Young artists are flocking to Atlanta, which is spawning some of the most exciting music, art, nightlife, and culture, not just in the south, but in all of the U.S. We headed to the ATL to experience the hype firsthand. By Caitlin Smith
“Do you dance?” the musician and multi-media artist Brittany Bosco asked me this with a hint of trepidation as we inserted coins into a Mortal Kombat machine at Atlanta’s Joystick Gamebar. A leading figure in the city’s rising creative scene, she had agreed to show us around while we scoped out Atlanta’s best food, nightlife, and culture—despite the fact we had met her just an hour earlier. “Yeah,” I replied, with a smile, “of course.” Her big brown eyes widened with relief and her lips, painted bright red, spread into a grin. “Ok, good…I only ask because people don’t really dance in New York. All right,” she said with a fervent nod and a wonderfully raspy, high-pitched laugh, offering me a high five and then gripping the joystick just as the game begins. “This is gonna be a good weekend.”
I understood the reason for her concern the next night when we went to Space2, an event spot in the heart of the Old Fourth Ward, the same neighborhood that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, raised, and is buried. At 10:30 p.m. the venue was teeming with a mass of guys and even more girls. There was no hint of the egos we’re used to in New York—no non-committal, unenthused swaying with cocktails in limp hands, bored expressions plastered onto aloof and unapproachable faces. Everyone was unrestrained and bold in their dancing, laughing and warm and animated—despite the fact that this was actually a book party for the first quarterly release from The Low Life, a lifestyle collective and online publication for men (but edited by a woman, Savanna Keo).
It was at that moment I realized Atlanta’s scene—thanks to its young, ambitious musicians, artists, and entrepenuers—is thriving in a way that no other city in the U.S. is. So why is this city’s moment now? “Atlanta is at the crossroads of a really interesting dynamic of a confluence of different cultures,” explained Karl Inject, the co-owner/creative director of Top Flr and The Sound Table, a dimly lit music-focused restaurant with rotating DJs (including himself) that’s connected—both literally and figurative—to Space2. Over a spread of roasted Brussels sprouts and fried kale (grown from the restaurant’s garden just down the street), he explained the city’s current state: “In Atlanta, you have this neo rat pack, independent hip-hop scene. Then, you have this very graphic design-heavy, highly articulate, very eclectic, young black culture, which is more about branding and design, publications and magazines.”
Over a course of four days, we witnessed all of this for ourselves by going from one bar, party, restaurant, and club to the next, where we mingled with underground Atlanta’s best, who work just as hard as they play. We shared celebratory birthday shots with Speakerfoxxx, fresh off her European tour with MF Doom as she DJed the rowdy nightclub beneath El Bar. We ogled the infamous ATL twins in their natural habitat at Union, where they hosted a party thrown by creative collective/brand Fresh.I.Am owned by Oni Espada, Tunde Ogunnoiki, and DJ/producer BLKMORRIS. We sat in on a recording session with Bosco and her namesake nu-R&B band. We explored the homey suburb of Decatur with Andrew McFarland, the drummer for indie electro-rock band Reptar. We danced with a rowdy, lavishly dressed crowd at The Cool Party (yes, that’s really what it’s called and rightfully so) at The W downtown.
What we experienced—the endless amount of progressive music, the warm and welcoming locals, the insanely delicious food—was inspiring, to say the least. “One of the strengths of Atlanta is that, because the expectations are not necessarily that high, it benefits us,” said Injex. “We don’t feel the need to compete or meet anyone’s expectations. We do it the way we want to do it. And people seem to enjoy it.” We certainly did.
Sure, Atlanta is in the deep south, but that doesn’t mean all of the dishes there consists of butter-drenched biscuits and grits (though that’s nothing we’re opposed to). This city is home to a diverse and never-ending collection of fine dining, late night eateries, and cool-yet-casual cafes. We ate at as many of them as we could—read on for a list of our favourite spots.
1314 Glenwood Ave. SE
NEIGHBORHOOD: East Atlanta Village
The ever-changing menu may be chock full of semi-intimidating ingredients (like chicken heart and beef tongue), but it’s worth it to be adventurous with your choices here—the food at this colourful Mexican-fusion tacqueria is some of the most flavourful we had while in Atlanta.
WE LOVED: Roasted beef tongue taco, roasted cauliflower with olives and dates, and grapefruit and rosemary Rosalinda margarita.
280 Elizabeth St.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Inman Park
This retro-industrial designed restaurant and bar is known for its interesting sandwiches and cocktails (pot roast with horseradish sandwich and grapefruit soda with tequila and lime juice, anybody?). But, perhaps even better are the prices—all of the sandwiches go for just $4.
WE LOVED: The Victory at Sea (white anchovies, frisee, lemon mayo), Mile High Club (smoked turkey, bacon, ham, avocado, fontina, dijon), frozen Jack & Coke slushie, and Root Canal (Abita root beer with absinthe).
674 Myrtle St NE
A dark and moody two-story restaurant that caters to the late-night crowd, Top Flr’s bold new American flavours complement the secret supper club-like vibe. The hours are convenient for anyone just getting off of a night shift, so this place is packed with creatives and service industry folks looking to unwind to the house music mixed by live DJs.
WE LOVED: The mac ’n’ cheese with sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, and spicy panko crust, and the duck confit pizza.
914 Howell Mill Rd.
Sourcing their seafood from some of the country’s best suppliers, the menu at this giant oyster bar is chock full of classics like hush puppies and gumbo and gourmet dishes like duck fat-poached swordfish with celery root puree and garlic chili relish. Oh, and did we mention the mini golf course on the patio?
WE LOVED: The chilled roasted baby carrots with herbed ricotta and black pepper honey; the charred spanish octopus with lemony mayo, chorizo, and calabrese peppers; and the Mother of Pearl cocktail made with Death’s Door gin, Fever Tree tonic water, celery bitters, sea salt, and black pepper.
560 Gresham Ave. SE
NEIGHBORHOOD: East Atlanta Village
We didn’t have much of an appetite left by the time we arrived at Octopus Bar, but when Chefs Angus Brown and Nahn Le presented us with an unforgettable spread of food—oysters with uni, mint, quail eggs, and chicharrones; spicy Korean pork with kimchi and pickled daikon radish; salt-and-pepper shrimp with chili, sweet onion, and jalapeno, and the most buttery, decadent lobster roll we’ve ever had—we couldn’t help but pack it all into our very stuffed tummies (with absolutely no regrets, we should add).
WE LOVED: Absolutely everything. This was our favourite spot.
DRINK & BE MERRY
Although mixology is relatively new to the nightlife scene in Atlanta, the bartenders are all on their game. And trust us when we say that ATL knows how to party. Don’t miss some of the best venues to grab a drink and get your groove on.
THE EL BAR
939 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE
It may take some pushing and shoving to make your way to the dance floor, but it’s worth the struggle. From ’80s and ’90s to Reggae-themed nights, this is the prime spot to dance, no matter what your mood or what day of the week it is.
WE LOVED: Speakerfoxxx’s killer tunes. Catch her out-of-control sets (which include old-skool R&B to the latest ATL rap) on Friday nights.
515-B N McDonough St.
Described by locals as more of a “listening room” than a venue, Eddie’s Attic is one of Atlanta’s best spots for catching the newest singersongwriters. Stop in (with or without your guitar) for the open-mic night every Monday.
WE LOVED: The location—tucked in the heart of Decatur near a park and a ton of restaurants, you feel like a true local here.
466 Edgewood Ave.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Fourth Ward
Divinity student-turned-artist/businessman Grant Henry (along with his alter ego Sister Louisa) is the brain behind this Church bar. The dive is jam packed with Catholic paraphernalia and original works by Henry (religious portraits that he paints punny phrases over, which are up for sale). One bartender explains that Henry has an “obsessive personality,” and spends up to $1,000 a day on décor for the bar on eBay. It’s money well spent, though, because when else will you get to sip a beer while watching a ping-pong game from a real pew?
WE LOVED: Church organ karaoke (Wednesday nights) and the Spiritual Sangria.
THE COOL PARTY AT THE W HOTEL
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard
Don’t be fooled—this actually lives up to its name. Tucked away at the top of a winding staircase inside The W Hotel Downtown, this weekly party is—figuratively—part fashion show, part dance off. We saw everything from tanorexic girls in stilettos to a dude in a kilt dancing like there was no tomorrow.
WE LOVED: The fun, enthusiastic crowd and endless amounts of banger tracks.
736 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE
NEIGHBORHOOD: Virginia Highland
Technically an acronym for Modern Jazz Quartet, this venue has transformed into the spot for up-and-coming underground hip-hop and indie artists. A mysterious little subterranean discoteque located inside a renovated parking garage, it offers up an eclectic roster of performers. MJQ is also known as The Drunken Unicorn, and has played host to bands and artists like Anamanaguchi, Fidlar, Small Black, Polica, and Grimes.
WE LOVED: The enigmatic exterior and brightly glowing red interior.
Hotlanta isn’t just home to great rap and hip-hop (see OutKast, Waka Flocka Flame, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James, and Ludacris). It’s also produced legendary indie bands like Washed Out, Deerhunter, The Black Lips, and Manchester Orchestra, and the city continues to churn out new acts all the time. Check out a few of Atlanta’s latest and greatest sonic movers and shakers.
MEMBERS: Brittany Bosco (vocals), John Key (production), Jonathan Merenvitch (guitar), Ira G. (synths), Omar Ferrer (production) Headed by SCAD graduate Brittany Bosco, this quartet make smooth and sultry, heavily layered nu-R&B. We had the pleasure of sitting in on a session in a makeshift studio as they recorded vocals for their debut LP, due later this year.
BLKKMORRIS merges sexy ’90s R&B samples with classic Atltanta 808, and throws in a healthy helping of trap. He started out as a strip-club DJ and now, he creates mixes at some of Atlanta’s best underground parties. He’s also an accomplished businessman, curating parties, and heading creative direction for the collective/brand Fresh.I.Am.
MEMBERS: Will Fussell (vocals), Chris Alley (bass), Tymb Gratz (guitar), Peter Cauthorn (drums), Seth Bolton (synth/guitar) Although Mood Rings are difficult to pinpoint when it comes to genre, it’s safe to say that the five-piece drifts somewhere between gauzy postpunk and melancholy dream-pop. For their debut LP, VIP Harmony, the group headed to Gary’s Electric Studio in Brooklyn (Zola Jesus, Ariel Pink, and Yeasayer previously recorded there) and came home with a more evolved sound. Oh, and did we mention that Bradford Cox is a fan?
MEMBERS: Curtis Williams, Key!, FatKidsBrotha, Retro Su$h!, DJ Osh Kosh, Original Fani Rap/trap group Two9 has the classically gritty attitude of a punk group—their performance at the Low Life’s book launch party was as rough and raucous as a hardcore show. A tightly knit collective of rappers, DJs, producers, they prove that there’s power in numbers.
Led by Phil Jones, former keyboardist for Washed Out, Dog Bite is, as one local described to us, “summer in a song.” Sure enough, the fuzzy, ethereal dream-pop is made for days lounging on rooftops and grilling in the backyard. Last January, Jones released a split 7-inch with Toro Y Moi and toured with him, as well as Wilde Belle and Sinkane. He’s currently finishing up Dog Bite’s second EP, which we’re sure will just as wonderfully illusory as his first.
MEMBERS: Graham Ulicny (guitar, vocals), Ryan Engelberger (bass), William Keknnedy (keyboard), Andrew McFarland (drums) Anyone that grew up watching Nickelodeon in the ’90s will appreciate Reptar’s name, taken from the fictional dinosaur from the show Rugrats. Lighthearted and cheerful, the quartet make anthemic pop-rock, and their glimmering synths and upbeat vocals are as youthful sounding and fun as their name implies.
MIXTAPE: ANDY HULL
Manchester Orchestra is known as one of the best indie-rock bands to come out of Atlanta. Simultaneously, the group’s lead singer Andy Hull created an indie folk solo project called Right Away, Great Captain! and just released his third and final concept album last year. The record, The Church of the Good Thief, is about the journey of a 17th century sailor, though Hull says he’s been greatly influenced by his home in the suburbs of Atlanta. Here, he shares a few of the songs he associates most with the city that’s inspired him.
This song is about all the things that come with being in a band in your late teens. It’s written as a prayer/conversation with God, pleading for him to help them out of the inevitable decline.
I remember seeing Pedro The Lion play somewhere between six and 12 times over the span of a year or two. He kept getting bigger every show and by the time they headlined The Variety Playhouse—where he had opened for Death Cab a mere six months before—they played this song to a sold-out crowd. Everybody was completely in awe. It’s stuck in my head for eternity.
These dudes are from Florida, but it must have to do with me hearing them as a kid. It’s as if it was planted in my brain. Whenever I hear them, I feel Georgia.
Everyone from Atlanta is in this video. Ludacris’s first verse is pretty great too.
Possibly the coolest song of all time. As in, you can’t feel uncool listening to this song. They were—and debatably still are—so far ahead of hiphop and deserve to be ranked as two of the greatest of all time.
These dudes are good friends of ours from Athens, Georgia, and they just put out a bad-ass record called In The Marrow. This song reminds me of touring with them in December 2008. It’s a heck of a tune.
2 Chainz has been around Atlanta for so long and is one bad-ass dude. Last year, B.O.B and 2 Chainz rapped over a song that we were sampled in and released it on a mixtape. We started getting people saying, “Holy shit! 2 Chainz is rapping over you singing!” Pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.
Illustrations: HOLLY WALES