Like its official
symbol, the phoenix, Atlanta is rising from the ashes of the recent recession,
maintaining its position as the commercial capital of the fast-growing
Over the last five years
Atlanta has added a $1.4 billion international airport terminal, opened or
renovated a slew of hotels, attracted additional national and regional
business headquarters, and spurred development of once decaying downtown neighbourhoods
with multimillion dollar mixed-use developments and parks.
Evidence of Atlanta’s
comeback: overnight visitation was up 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors’
Bureau. In October 2013, Korean Air added daily 407-seat Airbus A380 nonstop
flights between Atlanta and
Seoul. The city ranked fourth in the US for meetings and
conventions in 2012, after Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas. Its surprisingly
sophisticated and dynamic dining scene continues to enthuse visitors and locals
alike – Atlantans dine out more often than New York or Chicago
residents, and enjoy restaurant prices well below the national average,
according to Zagat.
travellers arriving in Atlanta will meet, eat and sleep somewhere along the
north-south corridor, which starts in the city’s central core (downtown) and
moves north to Midtown, Buckhead and the sprawling Perimeter Centre/Dunwoody area, which has more
office space than downtown. Stick close to this spine and you can get around easily
by taxi or MARTA (the city’s rapid rail system). But if business takes you into the tech-heavy
northern suburbs such as Marietta, Alpharetta or Gwinnett County, a rental car
is necessary to traverse the sprawl.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is located 10 miles southwest of downtown, about 15
minutes away by car, taxi or MARTA. In May 2012, the airport opened the 1,200,000sqft
international Terminal F, which, combined with Terminal E, brings the
international gate count to 40, with nonstop flights serving cities in 40 countries.
As such, getting
to, from and through the world’s
busiest airport can be daunting.
The most elegant recent
addition to Atlanta’s hotel scene is the 127-room Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, located in a tall, narrow, 42-storey Art Deco tower in
the affluent Buckhead district. The refined rooms' design elements recall only hints the luxury chain’s Asian roots, and most have excellent views (ask for one with
a private balcony). Wind down at the hotel’s spa (the largest in the city with
14 treatment rooms) or in the hotel's indoor saline lap pool. Invite colleagues to a power
breakfast or brunch at the smallish, contemporary Café & Bar, located off the main lobby, and get your day started
with the grilled vegetable frittata with cheese and plum tomato compote, or
chef Josh Carden’s elegant, sweet-tea-marinated take on a local Atlanta
favourite, chicken and waffles.
Half a mile south is the 151-room St Regis Atlanta, a hotel that is as popular with locals as it is with
out-of-towners due to its location at the intersection of mansion-lined West
Paces Ferry Road and commercial Peachtree Road. In typical St Regis style, a
staff of butlers service large, plush rooms with views over Buckhead’s busy
streets and forested neighbourhoods. Socialites and business travellers mingle
in the sprawling lobby and the buzzy St Regis Bar.
Those with appointments
on the city’s bustling northern edge should consider the 275-room Le Meridien Atlanta
Perimeter, located on the northern arc of Atlanta’s busy
circumferential freeway Interstate 285, referred to as simply “the perimeter”. The hotel’s black, white and grey minimalist decor
belies the warm spirit of the hotel staff. All rooms are oversized and come
with king-sized beds (ask
for a room with two beds and you’ll get a room with two kings). In an
unusual design choice, there are tall
ergonomic director’s chairs at guest room desks, most of which have bar-height working
Smack in the middle of compact,
dense, pedestrian-friendly Midtown is the 12-storey, 194-room Hyatt Atlanta Midtown, which opened its doors in July 2013 on the busy
corner of 10th and Peachtree Streets, steps from the Midtown MARTA
station and two blocks from Atlanta’s green lung, Piedmont Park. All rooms have oversized
workspaces, bright bathrooms and floor to ceiling windows, and the corner rooms have views of the imposing white
Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
One block north of the
Hyatt is the glossy 414-room Loews Atlanta Hotel.
windows line the street-side wall of its big, bright, contemporary lobby,
giving the popular Restaurant and Bar
Eleven the feel of an indoor/outdoor
cafe. Ask for a Grand King room, located on corners with wraparound views over Midtown
and Stone Mountain, an unusual 1,686ft natural quartz dome 20 miles to the east.
The Optimist is the hottest new eatery in Westside, a one-time industrial district on the western edge
of Midtown, which is now one of Atlanta’s most vibrant restaurant
neighbourhoods. Atlantans and visitors flock to this rustic, subway-tiled
post-industrial space for Southern favourites such as peel-and-eat shrimp,
Georgia trout and fried clams, plus classics like iced oysters, lobster rolls,
hickory-roasted fish or she-crab soup.
Edgy creative types on
the prowl for something non-traditional (and delicious) should roll up their
sleeves and tuck in at Gunshow, local celebrity chef Kevin Gillespie’s latest establishment in Glenwood Park on the eastern
edge of downtown. According to Gillespie,
the restaurant is inspired by “Brazilian churrascaria-style dining and Chinese
dim sum”. Dishes, both refined and rustic, are presented tableside on rolling
carts and trays, so you can choose what to order, a la carte. An October menu
included items such as pork dumplings, sweetbreads and diver scallops.
For a celebratory lunch
or cosy dinner in the heart of Buckhead, try King + Duke, located next to the St Regis hotel. Upon entering
the contemporary space, guests walk past the restaurant’s centrepiece, a
massive 24ft open hearth where chefs turn out wood grilled steaks, chops,
poultry, fish and specialty dishes such as candied lamb belly and charred
octopus salad. Herbivores can choose from such delights as wood roasted
ratatouille topped with a farm fresh egg.
If you are looking for
a refined, upscale restaurant to impress a client or sign a big contract, try
chef Kevin Rathbun’s KR Steakbar, nestled in the affluent, residential Peachtree Hills
neighbourhood. The menu offers up a combination of fine Italian pasta and prime
steaks; bartenders shake martinis and blend their own concoctions. If the
weather is fair, request a table under magnolia trees in the intimate outdoor
Off the clock
To get your bearings in Atlanta’s sprawl, find a high perch with a good view.
One option is the new SkyView Ferris wheel located in downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park. You will get
a bird’s eye view from your enclosed six-person gondola at the crest of the
15-minute ride, about 20 storeys up. Alternatively, walk to the cylindrical 1,073-room
Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel (the city’s tallest at 73 storeys) for drinks
and/or a meal and live music at the recently renovated Sun Dial, a revolving restaurant and bar offering 360-degree
views of the city.
Atlanta’s popular new Eastside Trail connects some of the city’s most vibrant in-town
neighbourhoods. Join a parade of locals walking or riding bikes at the northern
end of the trail near Midtown’s Piedmont Park (10th Street and
Monroe Drive) and wander through commercial and residential areas such as
Virginia-Highland, Poncey-Highland, Inman Park and the Old Fourth Ward. The
two-mile stretch of paved path and green space offers walkers a wide variety of
interesting art installations and landscapes. The Eastside Trail is part of a
larger project called the Atlanta Beltline, a plan to transform 22 miles of abandoned railroad
lines into a pedestrian-friendly corridor connecting neighbourhoods, parks and
Don’t do this
Good manners mean a lot in Atlanta, so do not be surprised when local
colleagues (or strangers) refer to you with the honorific “Ma’am” or “Sir”.
Women may be surprised when men go out of their way to hold open elevator doors
and allow them to enter and exit first. It is all part of the genteel Southern
charm that seems to have survived amid the rapid economic and social changes in
this dynamic US city.