5 must-dos on your next trip to Atlanta

Atlanta Pride Festival photo by instagram.com/p/BaZtYJAHXOW/

The months-long heat wave that has been baking Atlanta is expected to break in mid-October, just in time for the city to celebrate one of the coolest pride festivals in the country. Atlanta’s weather—specifically, drought damage to Piedmont Park in the mid-2000s—forced organizers to move the city’s annual pride festival from June to October, creating one of the few celebrations of queer liberation with a fall-tacular vibe.

Whether you’re headed to the ATL for the 49th Annual Atlanta Pride Celebration on October 11-13, or you just want to check out the city known as “Hollywood of the South,” here are five things to ideas to your itinerary to guarantee a gay ol’ time.

Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen

instagram.com/virgilsgullahkitchen/

If you fly into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you’ll land minutes away from one of the hottest new restaurants in metro Atlanta, Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar. Located in downtown College Park, the cozy and classy eatery is owned and operated by Juan and Gee Smalls, the power couple behind The Gentlemens Foundation, which sponsors some nice events throughout the year. (The couple also has their own YouTube channel featuring life coaching and relationship advice.)

With hand-crafted cocktails and a menu inspired by Gee’s roots in the Gullah Geechee region of South Carolina, Virgil’s has attracted a devout following in a few short months primarily through word-of-mouth and social media. Reservations are highly advisable, although if you’re unable to grab a table you can pull up a seat at the bar and enjoy a roomful of eye candy that’s often as delicious as the food.

If you’re looking for a quicker bite, stop by one of several locations of Deliah’s Chicken Sausage Stand. Open 24 hours on weekends and with menu items like The Hot Mess and The Smack’n’Cheese, the lesbian-owned chain is the perfect spot to get your sausage fix.

Atlanta BeltLine

 
 
 
 
 
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For more than a decade, Atlanta civic planners envisioned transforming a 22-mile loop of mostly unused railroad tracks into a recreational path that encircled the city and was lined by housing, restaurants and retail. With almost half of the Atlanta BeltLine now complete, the reality is just as promising as the dream and the corridor has become one of the most bustling areas of intown life.

Whether you want to rent a bike or scooter or simply go for a casual walk, the northeast section of the BeltLine (which connects with Piedmont Park) is brimming with sculptures and murals, restaurants and brewerie along the route. While less developed and populated, the westside strip features a prominent mural on an overpass, which was painted into a queer club scene under the message, “We are all thriving with HIV!”

Midtown Loop of Bars

 
 
 
 
 
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No trip to the biggest gay mecca of the South would be complete without hopping through Atlanta’s iconic bar scene. Bulldogs continues to hold strong as the last gay bar on the city’s marquee Peachtree St., while just around the corner on 10th & Piedmont are TEN and Blake’s on the Park (photo above).

Also about a mile up Piedmont Ave. is the Ansley Square campus of queer joints, which includes the dance club Mixx, the showtunes bar Oscar’s Atlanta, the drag bar Midtown Moon (formerly Burkhart’s) and the beloved dive bar Felix’s.

If you’re still standing, next make your way to Cheshire Bridge Road, which is fondly considered Atlanta’s red-light district due to the abundance of strip clubs and adult bookstores. The Cheshire Bridge strip is also home to The Heretic, whose pulsing (and sometimes naughty) dance floor remains a local fave.

Offbeat Nightlife

 
 
 
 
 
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If you’re looking for nightlife outside of the typical rainbow, Atlanta offers a couple of quirky outings that defy categorization. A cross-section of twisted and tipsy folks show up at the legendary Clermont Lounge on weekends, which could be fairly branded as featuring “elderly female strippers.” The basement bar has been rocking for decades, even though the hotel that housed it was dilapidated, until it was recently renovated into an upscale boutique.

For a demented good time without the sagging bare breasts, stop by Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium (photo above). This queer-owned bar is blasphemous toward convention, attracting a hodgepodge of gay and trans folks, hipsters, service industry workers, and others with a jovially irreverent disposition. Almost every inch of two-level bar is covered with provocative religious-themed art that makes you feel like you’re in the Bible Belt of an alternate, kick-ass universe.

Centennial Olympic Park

 
 
 
 
 
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If all of the above sounds way too “local” for you and you’d rather just come buy some magnets and shot glasses, Centennial Olympic Park is probably the best launching point for the tourists’ experience of Atlanta. Adjacent to downtown, the park is surrounded by attractions like the CNN Center and World of Coca-Cola. Ride the Atlanta Streetcar to visit the Martin Luther King Historic Center and other areas that preserve and celebrate the city’s civil rights legacy. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights features gay and trans topics among the variety of programs.

The Georgia Aquarium, one of the most famous aquariums in the U.S., will host the official Atlanta Pride kickoff party on Oct. 11 (tickets here).

Also in proximity are the Skyview Ferris wheel, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in case you want to check out a local sports team. Atlanta United is so popular among gay and trans soccer fans, there’s a social group called All-Stripes (photo below).

 
 
 
 
 
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