In partnership with Coca-Cola
Southern hospitality isn’t just for visitors – in Atlanta, Georgia it extends to the environment and the local community too. Discover the best places to drop in while you’re in town, where you’ll the city’s naturally ethical and sustainable outlook in full effect
Atlanta’s history is one of reinvention, collaboration, and exponential growth. The rebuilding of Atlanta after much of the city was burned down in 1864 during the Civil War allowed it to redefine itself as a resilient and progressive focal point for Georgia and the Southern United States in general. Birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr (the house where he was born on Auburn Avenue is an essential stop on any visit to the city, as is the impressive National Center for Civil and Human Rights around the corner), has played its part in shaping modern America; in 1964 mayor Ivan Allen pronounced it “The City Too Busy to Hate” while addressing the Senate Committee regarding the Civil Rights Bill.
Apparently, Atlanta has been too busy to stop moving forward ever since. The 1996 Olympics catapulted Atlanta on to the global stage and was the fiscal starting gun the city needed to truly come to life. Since then, Atlantans have been busier than ever.
We host the third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters in the US, with the Coca-Cola Company and CNN among the more famous corporate residents. Meanwhile, we have made hip-hop a global phenomenon, are proud to be the official ‘Zombie Capital of the World’ (thanks to the hit show The Walking Dead, which is filmed and set here). Still, despite all that we’ve stayed true to our roots by embracing our grandmother’s cooking and blending it into our local fine-dining experience.
World’s busiest airport aside, finding and appreciating an eco-conscious outlook in Atlanta isn’t difficult, as our heritage is full of industrial innovation and resilience. Atlantans tend to recognize the importance of sustainability and have a knack for grafting it onto our public spaces, food and culture.
Here are some of the best things to do, eat, and see for anyone – zombie or non-dead people alike – who is interested in sharing Atlanta’s passion for sustainable innovation…
The Beltline is a citywide project that aims to connect Atlanta’s neighborhoods through a 22-mile ring of walking and biking trails built on abandoned railroad tracks that engages and strengthens the surrounding communities. It’s first completed section, the Eastside Trail, that joins the Old 4th Ward to Midtown’s Piedmont Park, is a local favourite and showcases the famous Atlanta skyline mixed in with native wildflower gardens (planted and cared for by conservation non-profit Trees Atlanta), along with fixed and rotating local artist exhibits displayed throughout the trail.
The Beltline’s closest cousin is the High Line in New York but it still remains entirely and authentically its own experience. Along with grassroots supporters, corporate contributions help support the 17-year project. Collectively partner the Coca-Cola Company was an early Beltline supporter with contributions totalling $2.1 million since 2007.
Ponce City Market
Very few buildings in Atlanta hold the public nostalgia in the same way that the old Sears building does. The historic Sears, Roebuck and Co Building is located between North Avenue and Ponce de Leon in Old 4th Ward. Many native Atlantans know this building either for staying vacant for years after it shut down after being City Hall East and other, slightly older locals may know it as the place their mothers and grandmothers took the (now defunct) trolley to go Christmas shopping.
Atlanta-based Jamestown developers began rehabilitating and restoring the building in 2014 and intentionally did so in the most environmentally responsible way possible: the latest in LED lighting and reclaimed water systems are among the efficiency measures that give the 2 million-square-foot space a considerably reduced footprint.
Lunch and shopping at Ponce City Market is a delight – and easy to access off the Beltline’s Eastside Trail. The food hall features slow food advocates and James Beard Award-winning chefs like Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins and Anne Quatrano. Many of the residents at the food hall support local, organic agriculture and you’ll have no shortage of mouth-watering options should you find yourself hungry in the middle of a Beltline hike.
It’s an easy walk to Piedmont Park on the Beltline’s Eastside Trail after lunching at Ponce City Market. Atlanta is known for its numerous green spaces and Piedmont Park, centred in the heart of Midtown, is not to be missed. The Piedmont Park Conservancy works diligently to ensure this oppidan retreat will continue to impress for generations to come.
Some of their efforts include enacting zoning restrictions to protect and maintain existing wetland ecosystems, partnering with Trees Atlanta to ensure a healthy canopy, and the installation of solar energy. In 2010 they were also chosen as one of the locations for the first international pilot program designed to rate sustainability in public green spaces by The Sustainable Sites Initiative.
The Homestead Atlanta
The Homestead is based on two guiding principles: that we should reconnect with our forgotten heritage skills and explore innovative sustainable-living approaches through community workshops. This is the place to go to learn how to can your own jams, identify and safely forage wild mushrooms, or learn how to prune a tree. These classes are based throughout Atlanta, but are frequently held at Grant Park’s Eventide Brewery where you can find the best Kölsch in the city.
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Staplehouse is the for-profit subsidiary of The Giving Kitchen (TGK), a non-profit that provides emergency financial assistance to Atlanta’s service industry professionals. Staplehouse features rotating menus (either tasting or à la carte), local and regionally sourced ingredients, and a seriously impressive mission. One hundred per cent of its profits go to support TGK’s emergency grant program.
In 2012 Jen and Chef Ryan Hidinger founded Staplehouse and TGK after his terminal cancer diagnosis in an effort to provide peace of mind for others facing similar hardships. TGK now operates in Ryan’s honor and is based around four principles of operation: community, empathy, generosity and trust. Through the donations they receive TGK is able to help restaurant and bar workers weather periods of crisis prompted by ill health and injury. In 2015 TGK raised more than $1 million, and the phenomenal support they have received shows that the community believes in these principles as well.
Neighborhood Farmers Markets
Atlanta has a farmers market for (almost) every day of the week and showcases a variety of local organic farmers, florists, artisanal bakers and everything in between. Sunday (Grant Park) and Thursday (East Atlanta) offer two of the most established and accessible markets. You’ll have to get there early if you want to snag a bacon caramel donut or Nutella cream puff from Decatur-based Revolution Donuts.
Chef Kevin Clark’s farm-to-table brunch spot is a must when visiting Atlanta and is located on the edge of the eclectic neighborhood of Cabbagetown. Home Grown is a contemporary take on the southern classic “meat and three” (meaning one meat, three sides) and succeeds in blending atmosphere and quality ingredients that are sourced from the backyard garden (organically grown, of course). Strongly recommended: Comfy Chicken Biscuit.
The Midway Pub
East Atlanta is no stranger to the DIY ethos, as it’s built itself up from a downbeat and isolated neighborhood into being one of the trendiest in Atlanta – and The Midway Pub’s renovation from of an old car garage is a part of that transition.
Midway is now an established neighborhood bar with a dedication to reducing waste through recycling (even their used cooking oil goes to a bio-fuel company) and growing their own vegetables and herbs for cocktails and dinner specials. They also have a slamming craft beer selection to boot (with 32 on tap to choose from, and more than 100 bottled options).
We Suki Suki
Quynh Trinh – known as Q to her loyal customers – opened the 450 square foot bánh mì shop We Suki Suki (meaning “We Love Love”) as a way to passionately share and preserve her Vietnamese heritage. Q has recently expanded the shop by hosting The Global Grub Collective, which serves as a start-up restaurant co-op and includes a Build Your Own Biscuit stand, The Cake Hag (for all your organic, from scratch dessert needs), and Poco Pomodoro, an authentic Italian option. The community that Q has built is the most enjoyable experience here.
Old 4th Distillery
Despite only being in business for the past couple of years, Old 4th Distillery is the first established distillery in Atlanta since before the days before the days of Prohibition (thanks to a quirk in the law, distilling liquor remained illegal in Atlanta for some eight decades after the nationwide ban on alcohol was lifted). Its tasting room pays homage to Atlanta’s first distiller, RM Rose. They produce handcrafted gin and vodka with regionally sourced cane sugar in a state of the art zero-waste copper distillation system known as CARL. Tours run frequently (and fill up fast, so pre-booking is essential) and are an affordable $5 with tastings or $30 with tastings and your own choice of bottle to take home.
Atlanta favourite, slow food advocate, and Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie combines Brazilian churrascaria-style dining and dim sum in an innovative experience that will inspire you to fast before arrival. Due to its popularity, tickets to the Gunshow are hard to come by – make sure you make a reservation.
Throughout your time in Atlanta you’ll find that responsible, sustainable ethos difficult to separate from that other spirit Georgia is famous for: true Southern Hospitality. It’s perhaps because community and generosity are the principles that embody both – and these values are often formed sitting around the kitchen table or helping prep the evening meal. It’s a chance for our parents and grandparents to share stories, laughter and recipes.
Kimberly Colburn, director and founder of the Homestead Atlanta, describes it as being “heir to a tremendous fortune… a trust of skills and abilities discovered, maintained, and refined by generations of our ancestors to understand and navigate our world.”
And it’s during these times that we learn how imperative it is to take care of who and what we have in an effort to ensure to that our natural wealth (like Nana’s biscuit recipe) is available for the coming generations.