Making the Most of 36 Hours in Atlanta

There is too much food, history, art and architecture to consume in Georgia’s own maximum city. It is impossible to catch your breath here.  
Making the Most of 36 Hours in Atlanta 10

Day 1

11.00am, FOX THEATRE

The Fox Theatre, from a distance, does look peculiar. Its minarets and domes seem plucked Fox Theatre, Atlantaout from somewhere in the Middle East. Looking at ablution fountains and gold-painted columns in its foyer, you inhabit again the worlds of Aladdin and Arabian Nights. This must be how they lived. The Islamic architectural influence is easily explainable. Initially planned as a Yaarab Shrine Temple, the building only became a movie palace in 1929 when motion picture mogul William Fox stepped in with funds the Shriners could ill afford. The ornate ballroom upstairs resembles a Ramses II temple in Egypt. Tables in the ladies lounge have sphinxes attached to them, their chairs mimic thrones, and everything is grand. The auditorium itself seats 4,665 patrons. The 96 crystals embedded in the ceiling look like stars, and its Bedouin canopy only boosts the theatre’s faultless acoustics. Fox’s October line-up is testament to the venue’s versatility—The King and I, Wilco, author David Sedaris, and then Hillary Clinton in November. But even if you don’t catch one of these acts, do sign up for one of Fox’s tours. A week before he passed away on April 21, 2016, Prince had performed here for the last time. This performing arts venue still makes history. foxtheatre.org

 

12.45pm, PONCE CITY MARKET

Ponce City, AtlantaIt has retail outlets, restaurants, food halls, but since it opened in 2015, Ponce City Market has never felt like a mall. Sears, Roebuck & Co., a department store chain, originally used this building as a warehouse, office and shop, but stretched over 2,10,00,000 square feet, the premises were always of a size that could fit all. The brands—many of which are international and recognisable—have enough space to carve an individual identity without feeling stifled. Eating in food halls can feel claustrophobic, but the high ceilings of Ponce and its ample tables leave one with enough room to savour Atlanta’s renowned H&F burger, Korean steamed buns from Simply Seoul Kitchen, and even Botiwalla’s almost authentic vadapav. City Winery has its own lines of wines available on tap, and if their buzz does not prove enough to take the afternoon’s edge off, you’re advised to trek up to the market’s rooftop.
Skyline Park has amusements for children—a skyline slide, a heege tower—and a beer garden for weary parents. The market not just offers a valet service for your bicycles, but also one for those lonely dogs. poncecitymarket.com

 

2.00pm, BELTLINE

Betline, AtlantaWalking onto the BeltLine from Ponce can be somewhat disconcerting. The procession of Atlantans running up and down this stretch might leave you filled with shame. There is little chance of you ever being as fit. Once a railway corridor, the BeltLine is now being developed as a multi-use trail, and tells a story of Atlanta’s revival. By 2030, the 35-kilometre BeltLine loop will of course have a streetcar, but for now, walking down the four already opened trails segments can be an experience that is arguably complete enough. The Enota and Maddox Parks are being expanded, giving the area and its joggers a much larger green cover. Art installations—some obtuse, some breathtaking—now line the once barren corridor. Graffiti artists have also reclaimed the line’s walls and bridges. No matter how long you spend here, there will remain something more to see. There’s something for everyone here. This is where Atlanta hangs out. beltline.org

 

4.00pm, HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

High Museum of Art, AtlantaUsually gigantic, the works of British sculptor AnishKapoor often take over the rooms they are installed in. Having taken over half a wall in the High Museum, Kapoor’s “Untitled” (2010) does something marvellous. Its many mirror fragments multiply your reflection a few hundred times over. Your voice reverberates, and space suddenly adds to itself an extra dimension or two. While a selfie is a must here, High gives you plenty of other opportunities to bring out your phone. The museum’s collection of over 15,000 works goes back to the 18th century, and you find on display the paintings of Frnacesco di Giorgio, Nicolas Tournier and Benjamin West. As you walk High’s spiral staircase, art becomes manifest, an era at a time. high.org

 

6.30pm, THE VORTEX

The Vortex, AtlantaThough the giant phallic sculpture near its entrance is gauche, it does help The Vortex Bar and Grill set its tone of decadence and permissibility. If you ask nicely, the bartender will even let you smoke at the bar. An “official idiot-free zone” since 1992, Vortex is where Atlanta comes to drink its night and sorrows away. On the weekends, the establishment closes its doors only at 3 a.m. The walls have hilarious bumper stickers, and skeletons hang comically from the ceiling. The affable waitresses dress provocatively, and they all recom-mend you try the ‘Vortex Burger’. It is large, sloppy and sinful, but the word in midtown Atlanta is that it is also the city’s best. thevortexatl.com

 

Day 2

10.30am, MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, AtlantaFor any defender of freedom, Atlanta can be a bit of a pilgrimage. Martin
Luther King, Jr. was born here. Stepping into the 35-acre Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the first thing you see is familiar—a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi. For King, the Mahatma was an abiding inspiration. He had once said, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable.” The visitor centre you soon enter has on permanent display a multimedia exhibit—“Courage to Lead”—which follows the life of King and also the path of the civil rights move-ment. Spend half an hour here, and you’ll learn how one man can change the world and stop time. A clock here deliberately doesn’t move. It has been stopped at one-past-six. King was assassinated at that time on April 4, 1968, and America was never the same again. Seeing King’s grave—the tomb stands in a pool of water—is a sombre experience. A few metres away, King’s childhood home is humble, but it’s the Ebenezer Baptist Church that is the National Park’s highlight. King was a pastor here. When you sit in its pews, you will hear his voice deliver a persuasive sermon. Your spine will tingle. nps.gov/malu

 

12.30pm, LITTLE FIVE POINTS

Little Five Points, Atlanta Alternatively described as “eclectic” and “hipster,” Little Five Points is everything Atlantans tout it to be. In this East Atlanta district, all the men have beards, and all the women have coloured their hair. Their tattoos are works of high art, and the lines of stores confirm the area’s reputation as the bohemian centre of America’s South. The Junkman’s Daughter, for instance, sells everything from multicoloured wigs to frilly lingerie. A smoking store called 42 Degrees looks after all those ‘toking’ needs, and in Criminal Records, you’ll find that one album you had thought was out of circulation. The Little Points Halloween Festival is predictably the stuff of legend, but in recent times, Little Five Points is gaining the reputation of being a ‘food district’ too. Vortex has a branch here, but we’d recommend the Porter Beer Bar (see pic). Their popcorn has salt and vinegar, and their pretzels all squirm when you pull them apart. littlefivepoints.net

 

2.45pm, WORLD OF COCA-COLA

World of Coca Cola, AtlantaAmerica, we all know, has exported half its culture overseas, but the most omnipresent of these exports would have to be the Coke bottle. So proud is the Coca-Cola Company of its global heritage, they have made a museum that enshrines their contribution to the world’s happiness and calorie quotient. The lines at the World of Coca-Cola are usually long and winding. If you do, however, manage to squeeze your way inside, you will first be taken to ‘The Loft’. There are 200 artefacts here, amongst them a syrup urn that dates back to 1896 and beach pants that were worn first in 1970. A series of 10 galleries maps the history of Coke, all the way from the soda fountain to the can. A polar bear comes to hug you out of nowhere, and just in case you were missing your Thums Up and Limca, there is a ‘Taste It!’ beverage lounge where you can sample all of the company’s drinks that are sold in over a hundred countries. There is even a vault where the secret formula for Coca-Cola has been secured. It’s just begging for
a crafty Mission Impossible heist. worldofcoca-cola.com

 

4.45pm, CNN STUDIO TOUR

CNN Studio Tour On June 1, 1980, the American media mogul Ted Turner dedicated to America the news channel, the Cable News Network (CNN). Since then the channel has grown exponentially, and for followers of world affairs, its anchors Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour are all household names. CNN’s journey—one which took it to all parts of the globe—began in Atlanta. Perhaps less consequential than its Washington and London counterparts now, CNN’s Atlanta studio still exudes something historic. A 50-minute tour gives you a behind-the-scenes look of how a television news channel does its business.
You see the hundreds of cables hidden in the floor. You hear editors whisper into the ears of presenters, and you are able to witness the chaos of a newsroom. The tension here is sometimes palpable. If you’re lucky, you may even see big news break. tours.cnn.com

 

5.45pm, ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDENS

Atlanta Botanical Garden, AtlantaYou don’t have to be a botanist to be able to relish Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens. Its Fuqua Orchid Center, for instance, is home to America’s largest collection of species orchids on permanent display, and even the most hardened of observers will be forced to acknowledge its splendour. Strangely, though, green is not the first colour you remember when you leave the gardens. Nearly 100 cut trees have been planted across the grounds. Thinned from a tree farm, these bare trees have been coloured pink and purple. Even horticulturalists in Atlanta have their quirks. Life-size sculptures—a gazing unicorn, a friendly ogre, a pair of gigantic cobras—have all been made from plants fitted into steel frames. Even from a distance, one spots the 25-foot-tall green sculpture of a goddess who rises with your gaze, slowly from the earth. atlantabg.org

  • Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He works as the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.

  • Supriya Kantak poses as a photographer so she can travel. She is happiest at altitudes of 1,000 metres above sea level. She posts on Instagram as @routes_and_shoots.

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