Scenes from the A
20 Essential Spots to Discover Atlanta
I love Atlanta. Really. Like, I LOVE Atlanta. Despite not being born here or with a zone to call my own, when I moved to “The City Too Busy to Hate” in 1998, I knew it was the place that would define my future. A place where a young, reserved kid could reinvent himself and discover a city bigger than preconceived notions. A place both willing and able to also reinvent itself while honoring who it is at its core. Being a resident of the city for 20-plus years (which means I can claim to be from here, fight me), I’ve seen so many places embedded into the core of what people think of when they envision “Atlanta” come and go. From down and dirty barbecue and secret bars to neighborhood nightlife and one-of-a-kind experiences, let me be your guide and give you a taste of my favorite spots around the A.
*Disclaimer: The world is very different now. COVID-19 is still a very real thing and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Discover Atlanta safely and follow each of these locations’ prescribed safety guidelines. Oh, and wear a mask regardless. Do it for The A.
I’m an Atlanta-based content creator with a deep love and connection to the Atlanta dining and nightlife scene. In a past life I was the Atlanta editor for Thrillist with bylines in the pages of Jezebel Magazine, Men’s Book Atlanta and Where Atlanta Magazine. I currently operate Watkins Branding, a digital marketing and social media agency with focus on the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Ponce City Market
When it comes to dining options, Ponce City Market unites cuisines from around the globe. From South African beef jerky at Biltong Bar and luscious ice cream options at Honeysuckle Gelato to Latin sandwiches at El Super Pan and sea-faring flavors at W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, the sprawling food hall is my go-to destination for worldly variety. When the question is, “What do you have a taste for?” – the answer is everything.
People often ask me, “What are your top five dining experiences in ATL?” I always answer with Atlas at St. Regis Buckhead. The unparalleled service. The cuisine. The art. Oh yeah, it has a full-on art gallery because, why not? The Chef’s Tasting Menu is a master class in glorious excess with wine pairings from a personal sommelier. Fine dining has never been finer.
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
Now, it’s time to get down and dirty. ATL barbecue is one of those things where you leave table etiquette at the door. Saucy, fall-off-the-bone meat that’s been smoked and grilled for hours, fried and flavorful sides, and plenty of napkins, make Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q my go-to for barbecue. Their smoked wings are some of the best the city has to offer with succulent pulled pork plates and homemade banana pudding likely to unseat your grandmother’s. Sorry, it is what it is.
Le Petit Marche
I’ve always had the mentality that breakfast is an anytime affair. I want it when I want it, and don’t need anyone telling me otherwise. That’s probably why I ride for Le Petite Marche in Kirkwood. Once I had that syrup-soaked French Toast sandwich (I amp mine up with local fave Delia’s chicken sausage and cheese eggs), my fate was sealed. This is the all-day breakfast you need in your life.
Admittedly, I’m a cocktail snob. My friends give me a hard time about it, but I stan for a complex, well-balanced sip, and Ticonderoga Club serves them up like clockwork. From classic Negronis, Manhattans and gimlets to incredible originals like my favorite, the rum-forward “Ticonderoga Cup,” you must pay homage to the drink stylings happening at the Krog Street Market craft cocktail haven.
Let’s be honest. You don’t expect much from a hotel bar. It’s there to wet your whistle with a quick drink before starting your evening somewhere else. But something special happens when that “somewhere else” is a hotel bar. That’s what drew me to Bar Margot at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta. The program led by my friend and cocktail virtuoso, Toki Sears, defies expectations with off-menu offerings you have to be in the know to imbibe. Pull up to the bar and ask for whiskey-heavy “Pretty Brown Eyes.”
French Quarter eats and tiki-inspired drinks combine at the pink playhouse that is Bon Ton. Go for the drinks and stay for the vibes. The neon-lit watering hole may not take itself too seriously, but the drinks certainly do. Classic sazeracs and French 75s hold court with the likes of updated riffs on rum-centric hurricanes and my favorites, the smoked bourbon mai tai and frozen Pimm’s cup.
Red Phone Booth
If you know, you gotta go. The secret that lies behind the red phone booth has been a closely guarded rite of passage in ATL for years. From its beginnings in Buckhead to its current home Downtown, Red Phone Booth delivers on the Prohibition-era speakeasy experience where an ever-changing phone number entered into an old-time phone booth grants access to a world of bespoke cocktails and cigars. And no, I’m not giving you the code.
Atlanta nightlife is more than just showing up at a club and expecting to have a good time. Edgewood Avenue’s strip of bars and establishments scream “classic Atlanta” with vibes to perfectly pair with any reveler’s mood. Whether it be a literal holier-than-thou approach to good times at dive bar Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, aka “Church,” intimate conversations and atmosphere at The Sound Table or lively tunes at The Music Room, Edgewood Ave. is your one-stop-shop for ATL nightlife done right.
While locals and visitors alike know the tales of wild nights at Atlanta institution, The Clermont Lounge, I prefer to focus on the less suspect happenings above it at Hotel Clermont. The revitalization of this iconic hotel opened the doors to a new Atlanta experience, one with similar trappings of the basement-level strip club but with a touch of refinement. Two-way bathroom mirrors, anyone? A swinging lobby bar and rooftop combined with Old Fourth Ward views make this a renewed Atlanta icon you won’t want to miss.
The North Highland Avenue strip where it meets Elizabeth Street is a choose-your-own-adventure of good times. You can start with a stiff drink and stogie at Highland Cigar Co. or make a pit stop at Barcelona Wine Bar or adjacent VinoTeca for an impromptu vino tasting. Down premium sake at CHAR and MF Sushi, or cheer on Atlanta United at Hampton + Hudson. I enjoy the old school hip-hop tunes and cocktail options at the bar, Little Spirit. Anywhere that you can pose next to artwork of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. is good with me.
The Braves aren’t the only thing that draws droves of revelers to The Battery. The massive district serves as a one-stop-shop for every nightlife mood. If rowdy, honky-tonk tunes and mechanical bulls are your thing, the PBR Atlanta is calling your name. Immersive VR experiences? The VOID wants to show you a whole new world. Add a variety of concerts and acts at The Coca-Cola Roxy, numerous bars and cigars at my favorite stop, BURN by Rocky Patel, and I hate to be punny, but The Battery is truly a grand slam of nightlife fun.
High Museum of Art
I can’t implore people enough to discover one of the country’s premier art museums at least once. High Museum of Art isn’t a stodgy stroll through galleries of priceless artwork. They have that if that’s your jam, but the regularly-rotated exhibitions trap the mind in boundless wonder. With past exhibits like Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, and Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech,” the museum offers in-depth views into design and creativity that continue to draw me to this iconic Atlanta mainstay.
Trap Music Museum
The Trap Music Museum is the ATL’s hip-hop experience in an easy-to-digest format. As culture and music serve as one of the city’s main exports, the educational installation from our beloved thesaurus and trap music impresario, T.I., serves as an intrinsic view into lifestyle beginnings of the genre’s most prolific rappers. A replica corner store, grandma’s plastic-covered living room, and even a jail cell, the museum showcases the true stories of how the hottest names in rap got their start. It’s essential viewing.
Martin Luther King Historic District
Atlanta is home to an icon in the civil rights movement, and I never miss an opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the MLK historic district. Where else can you say you saw the home and writings of a prolific voice in a movement that continues to this day?
Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)
As a follower of all things design from architecture and interior furnishings to technology and fashion, I can always count on MODA to deliver a breathtaking experience with the underlying goal of driving positive, societal change. If you’re like me and love to see the impetus and vision behind things often taken for granted, MODA’s got you covered.
I’m a big fan of Shark Week. I know, you too can hear the theme from “Jaws” pulsating in your head right now. Sorry about that. Like the Discovery Channel event, Georgia Aquarium brings an equally in-depth view of the animals that call the mysterious vastness of the ocean “home.” Whenever I visit, I can’t help but find something new. Whether it’s seeing a giant whale shark float above your head or hundreds of long-legged spider crabs, your fear will instantly turn into fascination. And if a shark cage dive isn’t on your bucket list, it definitely should be!
Porsche Experience Center
I love fast cars and timeless design, so I can’t help but fanboy anytime I visit the Porsche Experience Center. The massive facility houses not only a rotating collection of iconic Porsche models, both past, present and future, but the on-the-track experience of taking your choice of vehicle on the circuit is something you’ll want to write home about. While I’ll probably never own a Porsche (unless they see this post and want to arrange something, wink wink), it’s a fantastic experience to say you tackled a track at high speeds in these world-class vehicles.
I think Atlanta BeltLine is an experience and celebration of multifaceted neighborhoods that connect Atlanta. Whether walking, running, biking or ugh, scootering, the various trails immerse you in art, shopping, dining, conservation and green space you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. The Eastside Trail connecting Old Fourth Ward to Inman Park is my jam, and I find countless opportunities to discover Atlanta on the Westside Trail, too.
The first craft beer that I ever had was SweetWater, and it truly stands as Atlanta’s premier beer brand while also staying true to itself. A trip to the brewery should be on every visitor’s and local’s to-do list to raise a toast of the hoppy stuff with friends and explore how the cans and bottles of bliss go from grain to glass. Enjoy the flavorful brews and events that keep ATL rockin’ to this day.
Get to know Atlanta, and discover the best things to do around the city.