Atlanta Gets Its Groove Back
A decade ago, Atlanta captured the attention of the world by hosting the centennial Summer Olympic Games. Ten years later, the city is once again in the spotlight with a host of new, world-class attractions, and a marketing campaign that features a hip-hop song, “The ATL,” penned by Atlanta’s super-producer Dallas Austin, and the tagline “Every day is an opening day.”
Perhaps the biggest lure to the Big Peach is the world’s largest aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium which opened on November 23, 2005 and hooked its one millionth guest on March 1. The $290 million dollar project is the brainchild of Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus and it has made a splash with locals as well as visitors. The aquarium boasts eight million gallons of fresh and marine water, more than 100,000 animals, including Ralph and Norton, a pair of massive whale sharks, and more than 12,000 square feet of viewing windows.
It’s the city’s hottest ticket and its success has caused a ripple effect on downtown businesses, spiking occupancy at downtown hotels. The Ritz-Carlton offers a family-friendly aquarium package that includes an executive suite with two full baths, a pull-out couch and king bed, untimed tickets to the aquarium, breakfast and an aquatic-themed edible amenity delivered to your room. If you want a more up-to-the-minute experience, check into The Glenn Hotel, one of the city’s new boutique hotels. Built in 1923, the hotel is named for former mayor John T. Glenn and it boasts sleek 93 rooms and 16 suites and a “manager of desires” to help you achieve your goals while visiting. The Jezebel Suite, named for Atlanta’s glossy magazine, features a state-of-the-art projection TV, his-and-hers baths and the Kama Sutra on the coffee table. The Glenn is also home to restaurant BED, the Atlanta outpost of the Manhattan and Miami restaurants where you dine horizontally with other reclining hipsters.
While you’re downtown, you’ll likely see folks whizzing along city streets and sidewalks on battery-powered personal transportation devices called Segways. A two-and-a-half-hour City Segway Tour is a great way to explore the downtown area, and as tour guide Kara Cantrell says, “You’ll be a rock star.” She’s right; the eye-catching machines inspire lots of stares and conversation. Steve and Paula Amentrout, visiting from Washington, D.C., says, “We met the inventor at a conference a couple of years ago and we’ve been dying to try this.” They were especially impressed with an up-close-and-personal look at the Georgia State Capitol, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, and Centennial Park. Also new downtown is the Imagine It!, The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, designed for children eight and younger. Here, youngsters and their parents can touch, pull, spin, draw and paint in a high-energy, larger-than life environment.
More than $2.35 million is kept within the marbled walls of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The Monetary Museum offers self-guided tours of the history of money from shells to bills, a can-you-spot-the-counterfeit challenge, and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the cash operations, including robots named Andy and Abe (for Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, respectively), buses that transport the cash. And it’s free. Cattycornered from the museum, the purple awning of The Grape, beckons with more than 100 wines by the glass and small plate gourmet fare such as creative quiche, quesadillas and hummus—all served without pretension.
Midtown’s dramatic skyline continues to take shape along Peachtree Street from Ponce de Leon to 17th Street. The High Museum’s dramatic, $124 million expansion has doubled the original Richard Meier-designed space and has created a “Village for the Arts” in its three interconnected new buildings. Renzo Piano’s architecture has been called luminous, and looking up at the bright blue sky visible in clever “scoops” in the gallery ceiling, you’ll agree. If looking at art whets your appetite, don’t miss Table 1280, the museum’s restaurants with its cutting-edge cuisine and smart good looks.
Cross the yellow 17th Street bridge that spans 21 lanes of traffic near the intersection of I-75 and I-85, and you’ll be smack in the middle of Atlantic Station. A $2 billion, 138-acre redevelopment of the rubble that was Atlantic Steel plant, Atlantic Station is billed as a Live/Work/Play arena with a 26-story story hotel and condominium complex called TWELVE (with stunning floor-to-ceiling views and a vibrant restaurant and bar, Lobby), a 16-screen theater, restaurants, and shops, including the mega retailer IKEA. Orange-accented Rosa Mexicano offers delicious modern Mexican dishes, guacamole made tableside and zippy pomegranate margaritas.
For blockbuster garden shows, the Atlanta Botanical Garden takes first place. But if shopping is your bag, head into Buckhead and Phipps Plaza. Saks Fifth Avenue has a fresh look and is the city’s most stylish department store; new boutiques in the mall include Barney’s Co-op, Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture, Tory Burch, Intermix, Theory, and Nordstrom. Across the street at Lenox Square, you’ll find Bloomingdale’s.
When the sun sets, Atlanta really shines, with an explosion of chef-owned restaurants in the intown corridor. Nan is the city's finest upscale Thai dining. In leafy, rapidly gentrifying Inman Park, Kevin Rathbun holds sway with two eateries, Rathbun’s, his boisterous New-American see-and-be-seen room, and Krog Bar, an intimate Medittereanean wine and tapas bar. Nam, Atlanta’s most polished Vietnamese restaurant, will wow your palate with its subtly layered dishes, while nearby Metrofresh will be kind to your wallet with wholesome, made-from-scratch soups, sandwiches and entrees.
Arguably the city’s hottest evening venue — at least in terms of its rooftop balcony and quotient of beautiful people — is Shout, located at Colony
Square near the High. Taking in the stunning skyline views, you may just be tempted to shout yourself.
A former Navy brat who traveled and lived abroad extensively, Suzanne Wright is a fulltime, freelance writer based in Atlanta. She is a member of NATJA, and has written numerous travel, food and decor features for numerous international, national and regional publications. Her articles have appeared in Elite Traveler, Wine & Spirits, Veranda, Atlanta Magazine, The Tennessean, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Piedmont Review, Charlotte Place, Where, On Magazine and others. A suitcase is always packed and her passport always up to date.
Photos ©2007, Kevin C. Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com