Tennessee is not recruiting well just because they got 18 dudes
For those of you lucky enough to be coming down to Atlanta for the weekend, I present to you my quick-ish (okay maybe not really) guide to the city. Some things to take into consideration while reading and evaluating my suggestions: I’m approaching 30 and have been in Atlanta since 2001 (born and raised in Birmingham, MI prior to that); I’ve lived in a lot of areas of this city and have settled down in the Inman Park/Old 4th Ward area, which is a couple of miles east of downtown; I eat out quite a bit, go to a lot of bars, and see a lot of live music (mostly electronic as of late). I’ll try to include options that I think anyone can enjoy, but I do have a section at the end for the under 30 crowd looking to go out.
As a companion to what’s below, please make use of the google map that I’ve created. Everything mentioned below, plus some additional spots, are pinned on the map. Sections of town are also outlined to help you figure things out. On the left hand side of the map, everything is organized by neighborhood and then alphabetical order within each neighborhood.
Before I get started on everything, a note on transportation: Atlanta’s public transit is MARTA, and while it’s not all that great, you can make it work for you. There is a MARTA stop at the Airport and the Georgia Dome, so if you stay near a MARTA train station, you can make it through the weekend without needing a car. That said, this is a city built for cars, and most of the places are exponentially easier to reach by car than by MARTA.
I’ll start with the three main areas of Atlanta. From south to north these are Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead. It’s about 10 miles between downtown and the northern reaches of Buckhead. I’ll provide some pros and cons of staying in each area and things to do during the day and at night.
This is where the game is going to be played and all of the official festivities are going to be. The Dome, Philips Arena, The Georgia World Congress Center, CNN Center, and Centennial Olympic Park are all adjacent. There are plenty of hotel options in the area. The ones closest to the dome are the Hilton Garden Inn, The Omni, Embassy Suites, and the Glenn. Whether or not anything is available in those, I don’t know. Probably not, but there are still a lot of larger hotels within walking distance like the Westin, the Marriott Marquis, the Hyatt, The W Downtown, etc.
During the day:
Downtown has a few major tourist attractions. You’ve probably heard about the Georgia Aquarium, and the hype is for real. Go check it out - you won’t be disappointed. The World of Coca-Cola is right next door to the Aquarium, but I’ve never been. If you have a couple of hours to kill I’m sure it’s better than nothing, but I don’t think it’s a must-do. These are all located in/around Centennial Olympic Park, which will be hosting some pretty big (free!) concerts all weekend.
A couple miles east of downtown is the King Center. It’s just outside of comfortable walking distance so you can take MARTA or a cab (cab is probably easier if you can get one because even if you take MARTA you still have to walk a bit). Admission to the center is free (so is parking if you're driving). It’s basically just a little museum but you can also tour the home that MLK, Jr. lived in, as well as tour his church, Ebenezer Baptist.
Downtown, unfortunately, is usually pretty dead at night. A lot of people work down there, but not so many live there. There are some decent restaurants and bars but it’s not a place to go out and party. That may change slightly just because there are going to be so many people in town, but don’t get your hopes up for any late night ragers. You’ll have to head a couple of miles north or east for those (see below).
I don’t eat downtown too much, but here are a few good spots I can recommend:
- Legal Seafoods (seafood, obvs. Slightly pricey but worth it if that’s what you’re looking for)
- Der Biergarten (German food, German beer, great atmosphere and setting with outdoor seating)
- Stats (ultimate sports bar – beer taps at your table)
- Park Bar
Do not go to Underground Atlanta. Seriously. It’s garbage. Nobody goes there and there’s nothing to do, despite what you may have heard. Don’t waste your time.
Bottom line: If you want to be within walking distance of all the Final Four activities and aren’t too concerned with being near a lot of nightlife, Downtown is where you’ll want to stay.
Midtown has quite a bit to offer and while it’s not within walking distance of the Georgia Dome, if you stay near one of the MARTA stations (the Midtown station at 10th Street or the Arts Center station at 15th Street), then you will be able to get to there easily without a car. So if you’re looking for a hotel, try to keep it near a MARTA station for the best experience.
These would all be decent options, but the list is by no means exhaustive:
- Hilton Garden Inn Midtown (just opened a couple of months ago)
- Regency Suites Hotel
- W Midtown
- Lowes Hotel
- Renaissance Hotel
During the Day:
Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s version of NYC’s Central Park (it was designed by the same person). Though nowhere near as cool as Central Park, it’s still a great place to walk around, especially if the weather is nice. It offers some nice views. The southeast corner of the park is home to Park Tavern, which is a good place to grab lunch or a drink (even better if it’s raining, because they serve $1 beers). The southeast corner also attaches to the Atlanta BeltLine, which is really just a glorified sidewalk for now but will eventually form a 22-mile loop around the city and include transit to connect disparate parts of the city in a much more efficient manner. Good place for a casual stroll but not much to actually do. At the northwest corner of the park are the Atlanta Botanical Gardens which are great if you’re into that kind of thing.
The High Museum of Art is also located in Midtown and is a very high quality museum, again worth checking out if that’s your style.
There’s way more going on in Midtown at night than compared to Downtown. The center of activity generally tends to be around Crescent Ave, between 11th and 14th streets, where there are a couple of blocks worth of restaurants, bars, and clubs. I’d just walk around and see what looks interesting. If you want to go to a club, though, I will say try something like CosmoLava, which is a little more laid back, before you try Opera, which is a full-on clubby club with exactly the people you’d expect to find at clubs. (Warning: annoying auto-play video on the Opera site, which is absolutely fitting.)
There are a few more spots outside of the specific area mentioned above that I would recommend:
- Cypress Street Pint and Plate
- The Vortex (burgers). There is also a location in Little 5 Points mentioned below.
- Proof and Provision
- Empire State South (for a nicer meal)
The area around 10th and Piedmont is one of the hotspots for the gay community, which is pretty prominent in Atlanta, just FYI.
Bottom line: stay in Midtown if you want to be close to nightlife and have a ton of restaurant options within walking distance. If you’re close to a MARTA station, all the better, because that’ll make getting to the games pretty simple.
To me, Buckhead is overrated. In it’s heyday, it was the place to be, but it’s not like that anymore. It’s the more “upscale” part of town, but it’s not walkable and the types of bars and clubs here are not my scene, so I can’t give you too much to go on. Maybe someone else can fill in the gaps here.
One thing I absolutely have to recommend, though, is Holeman & Finch. Always mentioned in the discussion of best burger in Atlanta - partly due to its exclusivity as only 24 are served each night, starting at 10 p.m., and you have to get there by about 8:30 if you want to get one – it’s also a great bar and restaurant overall. If waiting an hour and half for a burger doesn’t sound appealing, the good news is that on Sundays they serve unlimited burgers for brunch. They usually sell about 200-300 during those brunches. Yes, they are that good. The place is pretty tiny, so you might have to wait, but I don’t think you will be disappointed.
So that’s the basic rundown, which turned out to be quite difficult. Even in that little bit there is so much I haven’t mentioned. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention these places/areas - most of which are going to require a car to get to.
Antico Pizza. Best pizza in the city. Authentic Napoletana style. Walk up, order, go find a seat in the kitchen and watch the guys pump out pizza after pizza as they blast Italian music. After a few minutes, yours will be there, and in another few minutes it’ll be gone. Pick up a bottle of wine or some beer before you go, because it’s BYOB. (Mac’s in Midtown is a good place to grab alcohol, btw.)
SweetWater Brewery. If you like beer, check out their brewery tours which run Wednesday – Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 and Saturday from 2:30 to 4:30. Not the easiest place to get to, but it’s a good time.
Ormsby’s is like your buddy’s ultimate man cave basement. The downstairs area has a bar, pool tables, skee ball, foosball, and even a bocce ball court. It’s become a little over-populated over the last couple of years, but it’s pretty unique and generally a fun time.
The Porter Beer Bar/Little 5 Points. Rated one of the top few beer bars in the US, The Porter’s beer list is ridiculous. Their food is pretty damn good too. The Porter is located in Little 5 Points, which is a more artistic/alternative area of town (tattoos, piercings, hipsters, head shops). If you can get over there and walk around the area, I would encourage you to do so. There are a few other good bars nearby if The Porter isn’t your style: the original location of The Vortex, mentioned above, is here; Brewhouse is a good place to check out if you’re a soccer/footie fan; and Euclid Avenue Yacht Club is a nice hangout for the locals. Wrecking Bar Brewpub is just slightly removed from L5P proper, but another solid choice for food and beer (brewed in-house).
Barcelona Wine Bar/Inman Park. If you are in the mood for tapas, wine, and a great dining atmosphere, check out Barcelona. It will be packed, so you will need to make a reservation. Even though this area of town is a bit removed from Downtown and Midtown, an entire night can be spent walking around to the different bars and restaurants, most of which are way more low-key than Barcelona, but still great (Victory Sandwich Bar, Jack’s Pizza & Wings, and P’Cheen, to name a few).
Kevin Rathbun Steak. Also located in Inman Park/Old 4th Ward, this is the place to go if you want the best steak in the city.
The Highlands is another area where you can spend the night bar hopping and probably find something to suit your tastes. There are a mix of vibes from yuppie-ish and/or brotastic (Hand in Hand, Dark Horse Tavern) to divey (Moe’s & Joe’s, Neighbors). As long as you’re looking to drink, you’ll be fine here.
Decatur is an enclave about 6-7 miles east of Downtown. The good news is that it’s totally accessible via MARTA, so even if you’re staying Downtown, it’s easy to get to and everything worth doing in Decatur is centered around the MARTA station. It’s one of the few well-planned MARTA stations, to be honest. Good bars in Decatur include Brickstore Pub (their beer list is on par with The Porter, which is saying something), Leon’s Full Service (cocktails and food), and Twain’s (pool hall, bar games, good beer selection, including some of their own brews). Fun fact: all three of those places are owned by the same couple. Good restaurants in Decatur include Iberian Pig, Cakes & Ale, and Raging Burrito.
Brunch in Atlanta tends to be a big deal, and there are many places that specialize in brunch fare. To name a few:
- Highland Bakery (Inman Park/Old 4th Ward, near Jack’s and P’Cheen mentioned above)
- West Egg Café (A couple miles west of Midtown, near Ormsby’s mentioned above)
- Einstein’s (Midtown)
- The Flying Biscuit (Candler Park, Midtown, and Buckhead locations)
- Ria’s Bluebird (Grant Park)
Finally, one last section for the students or under 30 crowd looking to go out at night to some of the more local/non-touristy places (even less touristy than what I’ve mentioned above):
Edgewood Ave – all of the places below are within a few blocks of each other and walkable. You probably want to cab it from downtown/midtown to this area. In full disclosure, there are some safety concerns, though I have never personally had any issues at all. It’s also a bit of a mess right now because they are installing a streetcar system so the road is all torn up.
- Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (affectionately known as simply “Church”): Cool bar, usually with some intense games of ping pong going on upstairs. Get drunk, put on a preacher’s robe, and hang out.
- Noni’s: A deli/restaurant by day, it turns into a dance club at night. Usually pretty packed out. DJs tend to play electro/house.
- Sound Table: another restaurant by day, dance club by night.
- Pizzeria Vesuvius: Decent pizza, good vibe. There’s a bookcase at the back of the restaurant. If you pull on it, you’ll find that it’s actually a door to a hidden speakeasy (is that redundant?). Now you’re in the know.
Poncey-Highlands – Just around the corner from the Highlands, there are a few places for late night fun:
- Bookhouse Pub: small, cozy, good crowd and good drinks.
- MJQ: Next door/underneath Bookhouse. Literally underground. Pretty grimy but can be a lot of fun if you just want to drink and dance.
- El Bar: Just up the road from Bookhouse and MJQ, El Bar is located behind/underneath the El Azteca restaurant on Ponce. It’s almost inconceivable that there’s even a club there, but it’s there and it’s pretty awesome IMO. This place is tiny and the crowd does not arrive until after midnight. DJs tend to play more hip-hop/trap music here.
- Clermont Lounge: A true Atlanta experience. I will say no more, lest I spoil the surprise. You can google it if you want, but really you should just go without any expectations. The drunker you are, the better.
East Atlanta: tough to get to without a car, East Atlanta Village (EAV) has a good bar and restaurant scene, including:
- Graveyard Tavern (Pool, DJs)
- Midway Pub (Sports bar with a good patio)
- The Earl (Bar/restaurant with an indie rock music venue in the back)
- 529 (live music pretty much every night)
That’s pretty much it for now. Hopefully you found this useful and informative. Please feel free to ask specific questions in the comments and I will be happy to provide my best input and advice. I’m fully aware that I missed a lot of good spots, so if you’re an Atlanta resident feel free to offer additional suggestions as well. Have fun down here, be safe, and Go Blue!!