Atlanta’s neighbourhoods are slow weekend cool. With a couple of days in the city, you can dip into war and politics (civil and racial), go visit some pandas, and then settle back with a bagel and the papers and let warm sun and the sound of slide guitar wash over you and pretend you live in one of those big houses with porches and pumpkins, oak trees and cicadas. Best of the in-town neighbourhoods for walking tourists are Virginia Highland or ‘the Highlands’ and Little Five Points, and both are within easy strolling distance of each other, divided by one of the city’s big green spaces just east of Midtown (and close to Driving Miss Daisy territory).
Little Five Points is like the best corner of Camden Lock but on a mini-scale (which is weird because everything else around these parts from roads to servings is on a maxi-scale) and without 95% of the people. It’s a curious mix of vintage clothing stores, seedy bars, small designer boutiques, vinyl shops, new age mullarkey, well-heeled liberals and pierced, dreadlocked, deferential grunge students hanging out in a quasi-alternative way. Allow a good hour to root through the Clothing Warehouse if 70’s Americana is your thing. Dave now looks like Hunter S Thompson.
Mostly what’s on sale in the Highlands ‘hood is cupcakes, bikes, bagels, dog grooming and Aveda products, but happy afternoons can be spent at the huge warm wood tables in the cool deli, Belly, before migrating a few doors up the leafy street to Atkins Park – Atlanta’s oldest licensed tavern – for dinner (boiled peanuts & sea salt followed by cornbread-crusted North Georgia trout with Bourbon brown butter apples and mash), and then Blind Willie’s for blues. Among Bill Sheffield’s finger picking, mournful, thigh-slapping tunes was a rendition of Rainy Night in Georgia, which was pretty appropriate given that it was indeed a rainy night. On Thursdays you can head a bit further to the Diesel Filling Station – yes, a converted filling station, for the Dirty South Trivia quiz – but it wasn’t Thursday. Anyway, this is mid-priced dining heaven, and for budget dining heaven there is the Majestic Diner (on the Highland-Poncey intersection) dating back to 1929, surely unchanged since the 50s and a lovely thing indeed with its chrome and red counter stools and booths and flashing neon. Lovers of retro will also be dazzled by the art deco Plaza Theatre, an artsy cinema in the same strip.
This isn’t core tourist zone and accommodation is limited, but I found by accident and stayed at the quirky, wonky-floored, friendly and sweetly-priced, Highland Inn. A couple of bearded hipsters were discussing bands and a wedding party (red satin strapless, and suits and Converse trainers) was pushing its way through reception with their master of ceremonies when we arrived, and all greeted us cheerily as they went outside to smoke and glug beer before lining up with their partners to enter the ballroom lounge. This is a good sign. Prices seem to vary widely. I booked online for around $50 a night, then booked an extra night over the phone for a ‘discounted’ $90. But still. The Highland Inn is on 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast Atlanta, Tel 404-874-5756.
It’s quite hard describing exactly where these neighbourhoods are so my best recommendation would be to Google them. Incidentally, the affable Jennifer Alice Acker, who works at the Clothing Warehouse recommended The Goat Farm, a venue that’s risen phoenix-like from the ruins of an old industrial site, where grass grows in the buildings and events are staged in the ruins with seating on rope swings from girders, Atlanta’s modern skyline as a backdrop. Hoping there is a performance happening when I return.