Q: What’s the best part about living in Atlanta? A: Delta Air Lines.
Or so the joke goes among peripatetic Atlantans. It refers to the ease
with which they can get out of town on nonstop flights to just about anywhere
since they live in the hometown of Delta, the world’s second largest airline after
Chicago-based United Airlines. Getting out of town got even easier (and
cheaper) when Southwest Airlines took over AirTran’s main hub at ATL earlier
Jokes aside, normally self-aggrandizing Atlanta was hit particularly
hard by the late, great recession, especially in its once high-flying
commercial real estate sector. A painful reminder sits in the heart of
Buckhead, the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood and entertainment district.
There you will find an eight-acre swath of rusting steel and concrete foundation
work surrounded by a chain-link fence. Boosters had hoped it would become the region’s ultra-high-end shopping mecca but funding
dried up in 2008 and the project was put on indefinite hold.
Talk of new investors and resuscitation of the project are heating up once again. So
Buckhead, and indeed the entire Atlanta region, will surely rise again, just as
it did after the Civil War. As Scarlett O’Hara proclaimed in Gone with the Wind,
“After all… tomorrow is another day.”
Hotel: Elegant or edgy?
While Buckhead hotel newcomers such as the
or the St Regis have tried, they have not been able to wrestle away
the crown of the 224-room Four
Seasons Hotel Atlanta, which sets the standard for five-star hotels in this city. It is
conveniently located in leafy, trendy Midtown (Buckhead lies to the north; the
central business district to the south). Like many US cities, Atlanta is very
automobile-reliant, but the Four Seasons is uniquely located within walking
distance of the Woodruff Arts Center, a MARTA (rapid rail) station, Piedmont Park and many of the city’s most au courant cafes and restaurants.
The 21-story boutique Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel (nee Hotel Palomar) opened two
years ago on the western edge of Midtown near the Georgia Institute of
Technology (aka Georgia Tech) and immediately caught on among business travellers
who like clean, modern décor, moderate rates (around $150 per night), panoramic
city views and service delivered with friendly southern style. The hotel is
just two blocks from MARTA’s Midtown station (a 20-minute ride from the
airport) and access to I-75/85, Atlanta’s main north/south freeway, is just
down the street. Nearby, the recently revamped Artmore
Hotel is also
drawing in the hip set with comfortably modern design, budget-friendly rates, and
its popular “Studio Lounge” and outdoor courtyard.
If you would
like to impress a client, enjoy some local flavour, and dine on Atlanta’s
cutting edge, make a reservation at JCT Kitchen in the pioneering Westside Urban Market near downtown
and Midtown. The popular three-year-old restaurant offers refined versions of
southern favourites such as shrimp and grits or chicken and dumplings — which,
for example, is really
red wine braised chicken (coq au vin)
with potato gnocchi sautéed in brown butter. It is all served up in a large casually sophisticated
space full of natural light and colours. The super hot Empire State South
takes a modern approach to creating authentic Southern dishes with fresh local
ingredients paired with outstanding wines. Tip: While it is a great choice for
dinner, you will impress your colleagues by scheduling your power breakfast
Do not do this!
Do not call it “Hotlanta”. Polite locals may smile when a visitor uses
this sobriquet (especially in the summer). But you can bet they are cringing on
the inside. Also, it is important to know that while Georgia is officially the
“Peach State”, Atlanta has little to do with the fruit. As a matter of fact,
the well-known moniker for several Atlanta streets, “Peachtree”, actually evolved
from the words “pitch tree” referring to the many sap-producing pine trees
native to the area.
When you have finished lunch at JCT Kitchen, duck into the bespoke
sartorial splendour of Sid and Ann Mashburn’s clothing stores (Sid’s for men, Ann’s for women,
both located upstairs in the same building). Recently named one of “the 10 most
stylish men in America” by GQ magazine, Sid describes his style as “an amalgam
of European, preppy and Southern”. Ann’s store opened in 2010 to offer a
“feminine counterpoint” to her spouse’s sense of style.
Off the clock
After a day in the air-conditioned confines of Atlanta’s office towers,
hotels or convention centres, take a walk, hike or jog along the miles of paved
paths in Piedmont Park, on the northeastern edge of the downtown area. In
recent years, a massive improvement project overseen by the citizen-led Piedmont Park Conservancy has transformed the 189-acre park into
a true urban oasis. It is also home to the gorgeous and enormously popular Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel and grew up in Atlanta.