Atlanta’s first suburb, this late 19th century intown neighborhood has given way to an exciting food and drink scene in the last decade.
Start your night in Inman Park with an aperitif at Bread & Butterfly, an exquisite jewelbox of a French cafe. Founded by the same team that opened the now-shuttered but highly acclaimed Cakes & Ale, it’s an oasis of calm in an area that draws youthful nightlife crowds on the weekends.
You don’t have to go far for your next stop; next door at Watchman’s, bartenders pour Chartreuse shots from a retrofitted dispenser and serve impeccable daiquiris, swizzles, and highballs in an airy space filled with greenery tumbling from overhead. The small patio fronting busy Krog Street is a hit among guests—but for the full experience, saddle up to the oyster bar and order the bar’s eponymous drink, a martini riff with verjus and Chartreuse, served with a sampling of garnishes (“choose your own adventure”-style).
Old Fourth Ward
Few Atlanta neighborhoods have exploded in growth quite so dramatically as the Old Fourth Ward. Ten years ago, Edgewood Avenue at Boulevard offered little beyond vacant storefronts. Now, it’s arguably one of the most popular nightlife destinations in the city.
Few businesses on this strip draw quite as much attention as Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, a wacky bar shellacked in irreverent art made by the bar’s proprietor, church deacon-turned-folk artist Grant Henry, a.k.a. Sister Louisa. Order a Spiritual Sangria, pause to take in Henry’s campy paintings, and head upstairs for a game of ping-pong. Oh, and you can just call it “Church.”Cattycorner from Church, there are more games to be had at Joystick Gamebar, a self-described “nerdy dive bar.” Here, late-night revelers line up to play vintage arcade games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter while sipping Atlanta-made beer, boozy slushies, or playful house drinks like the Cowboys and Indians, a whiskey highball with chai soda.
As exciting as a Saturday night on Edgewood is, little of it would be here without Sound Table, a dimly lit, low-key cocktail lounge and dance club. Opened by service industry vets in 2010, Sound Table still feels just as hip as the day it opened its doors. With a roster of DJs spinning funk, soul, and hip-hop, music is key to the distinctive vibe here. So are the smartly made drinks, which years ago helped set the stage for the spread of cocktail culture in Atlanta. Pay homage to this pioneer with one of the bar’s signatures, the Horse’s Neck, then stick around until the dance floor is in full swing.Without some advance planning, you probably won’t be able to snag a coveted table at Staplehouse, which has garnered many awards, a Beard nomination, and plenty of national acclaim. But you can slip upstairs to Paper Crane Lounge, the restaurant’s cocktail bar tucked away in a former private dining room. The tiny drinks list changes regularly, but with any luck, they’ll have the sparkling Negroni on offer.
Atlanta’s iconic Peachtree Street, which slices through the city from downtown all the way up to Buckhead, is flanked by high-rises and office buildings in Midtown. But don’t be fooled by its all-business facade: Tucked away inside some of those skyscrapers, and along tree-lined side streets, hide some of Atlanta’s finest bars.
One of those places is Empire State South, a standard-bearer of food and drink that, due to its location just off the rear lobby of an office building, isn’t the place one stumbles upon fortuitously. Here, Kellie Thorn helms a seasonal menu of thoughtful, creative drinks like the city’s best Pimm’s Cup—made with a caramelized lemon gastrique, it’s one of the bar’s signatures, and when it isn’t scorching outside, is best enjoyed outside over a game of bocce. (Cognac fans, take note: Kellie’s an expert and can steer you toward the good stuff.) Don’t skip the wine list, either: sommelier Steven Grubbs curates some of the most interesting, unconventional bottles to be found in Atlanta.From there, stroll two blocks down Juniper Street, where you’ll come upon the understated, easy-going cool of The Lawrence. Here, you’ll find one of the drinks that defined Atlanta: the Trois Cocktail, named for the before-its-time bar where The Lawrence’s former beverage director, Erik Simpkins, made a name for himself in the mid-2000s. Trois is no longer, but its namesake drink is still being served at The Lawrence. Order the Trois Cocktail, with green tea-infused gin and rosewater, and find out why it convinced the city to try egg white drinks in a time when most guests were still asking for vodka sodas. By now, it might be getting late—and nowhere does late nights like Bon Ton. This zany outpost, opened by Simpkins in 2017, draws energetic revelers like moths to a flame (or a neon sign). The drink list is equal parts brilliant and tongue-in-cheek, not to mention loads of fun: Simpkins pays homage to New Orleans classics like the Sazerac and French 75, but also offers quirky riffs, like a smoked bourbon mai tai and a frozen Vietnamese Irish coffee. Do as Atlantans do and snap a selfie in front of the bar’s highly Instagrammable “Fancy Service” neon sign.
Lastly, while 8Arm is on the very outskirts of Midtown (it’s technically in Poncey-Highland), the tiny yet always-buzzing spot is worth a sojourn down Ponce. In the venue’s outdoor bar (a hollowed-out shipping container), Joshua Fryer and his team serve drinks from a tightly curated, heavily researched cocktail list, along with carafes of esoteric vermouths and fortified wines. With fuschia overhead lighting and a disco ball dangling overhead, it’s all about the vibes here.
Yes, Decatur is technically its own city. But with an absurdly high concentration of great food and beverage establishments relative to its tiny size, it’s worth the 20-minute drive (or MARTA ride) from intown Atlanta. Once you’re there, you can relish in the easy walkability and charm of the Decatur Square, where just about everything, from a Beard-nominated restaurant to one of the country’s best beer bars, is within just a few blocks.
Where to start your night in Decatur? You can throw a rock in any direction and hit a good bar, but it’s tough to beat slurping a frozen whiskey and Coke under the string lights on the patio at Victory Sandwich Bar. The boozy slushies at this cheeky hangout are practically the stuff of local legend, and the sliders and ping-pong tables aren’t too far behind.For your next stop, you won’t need to go very far at all: S.O.S. Tiki is from the same folks behind Victory, and is in fact located just behind Victory. Come for the ample punch bowls and over-the-top tiki concoctions like the classic Zombie; stay for the retro mid-century kitsch and throwback tropical escapism.
If your tastes veer more toward pilsners than punch bowls, head to the Decatur Square, where you’ll find Brick Store Pub. Long before craft beer began its explosive growth in Georgia, Brick Store has been serving tough-to-find Belgians and esoteric brews from independent producers in a cozy tavern setting. Head upstairs to the Belgian bar, which offers dozens of rare bottlings in a quiet, tucked-away nook.To cap off your night, make your way over to the railroad tracks for one of the South’s crown jewels of drinking and dining. Kimball House, whose bar program has been nominated for a James Beard Award for five years running, is a must-visit for its masterful drinks. Settle into a plush tufted leather booth, or grab a bar stool facing the gleaming backbar, which is stacked quite literally to the rafters with hundreds of bottles (some that require a ladder to reach). You truly cannot go wrong with a cocktail here, but don’t miss the over-the-top absinthe service from a classic fountain—it goes great with the oysters.