A Design Lover’s Field Guide to Atlanta
Expect art, cool vintage shops, and tacos.
Published Sep 24, 2019 4:28 PM
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There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a new city, but when you only have days (or hours) to explore, it helps to have a curated list from travelers you trust. That’s where Domino’s Field Guide comes in. Compiled by editors and design-minded locals around the globe, consider this a need-to-know edit of the coolest bars, hotels, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques in the top design cities. Next up: Atlanta.
Atlanta has so much more to offer than just peaches. It’s a vibrant city full of juxtaposition and character. The city is split up into unique boroughs with distinctive personalities from the luxe Buckhead neighborhood to the street art-laden Little Five Points. With so many different things to do, Atlanta appeals to a wide array of visitors, though the big selling point has to be the art. Atlanta is known for mastery in every type of art, from a rich musical history to a dynamic visual arts scene. Which, coincidentally, makes it the perfect destination for design aficionados.
We have this on good authority from locals. Artist Angela Blehm, whose Atlanta home is as colorful and lively as the city in which it is situated, has been a resident for over a decade. One of the city’s newest part-time residents is Connie Matisse, the co-founder and the chief creative officer of upscale ceramic brand East Fork—the brand just opened a storefront in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District. Offering both seasoned and fresh-eyed perspectives on Atlanta, we asked Blehm and Matisse (and enlisted the help of Lindsey Glass-Deshmukh, East Fork’s Atlanta store manager, for good measure) to share their list of must-see design destinations in the Georgia capital. Here’s why Atlanta deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.
Where to Stay
A veritable Atlanta landmark, Hotel Clermont has lived many lives since its opening in 1939. Now, newly revived, it sits right above the institutional Clermont Lounge, and with a design that blurs the line between past and present, it’s Matisse’s favorite place to stay in the city. “It’s centrally located, and the vibe in their basement French bistro, Tiny Lou’s, is tres hip,” she explains. Go for the maximalist patterns and colorful furniture and stay for the service and the charm of the place.
For a more old-school stay, check out this bed and breakfast. It’s not often that you find a boutique inn, but Stonehurst Place offers all the character and nostalgia associated with the enterprise coupled with an unbeatable location in the middle of bustling downtown Atlanta. There are only six rooms, each fully decked out in classic sophistication. It’s also an eco-friendly boutique inn, largely reliant on solar energy. You don’t see that every day.
Where to Eat
“Golden Eagle pays homage to ’70s-era cocktails and fine dining in the least trite ways,” says Matisse. It’s an endearing blend of old-school glamour and delightfully unpretentious food. PSA: It serves pigs in a blanket after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and it’s a great dinner spot.
If you’re looking for more of a divey spot, Blehm recommends Lloyd’s Bar and Lounge, which she calls the perfect “kitschy, throwback restaurant.” It’s a no-frills diner that’s a great place to sample some of that famous Southern comfort food.
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For a lunchtime bite, head to Muchacho. Even the website is design-friendly, boasting a collage of imagery in lieu of any real information; the only indicator that this is a restaurant is the “hot coffee and tacos” script at the top. An odd combination, to be sure, but according to Matisse, it’s not to be missed. The colorful, retro interior is a decorative (not to mention, super Instagrammable) treat, but the real draw may be Muchacho’s sprawling patio, which she says is an ideal spot to lounge during the Atlanta heat.
Splash out on your last night in Atlanta by heading to Marcel, a steakhouse with an opulent dining room that Matisse recommends for special occasions. “The steaks are delicious, and the Caesar salad is prepared tableside,” she explains. “It’s equally fun to cozy up to the bar and get everything on the appetizer menu along with a perfectly stirred martini from its knowledgeable bar staff.”
Where to Shop
Start your Atlanta shopping excursion by tapping into the city’s past. If you’re willing to dig, Blehm recommends Decades Vintage Shop. She also loves City Issue on Elizabeth Street, which she says is a treasure trove of vintage mid-century-modern furnishings.
If you time your visit right, you may get to take advantage of Scott Antique Market, which runs every second weekend of the month and is Glass-Deshmukh’s pick for can’t-miss vintage. “Want a hand-colored Wallace Nutting print or a 100-year-old bowl made from Chinese paper? This is your place,” she says.
Step into an Atlanta institution by stopping at any of the stores created by husband-and-wife shopkeeping team Sid and Ann Mashburn. “The style is firmly uptown-dapper, but I love how they mix in more eclectic accessories, and the service on the sales floor should be a standard bearer for retailers,” explains Matisse. In addition to separate menswear and womenswear stores, the duo recently opened a new coffee shop called Mashburn Coffee, should you need to caffeinate between stops.
Minimalist fashionistas will want to check out Megan Huntz, a local clothing designer whose fuchsia and bright red spring palette served as an inspiration to the East Fork team. Speaking of East Fork, don’t miss its recently opened boutique. You’ll leave clutching more than a few sleek ceramics.
Finally, if you want to extend your stay, consider adding some life to your hotel room and stop at Gardenia flower shop in Virginia Highlands. The beautiful shop is run by Ayla Gurganus. “It’s a space you want to linger in for a while,” says Glass-Deshmukh. “Her dried mini bouquets make the perfect gift.”
In a Nutshell
You’ll need energy to sample as much as you can of Atlanta, so start the day off at one of the city’s many coffee shops. Aside from having the best name, Dancing Goats Coffee Bar (the Ponce City Market location) also has the coolest assortment of eclectic chairs. Otherwise, East Pole Coffee is an off-the-beaten-path spot boasting some of the best espresso in the city and intriguing seasonal beverages like a peppercorn and citrus latte. There’s also a delicious selection of food, so grab a pastry to go and fuel up.
Next, hit up the city’s design hot spots. Glass-Deshmukh recommends the High Museum; the art museum recently hosted an infinity mirror exhibit from Yayoi Kusama and is always bringing new talent in. Side note: The museum also offers Friday jazz nights, which Blehm recommends if you’re looking for an evening activity. Stop by the Isamu Noguchi Playscapes in Piedmont Park to see the iconic Japanese sculptor’s take on a traditional playground.
After a quick lunch at Muchacho, spend some time perusing the city’s antique and vintage shops at your leisure. Stroll through the Westside Provisions District and pay a visit to some favorite stores. Don’t miss Brick + Mortar for handpicked vintage pieces and an impressive array of candles.
Indulge in a bit of pre-dinner pampering with a visit to Jeju Korean Spa. “You can steam in one of its jade or baked clay saunas, get a life-changing body scrub, and eat a pretty excellent bowl of bibimbap all under one roof,” says Glass-Deshmukh. And if you’re in the area after March 23, be among the first to check out the chicest hair salon–turned–beauty shop, Carol & Betty.
If you’re in the mood for something low-key to finish off your day, Matisse recommends Decatur’s Kimball House. “It’s the only bar I’ve been to in the last eight years still doing the whole suspender-wearing, mustachioed mixologist thing in a way that’s 100 percent charming and 0 percent eye roll–inducing,” she explains. “That’s a compliment!”
After unwinding with some cocktails, flip the narrative on what constitutes as a nightcap and head over to Doggy Dogg, a hot dog shack across the street that Matisse swears is everything you could need after one too many negronis. The best things in life don’t always have to be glamorous.