Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Reggie Roadtrip: Atlanta, Part II

Today's post is the second part of my two-part series on Reggie and Boy's whirlwind visit to Atlanta, the Biggest, Boomingest City of the South.  You can read the first part here.

After an evening spent engaged in imbibulous shenanigans at Reggie's Bloggers & Bankers cocktail party, your sainted author was feeling a bit the worse for wear the next morning and needed to ease back into the land of the living.  And what better antidote is there for such an overindulgence than a Four Seasons room-service breakfast wheeled into one's chamber?

Ahh! Breakfast.

Fortified by our delicious breakfast (and several aspirin) we headed out the door to take in Atlanta's sights.  As we often do when on a Reggie Roadtrip, we began our day by visiting a number of the city's antiques stores.  Exploring such emporia is a requirement for us, not only because of our insatiable collecting instincts, but also because Boy's profession as a Fancy New York Decorator demands it.

Just one of the many aisles filled with antiques and accessories
at Atlanta's 14th Street Antiques Market

While Reggie came away from our antiques shopping expedition empty handed, Boy found a much sought-after object for a client's Park Avenue apartment, so our visit to the Atlanta's antiques district was not only entertaining, but also profitable.

The Atlanta Historical Society History Center
Image courtesy of ATL Intown Living

With obligatory antiquing behind us, we then turned to what brought us to Atlanta in the first place: to visit the city's museums and historic houses.  Our first stop was the Atlanta History Center, the home of the Swan House.  The Atlanta History Center is a handsome Art Moderne building in the swanky Buckhead district.  Reggie only learned afterwards, when researching this post, that it was originally known as the Atlanta Historical Society.  What is it, I ask, with this madness for renaming venerable cultural institutions with more modern, non-elite names?  I still wince whenever I see references to Historic New England, which I shall always consider to be more appropriately named the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, its official name until its board of directors misguidedly decided to rename it, blandly, in an effort to make it sound more "relevant."

But I digress . . .  

The main house of the Smith Family Farm

After touring the Historical Society's History Center's lively exhibitions we made our way to see the two historic houses located on the Society's Center's grounds.

The first site we visited, a compound of buildings, was the Smith Family Farm, built in the 1840s by a slave-owning farming family that was moved to the Society's Center's property in the 1970s.  The Smith Farm is a fascinating window into the way the majority of slave-owning rural southerners lived in the days leading up to the Civil War and a helpful reminder that not all of the South's agricultural plantations were Spanish-moss-dripping, be-columned mansions.

This gives me ideas for when we finish renovating our
summer kitchen/work house at Darlington

I particularly liked the Smith Farm's separate kitchen building, kitted out in authentic period trappings.  We have a summer kitchen/work house at Darlington, ca. 1820, that we are slowly restoring.  One day I hope to be able to use it for something other than what we use it for today, which is to store large clay pots and our gas grill during the winter months.

The Swan House

In stark contrast to the Smith Family Farm stands the grand and justifiably celebrated Swan House, designed by Phillip Trammel Schutze (1890-1982), Atlanta's greatest architect of the twentieth century.  Built in 1928 for the Inman family, the house has been in the Society's Center's collection since 1966, and is maintained by the Society Center as it looked in the 1930s, complete with original furnishings and period-dressed interpreters.

The main hall at the Swan House
Image courtesy of the Devoted Classicist

I first toured the Swan House in the 1980s, but this was Boy's inaugural visit.  Decorated by the venerable Ruby Ross Wood in the grand English taste favored by the upper classes of the East Coast of America during the first half of the twentieth century, the Swan House is as interesting a window into its occupants as the Smith Family Farm is, albeit at a very different level and under very different circumstances.

A vintage postcard view of the Swan House's dining room
Image courtesy of Passion For Postcards

Even though the Swan House was well attended by other visitors the day we toured it, I suspect that its attendance would be dwarfed by the crowds that would flock to Tara, should it actually exist, except in the mind of Margaret Mitchell, the authoress of Gone With the Wind.

Image courtesy of Selznick International Pictures/MGM

Atlanta (and other cities throughout the South) has more than its fair share of houses built to resemble the film-set version of Scarlett O'Hara's girlhood home that stood (in the book, at least) only twenty-five miles from downtown Atlanta.

A first-edition copy of Gone With the Wind
Image courtesy of The Everyday and Beyond

Speaking of Gone With the Wind, I reread it before, during, and after my visit to the city Scarlett moved to during the war.  I first read Mrs. Mitchell's best-selling novel in my twenties, and I remembered it as being a rip-snortin', can't-put-it-down, hefty page turner.  I'm happy to report, Dear Reader, that it still is, thirty years later.  Mrs. Mitchell is a marvelous storyteller, and her characters are vivid and memorable.  And funny, too.  Although Gone With the Wind deals with weighty subjects, it is at times very amusing.  I highly recommend it.

"I ain't noticed Mist' Ashley askin' for to marry you!"
Image courtesy of Selznick International Pictures/MGM

With our tour of the Swan House complete, our thoughts turned to lunch.  My friend Elizabeth Tallmadge recommended that we try the Society's Center's Swan Coach House restaurant for its old-fashioned, ladylike Southern fare.  After we stopped by it, though, Boy and I decided that we couldn't bring ourselves to go inside, as we were practically trampled by an avalanche of bridal-shower-attending girls and ladies tumbling out of the restaurant, flowers and gift bags in hand.  We decided that something a bit more, uh, manly was in order.

The Swan Coach House restaurant
Image courtesy of Tales of Bloggeritaville

After driving around Buckhead (in the pouring rain, which continued all day) we finally settled on a Houston's restaurant, closer into town, mainly because it had ample parking right in front of its entrance, a decided plus in a downpour.  I had never been to a Houston's before (it is a popular chain, I understand), and I was pleasantly impressed by the one we visited.  The food there was quite tasty, the surroundings suitable, and the service very good.  The young woman who waited on us couldn't have been nicer or more professional.

The welcoming man-cave interior of Houston's Restaurant

Another one of our reasons for visiting Atlanta was to spend an afternoon at the High Museum of Art.  Neither Boy nor I had ever been to it.  I was curious to see it, both for its celebrated architecture and its noteworthy collection of art.

Our first attempt to visit the High Museum was not successful, however, as the museum's parking garage was full and the wait to get into nearby parking lots was long.  That's because the High Museum was hosting a traveling exhibition of Vermeer's paintings that was attracting record crowds.  So we decided to drive around Atlanta for a while to see what we could of the city through our rain-splattered car windows.

I loved the ceilings of the High Museum's
modern art galleries

Returning to the museum, we were fortunate to gain entry to its parking garage and tour its collections.  We opted not to see the blockbuster Vermeer show, bypassing its crowds and lines.  As I've written in other posts, when visiting regional museums I generally prefer to skip traveling exhibitions and concentrate my viewing on the permanent collections.

A gallery full of Alex Katz's serene landscapes was most pleasing

Navigating one's way through the High Museum of Art can be somewhat challenging, as the architecture of the complex takes center stage, relegating the art on display to a secondary note.  The galleries containing modern art are the most successful, in my view.  The spaces displaying the museum's excellent collection of pre-twentieth century art and decorative arts?  Less so.

Looking down upon an artists' drawing event 
hosted by the museum the day of our visit

Don't get me wrong, Dear Reader.  I enjoyed visiting the High Museum of Art.  And so did the thousands of other people who did so the day we were there.  The place was hopping!

The two little girls in pink playing hide and seek were adorable

With the "closing-time" gong ringing, Boy and I took our leave of the High Museum and headed out the door with a few hours to kill before meeting up with friends for dinner.  So what did we do?  We went back to Sid Mashburn so that Boy could buy a pair of double monk-strap shoes that had caught his fancy the previous day.

"Get thee behind me, Satan!"

Needless to say, Boy found one or two more must-haves to add to his shopping bag during our second visit at Sid Mashburn . . .

Reggie is most grateful, Dear Reader, that there is not (yet) an outpost of Mr. Mashburn's divine men's clothing store in Manhattan, as he is sure it would hasten the financial ruin of the Darlington household.  Albeit a very well-dressed household!

The Iberian Pig restaurant in trendy Decatur

Dinner that evening was at the very popular Iberian Pig in downtown Decatur.  Organized by our friend Paula Mueller, a group of us gathered there to dig into the restaurant's signature pork-inspired offerings.  "The Pig," as it is known by its regulars, attracts a diverse group of Atlantans, ranging from young professionals to the more-pierced-than-thou crowd.  The night we ate at the Pig it was absolutely packed and the noise level positively ear-splitting.

The happening scene at the Iberian Pig

While I enjoyed the Iberian Pig's delicious, hearty fare, I could barely hear my dinner companions, what with the shrieks and shouting of the surrounding tables of revelers that brought our own table's conversation to a virtual standstill.  Nonetheless, I am glad I ate there, as I am fond of the people with whom I shared our table, and the food was quite tasty.

Even though we left the restaurant after midnight, I was surprised to find ourselves (yet again) stuck in parking-lot-like traffic all the way back to our hotel.  The congestion was due, in part, to crowds of hipsters leaving a huge music festival that took place during the weekend of our visit.  While sitting in our idling car, stuck in traffic, it was most entertaining to watch the antics of the music festival's departing attendees, many of whom were lurching about the streets and crosswalks, visibly bombed.

Stuck in jammed traffic, again!

The next morning, our last in Atlanta, we decided to explore the city's downtown.  We had spent the bulk of our visit in newer parts of the city and wanted to see what we could find of Atlanta's older, original business and shopping districts.  Where it all began, so to speak.

Downtown Atlanta in the 1940s
Image courtesy of Pat Sabin

The business district of old downtown Atlanta is largely comprised of office, municipal, and government buildings, a smattering of hotels, and remnants of what had once been a thriving retail district.

Downtown Atlanta today
Image courtesy of dayka robinson design

As is unfortunately the case with many American cities these days, downtown Atlanta is rather gritty and somewhat forlorn, as are many of the people one sees on its streets on a Sunday morning.  One is not inclined to get out of one's car and stroll around in downtown Atlanta, taking in the sights.

A vintage postcard of the Georgia State Capitol
Image courtesy of Playle

That is particularly so in the blocks immediately surrounding the city's majestic Georgia State Capitol, an area sadly hit with blight, bisected by immense highways and scarred by misguided urban "renewal" in the mid-twentieth century.  I would love to have seen this part of Atlanta in the 1930s and 1940s, when it was still in all its City Beautiful glory.  I'm sorry that much of it is lost to us today except in photographs and old postcards, such as the ones I am showing here.

"Would you make that a double, please?"

Somewhat sobered by our last few hours touring downtown Atlanta we drove our Cadillac ATS rental car back to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to catch our flight to New York.  Over preflight cocktails in the Delta Sky Lounge we agreed that we had thoroughly enjoyed our all-too-brief visit to Atlanta, a sprawling, complex, vibrant, and ever-changing metropolis with all the attractions and challenges that large cities in America have today.  I look forward to returning to the capitol of the Peach Tree State again and seeing more of what this wonderful city has to offer.

Tell me, Dear Reader, do you have any particular favorite places or things to do in Atlanta that you might recommend?

All photographs, unless noted, by Reggie Darling


  1. I am waiting for the day that some misguided board decides to change the name from the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) to the "Family Roots Center"...ugh!

  2. Reggie, I do love Swan House, inside and out. Thanks for the image reference.
    In the late 70s, I lived near the original Houston's near Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The food and service were always dependable -- plus there was always some country music personality there, which was fun.

  3. Too brief but what a pleasure having y'all in town. There are several Atlanta institutions where you will be told politely, with good humor: "We are not a society." Maybe it's time to start a society down here.

  4. RD,
    If you ever have time, assuming you haven't already done so, read "A Man In Full" by Tom Wolfe. It captures the ambitious spirit of Modern Atlanta...

  5. Reggie
    Your next visit to Atlanta should be in the Spring with Dogwood and Azalea in bloom. Grab a bottle of wine and a picnic supper for an outdoor concert at Chastain Park..Harry Connick, Jr. was over the top. Go for a nice dinner a Bacchanalia or Bones it will be more toned down but a little pricey. So many great restaurants in the Buckhead and Midtown area. Sorry you missed the truly Southern lunch at the Swan Coach House...showers are in a private room just went to one for my daughter. Thrilled you loved Atlanta...
    As a reader from day one.
    Becky from South Georgia

  6. I've never been to Atlanta but we had thought about a trip to see Swan House as well as the Vemeer exhibit. If we end up going we'll keep your posts in mind for recommendations!

  7. I love living in Atlanta- the diversity of the people and food is exciting to this lil' ol' Southern boy- a side note- Look closely at the mirror in the Swan House- It's a bit wonky - The story goes the design was taken from Chippendale's Directory where mirror designs are often
    shown as two variations separated by a space- the carver ignored the space and carved the design as 1 mirror using half of 1 design and half of the other

  8. Hello Reggie! I've been reading your blog since the spring, and was excited to read about your impressions of Atlanta-- I'm just up the road in Athens.
    Atlanta has never been a favorite of mine as cities go. One of my college professors said he judged a city on whether the downtown was full of people after dark, and I think I took that to heart. Atlanta is just too spread out, too much of a car-city for me!
    That being said, I would echo Becky's suggestion that you come in the spring when the dogwoods and azaleas are in bloom, as spring is the season the South does best. My favorite restaurant is the Floataway Cafe, which is tucked back in a former warehouse, but is never too loud or crowded, serves fresh, seasonal, and local food simply but beautifully prepared, and typifies easy and casual elegance. The Aquarium and the Coca-Cola museum are good fun, and I find that just sitting in the Fox Theatre and looking around is almost as fun as whatever performance or concert I'm attending!

    Many thanks for giving hours of entertaining and educational reading!

  9. No recommendations, but a real appreciation for your travel posts:).

  10. Hello Reggie, I agree with you about the dumbing down of institutional names. For my money, it will always be SPNEA.

    If I had some extra time in Atlanta, I would love to take a stroll around the Emory campus and perhaps visit its Carlos museum. Of course, this is predicated on better weather than you had.

  11. Several comments have mentioned Atlanta in the spring and it truly is a glorious time. You have to spend some time in the Cheshire Bridge area. It boasts the Colonnade, a restaurant with true old-time southern food. The customers are equally divided between geriatrics and gays; both groups are there for the fried chicken and sweet tea. The Nade's waitresses have all been there for years and are as authentic as the food. Cheshire Bridge has good group antique stores and once boasted the city's only gay c & w bar. Cheshire Bridge is the most interesting road in Atlanta; it's become a little more upscale over the years but still maintains it's quirky appeal.

  12. I love the frontage of Swan House, especially with the urn niches on either side of the front door. Very grand.

  13. a native atlantan i think you have described our city very fairly and well...we do tend to have a tear down the old mother who is 90 lived off of peachtree street while growing father who would be 95 was reared in the inman park neighborhood...what stories they could tell you!...on a return visit i would encourge you to visit the margaret mitchell house...where she lived with john marsh in a very tiny apartment...and wrote the very big book..(.the outside has been cleaned up beyond recognizing...but the inside is as if she just stepped out)...atlanta does have many sad areas...but hopefully the "city who was too busy to hate"...will continue to grow more our landscape...and in our hearts...come again....blessings laney

  14. A walk in the spring, when the azaleas are in bloom, through the Ansley Park residential area would make you want to set up camp there soon. Ansley, in the days of Scarlett O'Hara, would have been considered way out in the country. Now it's the best of upscale living close in, and the variety of architecture in this area is fabulous. Nearby--did no one mention a tour of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens? And if you tweaked the ear of the right person, you might get a tour of the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center--unless Boy has already been there. Come back again soon!


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails