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What’s New In Atlanta

by Robert Adams

If you’ve never been to Atlanta, it’s time to get Georgia on your mind.

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta (photo courtesy of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta)

Atlanta has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the world, and we’ve got the inside scoop to show you the city’s best!

It was long before the emoji era that Georgia was first nicknamed The Peach State. But in today’s American South, its capital, Atlanta, with a gay scene as juicy as Timothée Chalamet’s infamous stonefruit pas de deux, is clearly peach and eggplant city.

Last summer, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) held its global conference in Atlanta, drawing tourism and hospitality professionals from around the world to discover this underappreciated hub of American queer culture.

Estimated to have more LGBTQ+ residents per capita than New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, Atlanta has maintained a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index since 2013. The annual Atlanta Pride celebration is by far the largest in the southern United States and is always scheduled in October, which not only lets it steer clear of the region’s muggy summer weather, but creates an enticement for queer visitors who don’t want to miss their own hometowns’ traditional June celebrations (Oct. 7-16, 2022. atlantapride.org)

If you’re unsure why Atlanta should be considered one of the top urban destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers in the U.S., your first activity in town should be the queer history ride launched in 2020 by Bicycle Tours of Atlanta (659 Auburn Ave. Tel: 404-273-2558. biketoursatl.com ). This immersive overview of the city’s milestone moments and landmarks leads small groups of visitors to a remarkable range of sites.

Riders stop at the original site of the Atlanta Eagle (306 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE. atlantaeagle.com) and learn how a leather bar came to be designated a city Historic Landmark by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2020.

There’s also a stop by an unassuming house on shady, tree-lined Ponce de Leon Place, where, in 1982, Michael Hardwick was arrested by the Atlanta police for having sex with another man in his own bedroom.

That incident initiated a long, tortuous path through two landmark Supreme Court cases, Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which affirmed states’ right to prosecute private, consensual sodomy, to Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overturned the earlier case and set precedents that informed the eventual legalization of gay marriage.

In a plaza by the King Center (449 Auburn Ave. NE. Tel: 404-526-8900. thekingcenter.org), riders are given a nuanced overview of the sometimes aligned and sometimes fractious relationships between the Black civil rights movement and the gay rights movement, with special attention paid to the collaboration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his key advisor, Bayard Rustin, who many feel was kept out of the spotlight on account of his homosexuality.

The ride grew out of a serendipitous party conversation between Bicycle Tours of Atlanta’s owner, Robyn Elliot, a civic-minded queer ally who founded the business, and Charlie Paine, a gay, politically engaged 25- year-old local native who studied architecture and historic preservation in college before cofounding the non-profit Historic Atlanta organization (historicatlanta.org )

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta (Photo Courtesy of Bicycle Tours Atlanta)

Paine worked with Elliot to develop the itinerary and create an original draft of the compelling, well-researched stories that are shared at each stop (Elliot and her staff continually research, expand, and refine the content). These enthusiastically conveyed narratives, and the thoughtfully curated routing, set a standard that gay tour organizers everywhere should aspire to. And because participants move from stop to stop on a bicycle traversing approximately nine miles over three leisurely paced hours, it’s able to cover much more ground than the queer history walks available elsewhere, which tend to stick to several square blocks of gayborhood, be it Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Paris’ Marais, or London’s Soho.

The itinerary loops through multiple sections of town, from leafy residential areas with dense queer populations to nightlife hubs to government centers, providing visitors with a lay of the land that will help them make the most of further days exploring Atlanta on their own.

Atlanta’s evergreen queer attractions include the boutiques and watering holes of the Piedmont Park neighborhood (piedmontpark.org); to Bulldogs, a longtime hub of Black gay nightlife (893 Peachtree St. NE. Tel: 404-872-3025. facebook.com/bulldogsbaratlanta/ ); to the Out Front queer theater company (999 Brady Ave. NW. Tel: 404-448-2755. outfronttheatre.com); to My Sister’s Room, one of the few remaining lesbian bars in the United States ( 84 12th St. NE, Tel: 678-705-4585. mysistersroom.com )

Among the mainstream tourist staples well worth exploring are World of Coca-Cola , with its irresistibly bubbly spin on consumerism (121 Baker St. NW. Tel: 404-676-5151. worldofcocacola.com); the National Center for Human and Civil Rights (100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. NW. Tel: 678-999-8990. civilandhumanrights.org ), while absorbing, it includes a slightly disappointing modicum of queer content; and the top-notch aviation history displays at the Delta Flight Museum (1060 Delta Blvd. Tel: 404-715- 7886. deltamuseum.org ).

Long the city’s most popular attraction, The Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St. Tel: 404-581-4000. georgiaaquarium.org) remains a can’t-miss destination, even more so since the 2020 debut of its utterly hypnotic new exhibit, Sharks! Predators of the Deep. Hammerheads, zebra sharks, sand tigers and enormous, elegant manta rays circumnavigate the 185-foot long, 20- foot deep, 1.2-million-gallon environment, swimming through shimmering clouds of small silver pilchard fish. Standing by the floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows is like being in the front row of a 3D IMAX nature documentary, except the animals are really there alongside you. If you’re particularly adventurous, a by-appointment upgrade to the aquarium’s general admission charge offers the opportunity to don a wetsuit and mask and be submerged in a cage to observe the sharks up close. In a heartening sign of the times, the aquarium notes that it offers “private changing stalls to include all those who may not conform to a binary system of gender.”

SCAD FASH

Bellyard Lounge

Bellyard Lounge (Photo Courtesy of Bellyard Atlanta)

SCAD FASH is the zippy nickname for one of Atlanta’s most recently opened, and longwindedly monikered museums: The Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Fashion and Film (1600 Peachtree Rd. NW. Tel: 404-253-3132. scadfsh.org ), which debuted in 2015 but remains under-the-radar of most tourists. The jewel box 10,000 square foot gallery space features exhibitions that appeal to stylish sensibilities. After last year’s blockbuster show of Ruth E. Carter’s instantly recognizable costumes for Black Panther and other movies, the 2022 slate includes photographer Robert Fairer’s frantic, flamboyant backstage images from runway shows by Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and others, as well as a collection of Hong Kong designer Robert Wuns dramatic, multi-layered outfits, which have been worn by the likes of Billy Porter, Lady Gaga, and Lizzo.

Fans of sleek design can also get a visual, and visceral, thrill at the Porsche Experience Center (1 Porsche Dr. Tel: 888-204- 7474. porschedriving.com ), part of the legendary French automaker’s U.S. headquarters. If the glossy curves and angles of the complex look familiar, that’s because they play mission control in Marvel’s Avengers movies. For a steep fee, guests can get behind the wheel of the latest models and tool around the on-site track themselves, or ride shotgun while a professional driver hits the gas hard, hugs the curves, whips donuts and demonstrates the best of brake engineering with hair-raising sudden stops. Even if you haven’t got deep pockets, there’s lots to appreciate here, including high-definition driving simulators, a collection of classic cars, and a guided tour with lots of background on Porsche history

Atlanta is experiencing exciting new growth, with alluring businesses and attractions continuing to open on a regular basis. Design-conscious visitors will want to check out two stunning hotel developments. The Hotel Midtown (188 14th St. Tel: 404-892-6000. hotelmidtown.com ) opened last August as part of the Hilton Curio Collection, the grand scale of its lobby, bar, and other public areas are brought down to earth with an eclectic collection of objects d’art (think Jeff Koons’ grandmother’s attic), wildly patterned wallpapers and carpet, and a whimsical cave-like chamber tucked under a staircase that you can turn into your secret headquarters if there’s business to be mixed with your pleasure.

Austin Motel

From a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, a short passageway leads to the swank Politan Row (1197 Peachtree St. NE. Tel: 404- 228-7941. politanrow.com ), a so-called food hall that, thanks to flattering lighting, long upholstered sofas, and a full bar, feels more like a night in Las Vegas than a quick work week lunch. You can even reserve a Chef’s Table experience, which brings you and your guests a multi-course meal featuring highlights from the hall’s 11 vendors who make the likes of gourmet Vietnamese food, tandoori-baked pizza, and authentic Caribbean stews.

The Bellyard hotel (1 Interlock Ave. Tel: 404-806-8333. bellyardhotel.com ), part of the Interlock shopping/office/dining complex, is a beautifully conceived mix of indoor and outdoor space, with casual-chic contemporary lounge areas opening onto deck spaces with vibrant tropical murals and a rooftop with enviable city views. Guest rooms feature handsome hardwood flooring and, in some cases, Japanese soaking tubs.

Austin Motel

Also in the complex is the irresistibly juvenile pleasure of Puttshack (1115 Howell Mill Rd. Tel: 404-738-7888. puttshack.com ), a high-tech mini-golf course with automated ball tracking and scoring, holes with mechanical novelties that evoke beer pong and a roulette wheel, and a full gastropub menu.

Two adventurous new gay-owned restaurants showcase distinctive cuisines of the American South and South America. In the College Park neighborhood, Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar (3721 Main St. Tel. 404-228-4897. virgilsgullahkitchen.com ), owned by husbands Gee and Juan Smalls, offers diners the relatively rare opportunity to sample the homestyle dishes of the Gullah Geechee community, descendants of Central and West Africans who were once slaves on the barrier islands stretching from North Carolina to Northern Florida. The unique Gullah language and cuisine has been preserved, in part through geographic isolation. Virgil’s guests can sample the likes of skillet fried corn, spiced crab rice, okra-rich gumbo, and other specialties infused with seasonings typical of Sierra Leone.

El Vinedo Local

El Vinedo Local (Photo Courtesy of El Vinedo Local)

Ideally located just a block from the lavish 92-year-old Fox Theatre (660 Peachtree St. NE. Tel: 855-285-8499. foxtheatre.org ), which offers touring musicals and concerts, is El Vinedo Local (730 Peachtree St. NE.

Tel: 404-596-8239. elvinedolocal.com ), an all-day Spanish-accented hot spot from business and life partners Robert Kaster and Keith Miller. Kaster, a passionate oenophile with certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, offers an impeccably curated selection of Latin American wines along with enthusiastic advice on pairing them with Uruguay-born Chef Bruno Vergara’s sublime arepas, empanadas, and authentic Peruvian ceviches. Within months of opening last summer, the sleekly designed restaurant with its retractable glass wall and welcoming street front patio, had quickly become a spot to see and be seen for Atlanta’s sophisticated queer young professionals.

Even Atlanta’s club scene continues to throb with growth as illustrated by the spectacular new nightspot, Future (50 Lower Alabama St., 180 SW. Tel: 470- 225-1955. future-atlanta.com ). The 14,000 square foot bi-level dance bar, cabaret and restaurant features immersive sound and light systems, is home to Atlanta’s top drag show, hosted by local Drag Race favorite Phoenix, and books a steady stream of top international DJs.

If you’ve never been to Atlanta, it’s time to get Georgia on your mind. The American south’s booming gay capital is peachy, queen!

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