Five Atlanta Neighborhoods With Southern Charm
Sunday, May 17, 2009
For a novice, Atlanta can intimidate. The Georgia capital -- about a half-million people live there, with 4.5 million more in the surrounding area -- has some peerless attractions, yet they are sometimes overshadowed by the city's agonizing traffic, noodly sprawl and myriad streets with the same forename, Peachtree. In addition, the city comprises 25 communities (in municipal-speak, Neighborhood Planning Units), a crazy quilt in desperate need of a good seamstress.
But you don't have to get caught in the urban maelstrom. Safe havens await. Many of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown resemble spirited villages with independent hearts and souls. Each of the five east-side destinations I recently explored by foot (yes, that's what I said) boasts distinct characteristics, but all share the same Southern warmth that made this outsider feel like a neighbor, too.
With a name like Cabbagetown, the area should be dotted with leafy heads; instead, I found the massive Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, the district's center of life from the 19th century until its closing in 1977.
"This is the old, old South," said Barb Kenney, vice president of the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association and co-owner of the Milltown Arms Tavern (180 Carroll St., 404-827-0434). "If you want to see what the late 1800s looked like, come here."
The neighborhood's main strip is basically a short stride of real estate along Carroll Street. The tavern, which features pub games (darts) and fare (Guinness burger, fish-and-chips, tater tots), anchors one end. Village Pizza (No. 186, 404-586-0040), purveyor of gourmet pies and local artwork, sits next door. Beside it, the Cabbagetown Market and Little's Grill (No. 198, 404-221-9186), open since 1929, could be mistaken for a museum: An old Coke machine (10 cents a pop) rests silently by the swinging screen door, and cabbages wait patiently for takers. (According to legend, the neighborhood's moniker sprang from the residents' penchant for growing the vegetable.) At the Carroll Street Cafe (208 Carroll St., 404-577-2700), the food is modern, but the panorama is Atlanta Past, including the rainbow-hued homes once occupied by textile workers and the mill (now lofts) that dominates the skyscape.
"We don't want to be SoHo, Chelsea, the Lower East or New Orleans," said Carolyn Carr, whose paintings are inspired by the graffiti scrawled on the train tracks visible from her loft window. "We just want to be Castleberry."
To be sure, the neighborhood boasts a dense concentration of galleries -- upward of 20 establishments along Peters and Walker streets -- as well as a robust community of artists who live and work in renovated warehouses. The district also holds ArtStroll every fourth Friday of the month, during which most of the retailers, traditional exhibit spaces or not, participate.
What makes Castleberry stand out from other art-centric areas is its hip-hop streak. Performers record in the neighborhood's studios, and on weekends, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces unload guests who come to hear well-known DJs. During my afternoon visit, I did not witness any six-figure cars, but I still caught the beat. At Slice (259 Peters St., 404-588-1820), a pizza joint, the banging soundtrack combined with diners dressed for the dance floor turned a meal into a warm-up for a night of clubbing.
East Atlanta Village
East Atlanta Village is the groupie hangout for music listeners and performers. "If you chose one neighborhood as the music center of Atlanta, I'd say East Atlanta was it," said Scott Trinh, who works at Earthshaking Music, which sells instruments, CDs and more. "Musicians go to the bars here, they shop here, they drink coffee here."
A coterie of music venues and businesses occupies the small triangle formed by Flat Shoals, Moreland and Metropolitan avenues. The best-known is the Earl (488 Flat Shoals Ave., 404-522-3950), a top spot for indie bands, though the new 529 (529 Flat Shoals Ave., 404-228-6769) has a growing fan base. Some establishments also pair food and drink with tunes, such as the Graveyard Tavern (1245 Glenwood Ave., 404-622-8686), while Earthshaking Music (543 Stokeswood Ave., 404-577-0707) goes back to the basics, with drums and sticks.