Atlanta Adventures with Tray Butler

1. What is your number one insider tip for Atlanta?

Do more than Downtown. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who have visited Atlanta—usually for a convention—and managed to pass their entire trip without leaving a 10-block radius of their Downtown hotel. This is such a missed opportunity! Don’t get me wrong, there are some worthwhile sights in the heart of the city, like the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. But the brand-name attractions don’t give travelers much of a feel for how the locals live. For the real Atlanta, you need to get out and experience its neighborhoods. Spend an afternoon exploring Piedmont Park, or enjoying happy hour outdoors on a patio in Virginia Highland. Dig through the vintage shops of Little Five Points, or splurge on the high-end boutiques in Buckhead. Downtown has its charms, but the city definitely has a lot more to offer.

2. What’s the best way to get around this bustling capital?

To see the best of Atlanta, you’ll need a car. The city’s mass transit system, MARTA, is fine for some major sights Downtown and in Midtown, but it doesn’t easily connect with areas like Virginia-Highland, West Midtown, or Little Five Points. The city has a well-deserved reputation for its rush-hour congestion, but you may be surprised to find that driving around town is usually no big hassle—as long as you stay off the interstates.

3. What part of town has the best eats?

Well, I’ll admit I’m biased toward Midtown, the neighborhood where I’ve lived for most of the past decade. It’s hard to beat some of the amazing restaurants found along Crescent Ave. just south of 14th St., with elegant places like South City Kitchen, Pasta da Pulcinella and Front Page News that are all very dear to my heart. However, I have to give props to the new crop of restaurants that have emerged in the Old Fourth Ward, near Inman Park. This once-depressing pocket of industrial blight has blossomed into a hotspot for both trendsetters (such as Rathbun’s, a great special-occasion place) and comfortable favorites (like Highland Bakery, perfect for brunch if you don’t mind the wait).

4. What is your favorite southern dish?

I’m a fiend for fried chicken. You can get the real deal—with no frills—at Son’s Place in Inman Park. For a different take on the classic dish, check out JCT Kitchen in West Midtown. Their Fried Chicken Salad is a delectable 21st century take on a down-home staple.

5. In your opinion, what is Atlanta’s number one attraction?

The numbers would point to the Georgia Aquarium, which has exceeded all expectations in terms of attendance since it opened. But for me, nothing beats the High Museum of Art, in Midtown. The iconic Richard Meier building is one of Atlanta’s most recognizable landmarks. Its elegance was only magnified by the 2005 addition by Italian starchitect Renzo Piano, which more than doubled the museum’s size. The scope of the permanent collection is impressive, but a packed calendar of touring exhibitions makes the High a cultural landmark for Atlanta and the entire Southeast.

6. Where can sports fans get their fix?

Atlanta is a great town for sports fanatics. Turner Field, home of the Braves, was originally built as the 1996 Centennial Olympic Stadium and still has the feeling of a self-contained amusement park for sports nuts of all ages. It’s easy to get lost among the restaurants, bars, museums, and interactive exhibits and almost forget that there’s a ballgame going on. Basketball and hockey fans should definitely make a run for Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. With a seating capacity of more than 21,000, this up-to-date sports arena doubles as a concert venue.

7. Georgia’s capital teems with historical and regional treasures. Which ones should not be missed?

There’s no shortage of attractions around Atlanta aimed at Civil War enthusiasts, from the battlefields of Kennesaw Mountain to the kitschy Atlanta Cyclorama. But for a wider and altogether more engaging survey of the South, don’t miss the Atlanta History Center. This Buckhead institution includes an attractive museum that’s anything but stuffy, with exhibitions covering not only “the War of Northern Aggression” but also detailing Atlanta’s growth from railroad hub to modern metropolis. Included on the grounds is the handsome Swan House, a meticulously preserved 1920’s mansion that’s also one of the city’s most photographed buildings.

8. Being that Atlanta is the gay capital of the Southeast, what are some places and events gays and lesbians shouldn’t miss?

For both gay men and lesbians visiting Atlanta, a great place to start is Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, the city’s premiere independent bookseller, where the helpful staff can always fill you in on happenings around the city. Guys should then pop next door to check out Blake’s on the Park, the perennial stand-and-model bar, while women might want to venture down to My Sister’s Room, the ever-evolving lesbian bar now located in East Atlanta Village. The Atlanta Pride Festival, the largest in the South, has juggled dates and location in recent years; for the latest info on this must-see festival, check out www.atlantapride.org.

9. In your opinion, what makes Atlanta a true southern gem?

Having lived in New York City and London, every time I return to Atlanta I’m reminded all over again of how freakishly friendly the people are. It’s a cliché to praise Atlanta for the Southern hospitality; after all, a huge portion of the people who live in the city now hail from elsewhere. Many are even— gasp!—Yankees. Still, there’s some truth to the stereotype that people in the South are more welcoming and chatty than in other parts of the country. Perhaps it’s the weather that makes everyone so sociable, or the result of drinking all that sweet tea. In any case, I love Atlanta for its openness, casual graciousness, and the way the people here strive to make everyone feel at home.

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