Oh, Athens. Will I ever get over you? I came home from our most recent day trip and started perusing the homes for sale. It’s fun to fantasize. I even longed to be a student again when I stopped for a coffee and saw all the summer schoolers hunched over laptops — until I looked at the screens and couldn’t understand a single graph or chart.
The Five Points area is booming with local businesses, which made me feel better about the invasion of chains in the downtown area. Zaxby’s, Waffle House, Subway, Five Guys — I love most of you, but not there. I was a student when Starbucks came in right next to Blue Sky, a local coffee shop, and was met with a lot of anger. But the chains seem to be snatching up spaces as locally-owned businesses close for various reasons like rent hikes, retirement and parking. Locally-owned still dominates, and I hope it stays that way. I wrote a piece a couple years ago on my sadness at seeing my favorite spots fade away, but I like to think new and exciting spots arrive for the next generation. Where do current students love to hang out? I dunno. After all, I’M OLD, as I was informed by one commenter on that other piece. But before I die at the ripe old age of 35, I thought it would be fun to find out where other alums like to go when they return to the Classic City.
I realized as I looked for old photos for this post that unfortunately I don’t have many scenic shots, just happy faces smushed together sans duck lips. See, film was precious, kiddos. There was no Facebook or Instagram. Just collages taped to the wall after picking up our prints at Eckerd. (What’s an Eckerd?)
So where do former Athens’ residents have to go when they are back in town? Which old haunts are still there, and what new ones are filling in the empty holes of our hearts? The following list is based on an informal online poll of my Facebook friends and places I’ve heard mentioned frequently in the last few years. Not very scientific, I know. Therefore, I welcome comments with additional suggestions below.
- Fries & feta at The Grill (opened in 1981).
2. See a show at Georgia Theatre, where the B-52s, The Police, REM and Widespread Panic played in their early days, and check out the new rooftop bar, added since a devastating fire caused a major renovation in 2009 (became a concert hall in 1977).3. Taco Stand – there are three! (since 1977)
4. Creature Comforts Brewery (since 2014)
5. Brunch at Mama’s Boy (since 2006)
6. Cali N Tito’s (since 2006 – previously at a different location as Caliente Cab in my day) Cash only.
7. Trappeze Pub (since 2008)
8. Last Resort (since 1966 as a music club, 1992 as a restaurant)
9. The World Famous (since 2012)
10. Jittery Joe’s Multiple locations these days, but I’m partial to Five Points. I know it’s not the original Five Points location, but I guess I can accept it since I usually went to Blue Sky (since 1994).
11. Attend a concert at the 40 Watt Club (since 1979)
12. Twilight Criterium Every spring Twilight weekend is packed with spectators for the bike races and events (since 1980).
And for those who might be visiting Athens for the first time, here are my additional Athens recommendations that I think are fun, even if you didn’t attend–
- Dawg hunt. Who Let the Dogs Out? by the Baha Men was released while I was in college. I don’t think I have to tell you what that was like for the next two years. The We Let the Dawgs Out exhibit, on the other hand, has all the charm the song lacks. The exhibition was created in 2002 with creatively painted bulldogs placed around town for the next 10 years. When the time was up, they were auctioned off with preference given to the original sponsors. Many are still displayed around town, so it’s the perfect scavenger hunt.
- State Botanical Garden It’s even free!
- Stroll North Campus, starting at the Arch, then head down to Sanford Stadium and drop in the UGA bookstore.
- The Tree That Owns Itself — it’s really just a tree growing in the middle of a cobblestone street. It’s not like you can go zip lining, but the story behind it makes it fun to snap a quick pic.
- Oconee Hill Cemetery Established in 1856, it is gorgeous. Although I was always vaguely aware of its existence on the far side of the stadium, I never went in until my most recent visit. It’s absolutely massive. If you are someone that is into classic old cemeteries, it’s a must see. Check out the iron truss bridge that dates back to 1899 and connects two sections of the cemetery. It is likely only still in existence because it was placed in a cemetery rather than as part of a regular road.
- Shop Downtown Athens and check out the eclectic buildings.
Your turn. What have I missed? What are your can’t-miss spots?