You might find those happy to wax rhapsodic about Atlanta. Most of those people do not live here, or if they do dip their toe into midtown occasionally before quickly retreating to a home twenty to thirty miles north of the city. We're not here to write the second chapter of A Man In Full--Tom Wolfe's kinda-there, kinda-not book about Atlanta--but rather to tell you, the college football fan arriving in town for the game, what to do, where to go, and how not to be devoured whole by the packs of mutant beast-men roaming the streets of our fair city.*
About Our City
Atlanta was founded in 367 A.D. at the convergence of four rivers by a tribe of refugee Mayans escaping the tyranny of their homeland and seeking a place where they could pursue their dream of a society devoted to the creation of ever more elaborate arrangements of batter, meat, and oil, a practice deemed extravagant and an offense to the gods by Mayan elders. After a thousand years of civilization, the whole arrangement was deemed "inefficient" and "sprawlish" by the leaders of Mesoamerican Atlanta, who then returned obese and somewhat shamefaced to the Yucatan Peninsula. (Per an interesting copyright arrangement, the "Maya" must now be pronounced as "Ted Turner." We're really hoping he doesn't hear about this piece, by the way.)
Their only visible legacy in modern day Atlanta is a single remaining temple located in downtown Marietta, which now houses a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.
Atlanta was reborn following its discovery by a mix of shiftless cracker hucksters and northern investors looking to escape the encroachment of Northern regulators insisting on business practices including such outrages as the inability to use orphans as fuel in factories. Atlantans welcomed the investment, and the city thrived at the nexus of a series of railroads and trade routes.
This worked quite well until the civil war when the city was burned to the ground, an event that while upsetting some of the locals nonetheless pleased the all-important real estate baron class, who delighted at the "value opportunity" and paved half the city in "god's secure ebony blanket of most blessed Providence--ASPHALT!" The city reborn took off economically again, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, which to this day is the symbol of the city and the emblem of its most inefficient, corrupt business:
The economic development of the city accelerated rapidly with the paving-over of the four rivers the Maya felt made the city so "inefficient." The car remains the primary influence on the city's design, and many say it's history.
A car killed Atlanta's most famous author, Margaret Mitchell, as she crossed Peachtree Street one day. A Nash Rambler named "Marty" served as mayor from 1968-1972, and was lauded for its fiscal responsibility and sensitivity toward the issues and concerns of the city's underpriveleged. Jimmy Carter, a frequent visitor to the city and one-time governor, is himself half-Lincoln Continental. The car is part and parcel of Atlanta, something visitors must remember since pedestrians are often paved over by overzealous road crews who confuse them for large muskrats. Rent a car on arrival or face certain and suffocating death.
Modern day Atlanta bustles on an economy based solely on college football, strip clubs, high finance, and the manufacture of sugar water. An ex-mayor was sent to jail this week for tax evasion. There's really not much else to know. Oh,wait: we have damn nice homeless people.
WHERE TO STAY
Wherever you stay, know that you'll have to go into the city to watch the game. This means staying somewhere along a MARTA line if you're planning on NOT renting a car, so be sure to ask this when booking a hotel.
You will likely stay in one of the following areas depending on your station in life:
1. Airportish. Nothing wrong with this arrangement. You fly in, take a shuttle to your anonymous-looking hotel, eat your meals at a Grizzlebee's, and take the train into the stadium. Not bad, but the area around the airport has the feel of a daytime shot in Unsolved Mysteries. For the bargain traveler it's essential, but be warned that for decent entertainment or food, you'll have to look northward, unless the idea of illicit hotel sex and an order of take-out chicken wings is your idea of a fine time. (We know it is. Humor us.) Consider taking the train into the city for the game and then taking a cab back.
2. Buckhead/Northside. A slightly more chi-chi arrangement. You'll be taking the train south to avoid the assassin's parking game at Tech--we'll repeat this about three thousand times in this piece, but parking at Tech represents an admissions test to the school itself, and not an easy one. The hotels are certainly nicer, the dining options surrounding the hotel will be nicer, and for those of you bonkers enough to enjoy bringing back more things than you brought, there's plenty of shopping around the hotels in the Lenox area.
There's also nightlife in Buckhead, or so we've been told. There's bronzer, long fake roots and the Night at the Roxbury crowd up there, so we've avoided it like the plague in our adult stay in the ATL. (We've never been there as an adult. Not once.) Paul Westerdawg gives a better description than we could:
...if youre a shiny shirt wearing college guy who slugs beers and looks for chicks with exposed thongs and ass tats at bars, then Buckhead is your scene. Youll get more than your fair share of tail and crabs at Makos.
And there you are.
3. Downtown. This is the closest option, and compares nicely to Buckhead pricewise with twice the convenience. Sprinkled with naturally occurring parking garages, downtown may not be friendly or even obviously populated with human, home-owning residents--as we said, they're very friendly homeless people--it's damn close to the game. See if you can stay closer to Midtownish if possible, which has undergone the full spectrum of urban rehab from cracktown to artsy to gay to single child familyish. Did we mention there's a Hooters down there? WOOO!!!
That covers the three main areas you'll sleep in, but not where you'll be for the game, more importantly, where you'll be drinking or eating, which will likely be in Midtown Atlanta around the Georgia Tech campus.
Tailgating: Where, when, and how not to get arrested.
The Georgia Tech campus is situated smack dab in the middle of Atlanta on the west side of the I-75/85 connector. For those taking the train, get off at the North Avenue stop and follow the signs to Tech. If you're directionally inclined, walk west across the North Avenue bridge to the Tech Campus. If you're like us, just look for the big brick tower that says "TECH" and head thataways. Failing that, just follow everyone else who looks like they don't know what they're doing.
Just look for this.
(It's a campus tradition to attempt a daring theft of the 'T' off the tower, by the way. We worked with guy whose fraternity attempted it. Eschewing finesse and planning for speed, they clambered up the tower, cut the wires to the letter, and in his words "set off the Horn of Gabriel" in alarms, bells, and the whine of approaching police sirens. No one's died attempting this...yet.)
You'll pass one of the few things unlikely to be paved under one day in Atlanta, one of the few places considered a real landmark in Atlanta: The Varsity. Lively on a good day and stock-market frenzied for football games, the Varsity serves food greasy enough to ensure proper and aggressive bowel movements for weeks following a single visit, which should be a definite part of your logistical planning if you choose to dine there. That said, the onion rings should be registered as a Category 2 controlled substance.
(Note: Older Tech fans turn a Varsity visit into a pilgrimage. If this pilgrimage involves a couple of chili dogs, their families usually regret it four hours later when the soulburning flatulence inevitably following the flatulence kicks in and hotboxes the whole family to near-death. Keep this in mind if you plan on being in close quarters immediately following the game, or risk becoming a farting social leper for the remainder of the trip. If you're the kind of sick bastard who enjoys getting whole airliners ill, then by all means, have three.)
An excited Atlantan with a frosted orange and intestinal neutron bomb kit in hand.
Moving across the bridge, you'll hit the southeast corner of campus, demarcated by a large sign that says "Georgia Institute of Technology." Again, if you don't know where you are at this point, tape wads of hundred dollar bills to your naked body and walk southward to find your new friends. If you do know where you are, soak up the unique flavor of the Tech campus on game day. It's not South Bend, Athens, or Gainesville; there's plenty of students wandering around doing other things, scuttling from lab to lab, and generally wishing people would quit bothering them when they're obviously busy trying to build their army of vengeance robots. Do not be surprised to see frightened Chinese graduate students hurrying back to their dorms on gameday, since large crowds of people carrying banners tend not to lead to good things in their home country.
For the most part it's more low-key than what you'll be accustomed to, though still lively in its own way. Techies do tailgate, mostly in the parking areas sprinkled in between the buildings of the campus. Their official policies on open container and alcohol in tailgates:
Tailgate parties in campus parking areas during major campus events which are announced by the president's office on an annual basis (such as home football games), are authorized provided that participants:
1. Ensure that no person under the age of 21 will consume or possess any alcoholic beverage.
2. Ensure that no obviously intoxicated person is given or allowed to conume additional alcoholic beverage.
3. Do not use kegs or other common containers for alcoholic beverages.
4. Do not engage in any disorderly, profane, indecent conduct or misbehavior that would interfere or disrupt the peaceful activities of others.
5. Do not begin more than three hours prior to the event, and do not continue more than three hours after the event.
6. Place all trash in the appropriate trash receptacles (no littering).
Translation: follow the "no obvious idiocy" rule and you'll be fine on campus. Ditch your drink once you're off the grounds, though. Contrary to what you might see with one of our exceptionally friendly homeless people, open containers are not legal in the Atlanta area and you can get ticketed for it. And don't assume our policemen and -women are too busy arresting violent criminals to do it, since our violent crime stats suggest they're not.
Once inside the stadium, you'll get to see one of the best things about a game at Tech: the skyline. It's one of the few in the country with an urban skyline surrounding it, as pleasant a backdrop as you'll find in college football. The Bank of America building strikes a particulary arresting profile due to the slanted ironwork teepee at the top, which when lit from within at night makes the building resemble an enormous road flare planted in the heart of the city.
The BOA building.
Where To Eat
We'll just list the places you might find interesting in and around the Midtown/Downtown area, since we don't venture much outside that for cuisine. OTPers and Northsiders, your suggestions are welcome in comments below.
Intown eating should be about finding proper access to a porch, which is where Atlantans double their risk factors by simultaneously getting too drunk and absorbing unhealthy amounts of UV radiation. Throw in some fried food and you're getting the picture.
Quality porch sitting comes in a variety of styles. The porch at Six Feet Under overlooks Oakland Cemetary, which means that yes, now that you think of it, you will be having another while you still can. Within striking distance of the stadium sits the green wood porch of Atlanta utility Jocks and Jills, which while not unique could be very useful on a gameday Saturday in Midtown.
A trio of porches beat all contenders' asses, however. First, the toned, waxed, and sculpted gym variety ass: Einstein's on Juniper, a legacy of Midtown's very gay past, boasts a fine porch shaded by immense oak trees. It's companion restaurant down the road, Joe's on Juniper, ain't bad either. As with any gay-friendly establishment, skip the beer and crack back a few martinis since they're faaaaabulously done there. In fact, just drink and skip the food altogether, since you've been looking a little puffy lately, sweetie.
The second phenomenal porch is at Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. Park Tavern's sweeping porch sits at the edge of Piedmont Park, a green apron well-used by sunbathers, pickup football and soccer games, and a whole lot of other people generally looking pretty good. Get a beer, have a seat, and enjoy prime ass-watching for hours. (This is an equal opportunity setting, so your significant other can join in, too.)
The third is a place where we've consumed at least a metric Mangino of beer, the Brewhouse Pub and Cafe. Lively on gameday Saturdays but positively anarchic during the World Cup, the Brewpub basks in the hippie/yuppie/faux biker milieu of Little Five afloat on a sea of beer and tasty British fried battery things. An essential porch to stumble off of on a warm day.
Actual, sit-down, wallet monster restaurants of quality.
If you're getting in on Friday and actually want to spend some coin, that's entirely possible, too. One Midtown Kitchen is Atlanta's only stop for molecular gastronomy, so expect infusion sauces and bizarre but pleasing combinations of flavors all over the place. If you find the spicy thousand island that comes with a Bloomin' Onion challenging, you have no business even reading about this place.
Mid City Cuisine is somewhat more reasonably priced without sacrificing quality, and you can balance your inner culinary stuntman (ooh! Sweetbreads!) while less intrepid diners can stick to the standards. Baraonda cranks out spectacular Italian just down the street from the Fox Theatre, while two locations of The Grape in Midtown offer an elegant way to enjoy a quirky and encyclopedic selection of wines while getting completely and utterly shitfaced, too. We hear spectacular things about the Floataway Cafe, but you'll need a map, some patience, and a healthy credit limit to enjoy it.
Burgers, Barbecue, and other things that will hasten your departure from this mortal coil.
--Barbecue in Atlanta's tricky. The best stuff sits outside the city or tucked away in small bars like the Yacht Club. (When they have the homemade stuff, it's as good as anything we've had here.) Fat Matt's gets gobs of press, but it's been crap both times we've eaten there. Perhaps it's just us.
We prefer Daddy D'z on Memorial and Hill Drive, a dive with credentials to spare in the way of praise and legend. Eating on the porch when it's flaming hot and reading the psa billboards posted in the neighborhood constitutes a damn good time on a hot summer afternoon. ("The most dangerous drugs are under your sink" featuring a spray can with a needle photoshopped on the top of it was my favorite.) They've got blues bands frequently, if you need something besides barbecue to make you happy.
--Burgers. The Varsity's are decent, of course, but for the artery-collapsing couture burger go to the Vortex, which has two locations intown. We prefer to go to this one:
--Fried Chicken. The Busy Bee, which is down near Morehouse. Unparalleled fried chicken that, if you want to really shake a defiant fist at the heavens, can come smothered in gravy. Everything else on the menu will leave you smiling and seconds from death, too.
--Fried Chicken and Waffles. Ludacristulate your lifestyle at Gladys Knight and Ron Winan's Chicken and Waffles. It'll take forever, the service blows...and you'll be able to say you ate Chicken and Waffles and lived. Cardiologists would bail this place out of bankruptcy if it ever showed signs of insolvency, but this would be impossible given its location. On Friday night sit and watch the free car show streaming down Peachtree--the amount of porn people watch in their car will really surprise you.
Sex and the Search Therefor: Going out.
If you're ass-hunting, you've come to a fine city for that. The male female ratio skews heavily female, leaving men outnumbered and in demand. Take the large gay male population out, and the numbers get even better. As with San Franciso, the number of men with visible abs, a steady job, and a fondness for monogamy who don't prefer men to women has dwindled to a population of approximately 23 guys who are alll booked for the next decade. In other words: for men, it's a target-rich environment, and for women, it's a barren waste that will make them hate other women like jackals fighting for scraps.
Three areas of focus:
1. Midtown/Crescent Ave. Booming nightlife in Midtown is in it heyday, and this is the epicenter. 1150 is a venerable old institution with decor straight out of Less Than Zero. Verve is a new place with three dance floors that, because they are new, might let you in wearing anything at all. Vision is no more, but Loca Luna just off Peachtree features thumping Salsa dancing on Friday nights. Halo is gay, gay, gay, but if you like strong drinks it's your place since as all seasoned barflies know, gay bartenders never skimp on the liquor. Hush is very Euro, and that's about all you need to know there.
2. Ponce/Virginia Highlands. Our favorite triumverate of places--the Clermont Lounge, MJQ, and the Local--sit in a formerly totally seedy and now only slightly seedy slice of Ponce De Leon Avenue. You could bounce like a pinball between the three for months at a stretch. The Clermont is the skankiest strip club you'd ever consider taking your mother to, a dive in the bottom of a flophouse motel where off-duty and washed-up stripper go to relax and lackadaisically take their clothes off. The Local is a badass bar with narcotically addictive fries and more excellent bar barbecue, and MJQ Concourse is a schizophrenic dance club located underneath the parking lot of a strip mall just next to the local in an old basement. But if you should go to any of those places, please, please, please don't blame us for what may happen to you if you show up in football gear. The ridicule could leave scorch marks on your soul.
Oh, and cash only for MJQ and the Clermont. That should tell you something right there.
Virginia Highlands has no dance clubs, but loads of bars and sorority types rolling in from Buckhead mean this area has the greatest potential for your average guy looking for a dalliance in the City Too Busy To Hate (You When You Don't Call Back After Quick Anonymous Sex.) Institutions the Dark Horse and Atkins Park are exactly as they sound: warm, wood-paneled places loaded with frat boys, beer on draft, and the surprisingly good food that always pops up in Atlanta bars. Just down the road on Virginia and Highland, Moe's and Joe' and The Highland Tap are also local keystone bars.
If we may recommend one particularly insane bit of entertainment, though: Heavy Metal Karaoke at the 10 High. Located beneath the Dark Horse, five dollars gets you in the door for a full band willing to back you as you sing anything from "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden to "Jump" by Van Halen. Perhaps we'll even volunteer to show everyone the ropes with our show-stopping rendition of "Panama" after the game.
We've even got the outfit.
*Did we say mutant beast men? We meant pigeons.
**This, of course is a joke. A road crew and the word "zealous" have never seriously appeared in the same sentence in Atlanta.