They say, “Atlanta Influences Everything,” and from the music to film, TV, entrepreneurship and more, it’s hard to find the lie. That being said, there’s always a reason to drop in. Spelman and Morehouse’s epic SpelHouse Homecoming (alums include Stacey Abrams, John David Washington, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Oscar-nominated actor Brian Tyree Henry, Spike Lee, and the ultimate SpelHouse union of LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson) is taking place this week, and ONE Musicfest featuring ESSENCE Festival headliners Megan Thee Stallion and Janet Jackson is right around the corner. When it comes to experiencing the A, you can’t do it all in one visit, but you can enjoy plenty. Here’s a taste of the hot spots to hit up.
Where to Stay in the A
Picking a great hotel is always key. And while The A has many to offer, the barely two-year-old Thompson Buckhead stands out. Located in one of Atlanta’s best-known areas, it’s been the site of choice for the 2023 BET Her Awards, Atlanta Fashion Week’s fete for T.I., and Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s VIP reintroduction of the historic Atlanta Life Insurance Company.
Relaxed luxury with notes of African chic give the Thompson an easy yet elegant feel. Rooms are comfortable with many showcasing spectacular views; the lobby bar known as “the jewel box” is lively; food from its Italian restaurant Dirty Rascal pleases, but Tesserae, its rooftop lounge and bar with jaw-dropping north-to-south Atlanta views, is the showstopper. Black excellence abounds as general manager Donte P. Johnson oversees it all, with master mixologist, Zimbabwe’s own Thandi Walton, as head of beverage.
For a more low-key vibe without sacrificing style and creativity, try Midtown’s 111-room hidden gem The Darwin Hotel in Old Fourth Ward, not far from Ponce City Market and the famed Atlanta BeltLine. The lobby area features art from hip local artist Travis Love, known for his collabs with Coca-Cola and Adidas. General manager Alfonce Jermaine McKinney III, a proud HBCU alum, loves embracing local entrepreneurs so while there, you can find products from the handmade, vegan, cruelty-free brand Sabrina Breanna Skincare and Haircare, and UNOIA, the premium CBD brand from couple Brandé Elise ad Danielle Gray, which ESSENCE featured in 2020. At the bar, indulge in Black-owned spirits like Bay Area-based Common Ground Gin.
New Yorkers already acquainted with the two Brooklyn locations from the husband-and-wife team, Hampton and Spelman’s own Alfonso and Jamila Wright, will be pleased to find Brooklyn Tea Atlanta in Castleberry Hill, powered by Spelman alum Kerri-Ann T. Thomas. Lounge on a couch while sipping tea faves like Cream Earl Grey and Relax.Relate.Release or the boozy Bourbon-Infused Hot Coffee and Tequila-Infused Hibiscus. All food is vegan, with breakfast items available all day. The Biggie cookie is a perennial hot seller. Also community-minded, they stepped up with the Childlike Wonder tea, donating proceeds to honor Morehouse Class of 2025 students Hugh Douglas and Christion Files Jr., who died in a tragic car accident in September.
For a luxury afternoon tea experience with soul, head to newly opened The Dirty Tea in Virginia Highland. Years in the making, mother-daughter duo Rita Armstrong Campos and Brittany Campos Pauyo have created a vibe that updates and honors the centuries-old tea tradition with their own unique flair. We’re talking stylish pots filled with amazing tea, food towers with the tastiest cucumber sandwiches, delectable chocolates, and Anita Baker’s voice floating in the air. Go all high fashion or come comfortable and chic knowing that selfies will be a must, especially in front of the spot’s picturesque signature backdrop. Yes, it’s nearly $100 per person to be their guest, but being there is priceless!
Few do eat and chill as well as Atlanta. First thing to know: Brunch is a big deal, but it rarely begins before 1 or 2 p.m. Popular in-city options, all Black-owned, include Breakfast at Barneys, Atlanta Breakfast Club, chef Deborah VanTrece’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, Bar Vegan from Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan fame, as well as the Midtown and West Midtown locations of Toast on Lenox and Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar. Brunch at Rock Steady is also cool, but turning up upstairs to a mash of hip-hop, Afrobeats, and Caribbean music with flavorful fare like jerk lamb egg rolls and expertly made cocktails at night is even better. Apt. 4B in Buckhead is another option for food, drinks, and grooves.
The Seafood Menu, Lil Baby’s co-venture with Howard alum Chad Dillon, known for his successful The Boiler Seafood Atlanta in Buckhead located near the AUC, surprises with its largely white and black palette accented by orange banquettes and stylish drawings of Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin, but stays true to expectations in taste.
Marcus Samuelsson has also pulled up with Marcus Bar & Grille, just walking distance from The King Center and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home, bringing cool, kickback feels with upscale leanings. Keeping it A, walls are dotted with album covers from artists like Killer Mike, T.I., OutKast, and Goodie Mob. The ribs are surprisingly clean eating, the banana pudding is killer, and drinks like So Fresh & So Clean do what they’re made to do. In addition to that, weekly Sunday Suppers feature a live DJ.
If cocktails are the main menu for you, make reservations at the cozy Black-owned The James Room on the BeltLine and The Social House on historic Auburn Avenue or make your way to Rooftop L.O.A., which has a Black owner, for sweeping south-to-north views of Atlanta. You can also stay grounded at the bar at Drawbar at Bellyard Hotel, which always makes guests feel welcomed.
The NBA is more than basketball with the Atlanta Hawks. And now that the season has begun, dribble a little on your own courtesy of their newly appointed chief culinary officer, Atlanta native G. Garvin, who also has LowCountry Steak in Midtown and Concourse A in the airport. There’s also Kandi Burruss’ Old Lady Gang, famed wing spot J.R. Crickets, and the uniquely flavorful Dolo’s Pizza. Hip-hop often fills State Farm Arena, especially when half-time entertainment features local rappers like Future, Gucci Mane and Jeezy. Club Hawks is so undeniable, you might even catch one of your favorite non-Atlanta celebrities in the building.