If you asked me at the beginning of the year if I was planning to go to Atlanta, I would have likely responded "Not any time soon." While it is a city that has been on my travel bucket list for some time, there was no sense of urgency to travel there. Well the universe has a way of telling us where our next steps should be and through curiosity and a little risk, I ended up buying a one way ticket to one of the remaining hubs for Black people and Black culture.
I came to Atlanta to attend the opening night of Miya Bailey’s third solo exhibit. I dragged my best friend along and was humbled by the quickness red dots began to pop up under the 20 or so pieces of art on display. I have been a fan of Miya’s work for a little over 4 years now. First falling in love with his one of a kind tattoos and later discovering his massive body of work that is home to more than 20 original artistic styles. Viewing his numerous interviews on the web you can pull together a story of a cultural innovator who came to Atlanta over 20 years ago with a vision of creating an art scene unlike anywhere else. With all but two works being sold during the 3 hour gallery exhibition, it is undeniable that Miya is well on his way to becoming an icon.
I spent 3 days in Atlanta. I made sure I rented a car so that no part of the city would be off limits to me. We snagged an Airbnb in Atlanta’s historic West End, a neighborhood that borders the AUC, where 3 of the best known HBCUs are housed. The neighborhood is diverse, both racially and economically. The city is progressive in a way that Seattle touts itself to be but hasn’t yet accomplished. Those with alternative lifestyles are integrated into the normalcy of everyday life without much fuss. So much so that a morning talk show featured a dating story gone array between two men.
The one thing that surprised me was the number of strip clubs in the city, the only area I didn’t see a strip club was in Sandy Springs, which is about 25 minutes north of the Atlanta city centers. The stripper culture is engrained here, they are more frequently found than liquor stores and fast food joints. I didn’t make it to the strip club on any of the 3 nights I was there (Lame right?) but the evidence of it’s influence on the city is undeniable.
Every meal I had during my stay was amazing. Of course my bff and I hit up Waffle House, which doesn't’ offer the most amazing fare but made for a solid breakfast and a great way to balance my inebriation on our last night in the city. If you’re from the North but in the South, Waffle House is a must, even if you’re vegan, they got hash browns and waffles. Our second morning we enjoyed breakfast at a Black owned restaurant called The Breakfast Club. My best friend and I ordered a ton of food, simply because we wanted to try a few different things on the menu. The highlight dishes were Peach Cobbler French Toast, and the Shrimp & Grits. I snagged a tip from a yelp reviewer and asked for my shrimp to be deep fried, let’s just say I was in food heaven. We also dined at J&J’s fish and chicken, which is apparently a Chicago staple that has made it’s way to Atlanta but it didn’t seem to be missing any of the flavor. Lastly Daddy Dz BBQ was so delicious I hardly remember finishing my meal. We ordered a spread of ribs, chicken, brisket, mac & cheese, and greens that tasted even better after a night of drinking and hanging out.
The culture of Atlanta is one of a kind. One would miss it, if it was just to go off of the portrayals we see on television. We have seen the city go through many changes over the last 20 years, the birth and death of Freaknik, hosting the Olympics, and the emergence of Black Hollywood. Atlanta has given birth to some of our most time honored artist such as Outkast, Ceelo, T.I., Lil John & The Eastside Boyz And present comeback hero Gucci Mane. You can not discount Atlanta’s influence on popular American culture and therefore the world. The best part of the Atlanta culture is the pride. Atlanta’s most popular radio station plays only Atlanta artist. Past, present, and future. They support their own and uplift each other. It makes it a great place to start a business or champion an art career. The one thing you must do if you ever consider making this city your home is give back. Gentrification is slowly erasing the thriving culture of the city, but many are working to keep the authenticity alive. Atlanta is the Seattle of the south. Where transplants now outnumber natives. So its important to replenish the city’s culture if you plan to take from it.
Atlanta was good to me. A city on the rise that is both contemporary and traditional, boasting an atmosphere of change and prosperity. I’m looking forward to visiting again and often. This year was not supposed to be a traveling year for me, but some opportunities are just too good to pass up, and this trip was worth every second and every dollar.