Headline: The ATL
No longer Hotlanta, the Capital of the New South is a diverse city where rich history blends with modern culture
Note: This was originally written for OverTime Magazine
By Jeff Louderback
Atlanta – Don’t refer to the city as Hotlanta any longer. It’s now called the ATL, which is the code for the bustling airport and a trendy moniker befitting of a culturally diverse city where a Hip Hop culture thrives in concert with an abundance of new grandiose venues like the $220 million Georgia Aquarium and the $100 million World of Coca-Cola.
Regarded as the Capital of the New South for its bustling corporate presence, Atlanta is a city where more than half the adult population is from somewhere else. What transplants and visitors alike find is that the Old South stereotypes of white-columned mansions surrounded by magnolias owned by laid back folks with accents thicker than molasses do not paint an accurate picture. What they do discover is that Atlanta is a cosmopolitan community that embraces its history rich with both Civil War and Civil Rights Movement roots and its present-day culture that includes Southern belles and hip hop artists living in a place where the serene South and the fast-paced metropolitan city lifestyle thrive in harmony.
Atlanta has a plethora of museums, attractions, restaurants and night spots to occupy even a prolonged visit, and a multitude of newer luxury hotels to serve as a base for your stay.
Named one of the hottest new hotels in the world last year by Conde Nast Traveler, TWELVE Atlantic Station (www.twelvehotels.com) in Midtown Atlanta has an array of amenities such as a kiosk that allows you to check in without speaking to a live person. Rates begin under $200 for a one-bedroom suite, which offers a full-sized kitchen with stainless steel appliances, separate sleeping and living areas, floor-to-ceiling windows, LCD flat-panel TVs, a DVD player, and a wireless connection.
Situated in Atlantic Station, a popular shopping and entertainment district, TWELVE features GHOSTSM (Guest Hotel Operating System Terminal), which permits guests to request various services online. Using the flat-screen monitor and keyboard that are standard in every suite, guests can order room service, make specific housekeeping requests (additional bath linens, sewing kit, toiletry items, etc.), contact the concierge, and request their car from the valet among other options.
TWELVE Centennial Park is located in downtown Atlanta with 102 rooms steps away from the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola and CNN Center.
If you prefer current downtown accommodations, the venerable Ritz-Carlton Atlanta (www.ritzcarlton.com) is a short walk from the aforementioned attractions. Persian rugs grace marble floors, silk-tapestries and African mahogany-paneled walls are adorned with a collection of 18th- and 19th-century paintings, and valuable antiques are showcased throughout its public areas. Elegant rooms are furnished with majestic mahogany pieces, and some have four-poster beds and bay windows. The Atlanta Grill, which overlooks Peachtree Street, specializes in Southern-inspired cuisine.
Many visitors are surprised at the volume of attractions in Atlanta. The centerpiece is the Georgia Aquarium (www.georgiaaquarium.org), the city’s top tourist destination with more than three million visitors in 2006. Resembling a giant glass-and-metal ark, the aquarium features five main themed areas and is widely known for the whale sharks that reside in the Ocean Voyager section.
Developers of the Georgia Aquarium believed that bigger is better. The structure itself boasts the most square footage of any aquarium in the world at a half million, the most fish with 100,000 representing 500 species from around the globe, and the most water with eight million gallons. The two whale sharks are the world’s biggest fish, and the facility also displays one of the most expansive indoor coral reef exhibits and the largest viewing window in North America.
Adjoining the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park (www.centennialpark.com) is an urban green space that was built in conjunction with the 1996 Olympics and was the site of the deadly bombing that happened during the Games. The park has have exhibits that honor the athletes and the city leaders behind the Olympiad. Children like to play in the Fountain of Rings, which is a colorfully lighted, computer-controlled water sculpture boasting 251 jets of water shooting as high as 35 feet in the air.
The Georgia Aquarium’s next-door neighbor is the new World of Coca-Cola (www.woccatlanta.com), where a 3-D movie ride transports audiences on an adventure to discover the beverage maker’s secret recipe. The museum, which is about twice the size of its former location, has more than 1,100 Coke artifacts never exhibited before.
Among the old favorites that are displayed include one of the company’s original prototype contour bottles (only two exist), and a soft-drink dispenser used in 1985 on the Space Shuttle Challenger. One section highlights Coke television commercials, and the popular tasting room that was part of the original museum is available in the new facility, where visitors can try 70 of the company’s 400 worldwide beverage brands, including exotic tastes such as Beverly, a bitter, ginger-ale coloured soda offered in Italy, and Bibo Candy and Pine Nut, which are sold in Africa.
Nearby, the CNN Center (www.cnn.com/studiotour) offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world’s premiere 24-hour news network. The 50-minute tour meanders through a special effects studio, where guests see how on-screen graphics are created and also learn why weather personalities never glance directly at the maps to which they are pointing. The tour also peaks into actual newsrooms, control rooms and broadcast studios where live newscasts originate. Sometimes you can see one in progress. You can even produce a mock newscast of your own and take your place behind the anchor desk.
For many history enthusiasts, a visit to Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood is the highlight of their trip. This is where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, and where several blocks have been set aside as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/malu). The National Park Service Visitor Center is an ideal starting point. You can tour Dr. King’s Birth Home, a pristine two-story Victorian where you can immerse yourself in the early years of America’s foremost civil rights leader. Next to the visitor center is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as co-pastor with his father. A living memorial to Dr. King, the King Center is the site of his crypt.
Atlanta features a variety of attractions that are lesser known but equally interesting, such as the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum (www.bcatlanta.com); the High Museum of Art (www.high.org), which is host to an exhibit of works from the Louvre in Paris; the historic Fox Theatre (www.foxtheatre.org), which was built in 1929 and hosts everything from ballet to Broadway shows; and the Atlanta History Center Museum (www.atlhist.org), which has the world’s largest collection of Civil War artifacts and recently opened a 27,500-square-foot interactive wing memorializing the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
Atlanta is also known for its culinary delights and night life. The city’s cuisine ranges from grits and biscuits to caviar and sushi along with Southern comfort food and barbeque to delicacies from around the world.
The Flying Biscuit Café (www.flyingbiscuit.com) is a breakfast haven for biscuits stuffed with eggs, cheese and turkey sausage among other options. The Watershed (404-378-4900) is a Southern restaurant owned by one of the Indigo Girls. Vivacious cocktails and views of downtown Atlanta are on the menu at Sun Dial (www.sundialrestaurant.com) atop the Westin on Peachtree Street. Located near Georgia tech’s football stadium, The Varsity (www.thevarsity.com) is regarded as the oldest double-decker drive-thru and is a sanctuary for burgers, chili dogs, onion rings and the dessert-beverage creation called the Frosted Orange.
The Compound in Midtown and Tongue and Groove in Buckhead are among the trendiest night spots. If you want to partake in Atlanta’s hip-hop culture, head to the Golden Glide (www.atlantarollerskating.com). Beyonce celebrated her 21st birthday here, and hip-hop artist Dallas Austin paid homage to skate dancers in his motion picture “The ATL.” It’s an appropriate way to get acclimated to why the new Atlanta is “The ATL” and not Hotlanta or a scene from Gone With the Wind.