Business trip: Atlanta

Despite being the commercial capital of the fast growing southeastern US, the city’s genteel Southern charms have survived amid rapid economic and social changes.

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 southeastern US.

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.  

Most business 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 surfaces.

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 marble Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

One block north of the Hyatt is the glossy 414-room Loews Atlanta Hotel.  Soaring floor-to-ceiling 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.

Expense account
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 garden.

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.

Go local
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 housing.

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.