twin Peaks character illustrations. The crowd can vary from chill late 20-somethings during the week to rowdy we-just-turned-21 groups on weekends. Choose wisely.
SOS Tiki Bar
Risen from the ashes of the now-dead Paper Plane bar, this hidden oasis in Downtown Decatur will make you feel like you just walked out the Honolulu Airport and into paradise. Seriously, though, it's hidden, so keep your eyes peeled! While the spot is small, with limited seating outside and a handful of booths inside, it nails the ambiance with small torches, a quirky playlist, and bowls (yes, bowls) of liquor. If you're there during happy hour, grab the $5 punch—it's always a pleasant surprise. For snacks, pick between the coconut shrimp with spicy jalapeno sauce or the shareable pupu platter with outstanding tikiyaki sliders. Wash it all down with a "Singapore Sling"—a gin cocktail with the right amount of tropical sweetness. Or share a bowl of the classic Mai Tai. Take your boo or your bff, you can't go wrong here.
The Pinewood Tippling Room
If your Twitter bio says "whiskey enthusiast," this is the place for you. (Also, maybe consider changing your Twitter bio, asshole.) Your dark soul will warm up at the Pinewood, trust me. A little yuppie yet still a whole lotta cool somehow, this bar showcases a fancy menu of fully instagrammable cocktails and (are you ready for this?) ... Old Fashioneds on tap. It also offers barrel-aged made-in-house cocktails that celebrate those forgotten-yet-always-tasty Southern fruits and flavors, like muscadine and local honey. Enthused yet? The spot is cozy and semi-affordable, with a chill vibe of stools, wood furniture, and dim lighting. If you're a whiskey-drinking person, stop by on Wednesdays with your token bearded friend when it's half price. Talk it up with co-owner Julian Goglia at the bar and drink up.
Leon's Full Service
If you are trying to find a badass mixologist, head to Leon's. This gas station-turned-gastropub is equally hipster and chic, because, yup that's a thing here. You'll find a bocce court, a perfectly manicured outdoor patio, and a large bar area that presents the cocktails in the best way. If you like to drink with your pinkies out, you'll be impressed by the large list of beer and wines. But stay for the cocktails. These guys are acrobats with cocktails—they toss them, shake 'em, and mix them. They are walking encyclopedias of mixers, syrups, and liquors. Their perfectly groomed facial hair adds to the spectacle, but back to the drinks: This is the place to experiment and ask for something you've been meaning to try, or something you didn't even know existed. Mezcal? Genever? Leon's U-shaped bar encourages conversation, so hit up the bartender or your neighbor for advice.
This bar is a living ode to the Royal Tenenbaums' Margot. Yes, it's housed in a fancy hotel. Yes, it's smack dab in the middle of Midtown. But trust us, it's worth the stop for that happy hour drink you need after trekking this fine city of ours. Add the "Gin Margot," a quirky gin and tonic with a touch of sherry, and the "Mercy Street," an Irish whiskey Old Fashioned that will feed your soul, to your must-drink lists. You may spot a celebrity at the bar, but keep your cool as you sip on your drink and listen to the chill blues' playlist coming out of the speakers. It's affordable for being a hotel bar. Don't be scared off by the valet—it's free with validation. So treat yourself to a fancy cocktail and lounge in one of Margot's couches.
TWO urban licks
Here's a great spot to take a date, a ~casual~ stop while strolling the Beltline (Atlanta's take on NYC's High Line, only more commissioned graffiti). This slightly swank joint offers wine on tap, which it keeps by the barrel. These guys offer a pretty healthy beer-on-tap choice too, around 50 to 60 selections at any given time last time we counted (admittedly, we were a bit tipsy). What is this magic house of enabling? Stop asking, just go and pickle your favorite organs... with class. There are also good cocktails, if you prefer straws (loser).
A NKOTB of Atlanta's less-stuffy fine dining scene, Ticonderoga Club boasts Wes Anderson vibes (the not-shitty kind—think Life Aquatic), along with a killer "cup" menu. Local cocktail celebs Greg Best and Paul Calvert opened this spot seemingly just to hang out and eat their fav foods (fish sticks?!! Anyway), but who cares because the two designed a drink menu completely saturated with insane booze concoctions. Many of those involve more than one liquor and wholesome-sounding ingredients like "cane sugar." Regardless of cup count, any patron should be able to articulate each non-snobby-sounding-yet-secretly-actually-ritzy cocktail name. Ain't life grander down here?
WHERE TO SHOP
When we ran into famous ATLien Big Boi (Outkast, Big Grams) down at SXSW this year we talked to him about a few of his favorite spots in Atlanta. He was full of great advice for first time visitors to the city, and had a few great picks of where to eat. When it came to shopping, though, he demurred. He sheepishly told us to shop at Walter's, the OG spot that sells velour track suits, but then said he buys most of his clothes online. What's more, he added, "My wife buys all my clothes." If Big Boi ever found himself out and about in the boutiques of Atlanta he'd find there's plenty of shopping to be done. Here we riffle through the city's best shops for sneakers, bongs, books, and more.
You're never going to read about Plaza Fiesta being on a list for Atlanta's best malls. First of all, who the fuck shops at malls anymore? Secondly, it's more of a flea market than a bona fide retail hub housing name-brand shit. But it's here where you'll find shoe stores selling cowboy boots and soccer cleats, while Mexican cowboys lining the aisles are eager to make the next spur purchase. Next door, you'll run into a couple guys giving tattoos, and across from them is a woman selling soccer jerseys next to a guy hawking cell phone covers while eating a plate from one of the fantastic Mexican eateries in the food court. (No mall's tostadas would ever taste this fucking good, by the way.) In short, it's a magical place that we're glad exists.
It looks like an art gallery at first glance—the exposed brick doesn't help. But, yes, you're allowed to touch the books. Encouraged to, in fact. Reading is fundamental, and at Cover Books, there's a lot of it, especially if you're into some hard-to-find gems. If you're looking for obscure titles such as The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Pyromaniac's Cookbook, or high-brow magazines like gentlewoman,Artforum, and the Escapist, add this stop to your list. If you catch 'em on a good day, you might find an author visiting for a talk. These dudes even have dinners in celebration of the written word, art, food, and architecture. All of the above are what drives the content you'll find on the shelves. Do touch—you won't regret it.
Here's the thing: Depending on the day, this place has basically become a fucking tourist trap, and the tourists are teenagers from OTP (Atlanta speak for "Outside the Perimeter"), but it's more or less worth the trip every time. That's essentially the story for most of Little Five Points these days. Since 1982, Junkman's has taken the motto of "Atlanta's Alternative Superstore" to heart. What does that mean? Let's just say it's the only place you can buy a bong, a dildo, tight-ass shoes, and a LIttle Rascals poster in the same place. If the phrase "let's get weird" was a brick-and-mortar shop, it'd be this place. And that's a good thing.
Down the street from Cover Books is a place people looking to buy a piece of Atlanta to take home with them when they leave should visit. When it comes to retail, you couldn't buy more local than doling out a few bucks at this Westside shop. Inside, you'll stumble across affordable wall art, jewelry, and clothing crafted by ATLiens and others from the Southeast. You'll run into locals trying to support their native creatives, or a homesick couple wanting to bring a keepsake back to their new West Coast apartment. Need some scented candles, skinny ties, and watches all made in Georgia and the not-too-far beyond? Drop in, and be ready for all of that.
Chances are you've seen or heard of Walter's while watching BET or listening to song by any rapper who has ever called Atlanta home. The mom-and-pop shop has been a fixture of Atlanta business for over six decades, and always manages to keep pace with the times. This is evident in its plethora of exclusive and hard-to-find sneakers. And it doesn't start or end there. Sure, kids camp outside on Decatur Street downtown before the release of Foamposites and Jordan's, but they're going to leave with a dope fitted cap and pair of cozy joggers too. You'd do yourself a favor by dropping into say hello next time you're in town.
Army Surplus Sales
Five traffic lights down from the Fox Theater on Peachtree Street is an Atlanta OG. The location has been its home since 1957, and it's the place to find unique used and new military goods. Need a good pea coat at an affordable price? It has plenty. Oh, and there are knives, and tactical gear—a lot of it. It's kind of like when you're in the attic of your cool (but kind of bat-shit crazy) grandfather's crib, and you find a treasure chest of all the old stuff that tells his life story. As the website will tell you, its client list includes "local and foreign law enforcement, community organizations, schools, sports organizations, religious institutions, and your everyday customer," which basically is just a long way of saying, "We got a little something for everyone here."
You shouldn't be scared of the impending nerdgasms you think are about to explode all around you when walking around this Little Five Points spot. Criminal Records has walls of action figures, comics, films, and music for days. The vinyl collection is very on point, and for the most part, the staff doesn't give off the typical music snobbery you might be accustomed to at other independent record shops. You'll probably get lost in Criminal's sauce and walk out with Run the Jewels on wax, an Enya CD, Star Wars figurines, and handful of X-Men books. It's the kind of place where the same guy who checks you out at the counter is in the band you're watching up the street at Star Bar later that night. It's no wonder the place is ATL's hub for "Record Store Day." And their block parties are legendary.
Wax 'n' Facts
If you prefer more ruthless judging when checking out at the register with your vinyl selections, skip Criminal in favor of this dusty storefront. It opened in 1976, a time when Little 5 Points hustlers doled actual dope—so in a way, it's rather quaint. Find obscure blues and soul, and a new counter crush who will for sure hate you.
This store is what you might imagine Luke Skywalker's closet might be like. That's if Luke Skywalker's closet included everything from Alexander McQueen and Cole Haan to Nike and Supra. Even with the store's space-age interior and sleek design, the coolest shit to look at are the sneakers on the shelves. Won't lie, the prices are up there, but chances are you won't find that $120 pair of exclusive Saucony's anywhere else in the city. That's probably because owner Aric Rosenberg is known for hand-picking each shoe that comes through the shop, and the man knows what he's doing. If ever you needed a reason to spend more than 30 minutes in Buckhead, let this be it.
Before he was holding pitbull puppies in the "All Gold Everything" video and collecting checks from Bruno Mars, Trinidad James worked at this shop. That's significant because it's here, the popular streetwear haunt inside Underground Atlanta, where the rapper-to-be would make a lot life-changing connections. It's no surprise the city's movers and shakers frequent this spot—they have everything. Caps, sneakers, clothes, video recording equipment, and Hydro Flask thermoses are fair game. There's really not much to do or look at in Underground these days, but Ginza's merchandise and community feel are hope the area can thrive again some day.
Buckhead is a garbage slice of Atlanta usually better skipped, unless your laptop demands a visit to Lenox Mall's Genius Bar, or you're strapping at Fantasyland for a pop 45 pilgrimage. Open since 1976, the store offers standard rock fare and weirdo little 90s gems—like a Len single you never knew would (finally) complete you. Best paired with a slightly stoned disposition and a completely open afternoon agenda.
Part boutique, part tiny art gallery, and sometimes part live music venue, Pecola is nestled in the still-forming Inman Quarter shopping and dining district in the Inman Park neighborhood. Check out the wall of art pieces for sale by local artists while browsing through racks of uber-trendy dresses and separates for guys and dolls alike. There's cute stuff like tees and strappy sandals, but there's also dated-looking ripped jeans (they actually have an on-site denim distressor, FWIW) and a bag that legit looks like a net you catch fish in so, you know, choose your own adventure! At least you're shopping local.
Young Blood Boutique
If you need a non-corny gift for your hip sister, hip significant other, or hip grandma even, this is the spot. The sunlit, brick-floored space alone is just as Tumblr-ific as the curated wares—think ceramic mugs and planters, screenprinted notebooks, delicate gold jewelry galore, independently made bath products, and a wide variety of prints from local artists. It's like what you'd expect from a store created by a girl with cotton candy–colored hair who loves trying to keep plants alive, transcendental meditation and scrolling Etsy for sustainably sourced rugs at 3 AM... but, like, in the best way.
Paris on Ponce
This is one of the few places you can buy a coffee, an antique clock, a zine, a sage bundle, and attend a wedding reception all under one roof. Confused? Understandable. Its weirdness is part of the charm at this (mostly) antiques and art emporium off the BeltLine. As a self-proclaimed "bohemian destination," the 46,000-square-foot Paris on Ponce boasts dozens of vendors shilling their vintage oddities for homes, film productions, photo shoots, and kooky events. Plus, there's often a chubby pug that sleeps on a dog bed on the counter that legit looks like a cinnamon bread loaf, and he or she is the best. Speaking of which, well-behaved dogs are welcome.
With a focus on (mostly) local handmade wares, the Beehive is another great source for unique gifts—this place stocks everything from apparel, kids toys, and jewelry to bath and body products, home accessories, and pet goods. While some items border on Portlandia levels of granola-esque kitsch (does organic beard-specific shampoo really need to exist? Maybe, we don't know your life), it's still a good feeling when you can support local makers while you snag an oddity for a baby shower or that friend who invited you to his last minute birthday picnic. Just go here. Pick out something. Get a gift receipt. It'll be fine. We're here for you.
This local high-end boutique is the brainchild of married couple Sid and Ann Mashburn—the former was a designer for J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Lands' End and the latter a one-time Conde Nast editor, so you know this stuff is fussy as shit. If you're looking for quintessential Southern staples that'll cost you a pretty penny but last a long time, this is the spot. On the bright side, if you're in town for a wedding or fancy occasion, you can prove to your parents or friends that you do,in fact, have your shit together by showing up in one or a few well-made Mashburn pieces—plus, you'll fit right in with all the bros who still talk about frat parties and "the glory days."
WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY
Let's be honest: Atlanta is pretty as shit. For a big, urban sprawl of a city, there's a shocking amount of foliage and green space, with Dogwood trees that go into full bloom as soon as the weather hits above 60 degrees, trails for running to try and forget about all the Fellini's pizza you binge-ate last night at 4 AM, and beautiful in-town parks where high schoolers can poorly skateboard and little kids can run around and scream their dumb little heads off.
Up until late summer—when the thought of walking outside into the egg-frying heat generally makes one want to strip all their clothes off, sit down, and give up—the city's Southern climate almost always lends itself well to outdoorsy outings like festivals, concerts, hikes, day drinking on a sunny-ass patio, and more, no matter what neighborhood you find yourself in. (Just avoid downtown—there's nothing for you there except the Coca-Cola museum, which no one needs to see.)
Jackson Street Bridge at Sunset
Snapping photos—selfies or otherwise—on the Jackson Street Bridge in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood is such a rite of passage in ATL that multiple outlets have written their own tips and tricks for doing so (no, really). To be fair, the view is pretty as hell—you've got a nice city skyline in the background, it's easy to crop out the perma-traffic clogging up the streets below, and the sun is angled just right to make golden-hour shots look Valencia-filter-level flattering. We've rarely driven past without seeing a sickeningly cute couple posing for engagement shots or a prom photo shoot (that actually happened one time) taking place. Fun fact: The view is the same one used on those apocalyptic promos from season one of The Walking Dead.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
About half an hour away in Lithia Springs lies this uber-picturesque state park with a handful of trails ranging from the one-mile red trail (for easy and/or hungover hiking) to the 5.2-mile white trail (for those who are more adept at scaling a steep incline or two). The surroundings are pretty unparalleled, with more than 2,500 acres of trails, streams, five campsites, creeks, eight picnic shelters, a boat ramp, a bait shop, and the ruins of an old burned-down cotton mill circa the late 1800s that made an appearance in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Plus, the park recently debuted ten cylindrical yurts available to reserve for up to six people—perfect for those of us who enjoy the camping sans the whole "sleeping on rocks in a flimsy tent and also WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?" thing.
The Atlanta BeltLine
This walkable trail is a relatively new stretch of green space (slated to span 33 miles when all's said and done), with parks and pathways that are dotted with public art, thriving vegetation, scenic overlooks, and, admittedly, a metric shit-ton of people running, biking, and toting their stroller-strapped kiddos during nice days. The most popular expanse is arguably the Eastside Trail. At 2.25 miles, it'll take you past the Old Fourth Ward Skate Park, kooky wares, and antiques boutique Paris on Ponce, famed chophouse Kevin Rathbun Steak and plenty of other convenient outposts. Plus, they host outdoor events like free yoga, art shows, and a highly instagrammable annual lantern parade. Just don't dawdle, for God's sake.
To some, it may just be the name of a pretty dope album from 2011 by local garage punks the Black Lips. To others, Arabia Mountain is a Lithonia-based monadnock that feels far removed from the sprawling metro area, though it's a less-than-30-minute drive. The granite, giant boulders and panoramic views make it feel like you're exploring another planet—even if you aren't stoned—and springtime is when the blood-red diamorpha plants go into full effect, blooming out of shallow pools of water for an even more otherworldly vibe. Cycle enthusiasts can also opt to ride along the 30-mile self-guided biking trail, inventively dubbed PATH, that'll take bikers by quarries, farmland, and ending at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
King of Pops Yoga
Oh hey, did you know those hot guys who make your favorite local organic popsicles in tasty-to-WTF flavors also put on free yoga pop-up classes in the Old Fourth Ward Park? It's true! The weekly-ish, weather-permitting stints are run by teacher Charlie Baxter Graham, who bends, stretches, and shouts instructions atop a hill while dozens to hundreds of yogis mimic her to varying degrees of success on a smattering of colorful mats. While it's a great and money-conscious workout, it can be hard to zen out when flies are biting you, people won't stop chatting, or the instructor is yelling at the top of her lungs for you to "Just! Keep! Breathing!"
Remember that mention above of the Eastside Trail on the BeltLine? Well, the end spits you out right across from this enormous Midtown park. On any given day, especially during warm-weather months, you're likely to find kite flyers, sunbathers, and dog walkers filling the lawns and pathways—luckily, it's big enough that you can almost always find a quiet spot to lounge or a remote trail to trek. The grounds also play host to a ton of festivals, artist markets, 5Ks, and concerts, so check their calendar ahead of time in case you'd prefer to avoid maddening crowds. Complete with dog parks, the Park Tavern restaurant, swimming pools, basketball and bocce courts, fishing spots, and a farmers market, Piedmont Park is basically an outdoor one-stop shop, y'all.
Are you in Atlanta? Do you own a bathing suit? Can round up a group of friends who are down for whatevs and aren't total cheapskates? Then you've got the makings for a bad-ass way to spend a Saturday. Grab the crew and make the 45-minute trip to Lake Lanier to commandeer a rented double-decker "party yacht" that's really just a fancy pontoon boat with a slide off the back, more or less. Some of these can accommodate up to 22 people, making the rental super affordable per person for hours worth of tubing, driving around (make sure someone on deck has a boating license or it's a no-go) and living the lakeside dream. Cheeseburger- and pizza-shaped floats not required, but strongly encouraged.
Grant Park Farmers Market
Atlanta has no shortage of outdoor farmers markets, to be sure—but how many markets feature the distant sound of lions roaring and monkeys howling as background noise while you peruse booths of organic cheese and leafy greens? Situated in the same area as Zoo Atlanta, the GPFM is a solid bet for your weekend grocery trip to stock up on too-expensive produce. Luckily, it's easy to forget how much cheaper this would all be at Murder Kroger thanks to attractions that include weekly free celebrity chef demos, pastry selections galore for munching while you shop, cold-brewed coffee and a food truck serving up fresh wood-fired pizza on site.
MUSIC AND NIGHTLIFE
Despite popular opinion, or what TV portrays, Atlanta's music and nightlife scenes aren't at all defined by tasteful lounges equipped for music video premieres. In fact, while the city is largely known as the indisputable hip-hop capital of the South, its venues are actually proof of how different, robust scenes—rock and rap, but also music and visual art—often collide.
The Mammal Gallery
Here we have the DIY punk kid you grew up huffing glue with who figured out how to make a living off making zines—but, like, in venue form. Mammal hosts a bevy of arts-oriented nightlife events ranging from standard visual arts exhibition openings to bounce dance nights (proceeded by how-to workshops, natch) to a guy "playing forks" into a distortion mic. Besides your basic-ass tallboys, the bar also slings La Croix. Everyone wins.
The Earl / 529
The unpretentious Earl and 529 is where you're most likely to see Atlanta's rotating cast of local punk and rock 'n' roll veterans, like GG King, the Coathangers, and Barreracudas. In general, though, both venues have become crucial havens for alternative acts in both rock and hip-hop, hometown heroes and rising touring acts alike. Bonus: Both these venues are so small, you'll likely be able to say hello to the act you just watched pretty easily enough after the show.
Terminal West is inside a century-old iron and steel foundry, though its accommodations, including its robust sound system, are more than up to date. Bookings range from Awful Records crew member Father to just plain awful Father John Misty (we kid, we kid!), throwback soul voices, and ambitious EDM acts. And its craft beer list, which includes several dozen canned microbrews, is daunting.
You can't be mad at any venue that demands you tip the musical performers on stage. At this Westside dive bar, you're going to find some of the best blues music this side of the Mississippi, but probably run into a few characters that look like they're straight out of some Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino mashup. There's live music seven days a week, and the drinks are pretty cheap considering the location and building's close proximity to the more club-y Compound around the corner. The look and vibe of the place is so distinct you won't be shocked to hear it's where they shot scenes for that wack Anchorman sequel and the 1997 cult classic Love Jones. But let's be real, this place is a character in and of itself.
The Fox Theater
Typically, this former movie palace and actual National Historic Landmark draws marquee names that even your parents will recognize—think Brian Wilson or Sam Smith. Over the past few years, however, the Fox Theater has also booked several hip-hop acts, like when Jeezy had Andre 3000, Kanye West, and Mannie Fresh appearing for the ten-year anniversary show of his debut, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101. (People stood up nearly the entire time, though the theater's plush seats are always appreciated.)
The Buckhead Theater is another former movie palace, and (bonus!) it has its original Art Deco doorways still intact. Since it is smaller than the Fox Theater, though, it has become perfect for hosting now-veteran indie rock acts (Iron and Wine, Beirut) in addition to theatrical performances. Before you park at the flat-rate lot across the street, check the metered spots in front—they're free after business hours.
Head to one of Atlanta's last honky-tonks to chat up the locals—motorcycle gang members, married couples who first met there a decade ago. Or, on Sundays, go there for karaoke. Quad City DJ's Space Jam theme is actually an option, though if you dare tackle Hank Williams, you might actually get applause.
Jennifer Nettles and John Mayer got discovered at its open mic, but don't hold the latter against it. Don't worry about anyone speaking over the music at this acoustic singer-songwriters venue, either. A banner on stage spells out the code of conduct in bold black lettering: "We encourage a listening atmosphere in the music room, but have set up our patio for partying and being rowdy."
Believe it or not, if Google Maps directs you to the restaurant El Ponce Mexican, you're at the right place—just head to the back door. Yes, your closet is bigger. But your closet doesn't boast the best of Atlanta's young, rap-inclined turntablists like Speakerfoxxx, DJ Dirrty, and Cristo Disco. Suck it up and get there early, especially if pals like Grip Plyaz and Mannie Fresh are crashing the party.
Vinyl / The Loft / Center Stage
All three venues are located within the same complex. They also vary in size, though even the 1,050-seat Center Stage can feel intimate thanks to its stadium-style seating. Expect to see acts of all genres with fervent followings, from Ry Cooder to Tank, Citizen Cope to Tinashe.
MJQ / The Drunken Unicorn
MJQ is in the same parking lot—right square in the middle of it, actually—as the Bookhouse Pub. Initially, stepping into its garage-door entrance and cave-like entry can feel like descending into hell. But it is actually heaven in the form of a dance club without a VIP section or dress code. The music being played has gotten more populist over the years, though with how the crowd dances unabashedly here, it can be tough to get mad at that. There is also always adjoining music venue Drunken Unicorn, which still books underground rock, hip-hop, and electro acts for those who need a break from Beyonce.
Don't miss Apache Cafe among the office towers and behind the Starbucks. This is practically the only place to catch spoken word poetry, up-and-coming soul acts and events like the Bar Exam, where a rap battle meets American Idol, under the same roof. You will feel a world away from Future's orbit here.
Rap fans and art aficionados have long partied together, like with the Atlanta-founded, Jack Daniel's-sponsored Arts Beats Lyrics. This Adair Park gallery, which opened only in October 2015, is the latest proof—showcasing college-aged artists painting Keith Haring–inspired Rugrats tributes, and at live exhibitions featuring performances by Dungeon Family–inspired rap duo Earthgang.
The Goat Farm Arts Center
Yes, this 19th-century cotton manufacturing site was in The Hunger Games. But this artist complex also sometimes features local acts toying with the fringes of rock music. Once, Thurston Moore even did a poetry reading at contemporary dance troupe gloATL's rehearsal space. Just know, when you get lost (and you will, since buildings aren't clearly marked), the first resident you see is typically more than happy to help.
The Sound Table / Space 2
The chic Sound Table made Food & Wine's Best Bars in America list because of its ambitious cocktails. But the DJ sets the Sound Table and its neighboring Space 2 has booked—from Norway's disco producer Todd Terje to New York hip-hop great DJ Premier—have also helped establish Edgewood Avenue in the historic Old Fourth Ward as the city's hottest nightlife district.
The former Brown-Hayes Department Store building is now a lower-key alternative to the Sound Table across Boulevard Avenue. Along with Afro-Cuban, jazz and electro dance parties during the week, this two-story bar and music venue hosts Playlist Parties on Monday. The idea is that anyone can grab the AUX cord and plug his or her phone in to play what he or she wants. Ludacris, Jeezy, and Scotty ATL have even previewed their upcoming music there.
The Music Room
Its entrance, painted to look like a boombox, is fitting. Head downstairs, below Pizzeria Vesuvius, to find this no frills, basement-like room to hear funk and disco some nights, house and EDM on others. The Music Room is also where Atlanta house music veteran Mike Zarin can be found these days.
Magic City is where Jeezy claims to have invented making it rain alongside drug kingpin Big Meech. Now, traveling businessmen ask their waitresses at dinner where they can find this strip club, because rappers like Future and Drake drop its name often. This strip club is more popular than it has ever been.
Killer Mike has already described his preferred strip club perfectly, so allow him to explain: "Before you move up to Magic City and Onyx and $20 clubs that are considered professional, this is where you start," he told Self-Titled magazine back in 2012. "This is the farm league, baby. This is like playing for the Gwinnett Braves–where you can see all the stars for half the price." Here, he and Dungeon Family descendant Andre 3000 feel at home.
Atlanta's longest operating strip club is a dive inside the lower floor of a shuttered hotel. The average age of its dancers in this female-owned and operated club is around 45, and queen bee Blondie can crush a beer can with her breasts. Order a PBR, though be sure to tip these ladies at least a few bucks. Oh, and don't break the venue's strict no-photos rule—even Mumford and Sons got kicked out for trying.
This friendly watering hole in East Atlanta Village is completely removed from the gay scene's ground zero neighborhood Midtown. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Between its spirited dance parties and Mary-oke nights, Mary's promises a good time without the headache of a drive it may take to go elsewhere.
The Tabernacle has history. The entire Dungeon Family performed at this venue in 1998, and Future just anointed the space again on his Purple Reign tour. Occasionally you get a sense of the venue's age, like when a Panic! at the Disco concert was forced to evacuate due to the floors shaking. But this 2,600-capacity joint is still your best bet to see your favorite rock or rap act before they start playing bigger spots like Philips Arena, which is nearby.
This former excelsior mill is more than starting to show its age, especially compared to the brand-new condominiums and apartment buildings that now surround (and threaten to overtake) it. But for now, its lair-like feel only adds to the appeal of catching an EDM, hip-hop, or metal show. Just be sure to stay hydrated: Even on its top floor, which the venue dubbed "Heaven," you will sweat.