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The gay mecca of the Deep South is undergoing booming change -- change that has its pluses and minuses, good parts and bad. The bad news is that Atlanta's Midtown neighborhood, while still very gay, isn't the oasis of boys, bars, and misbehavior it once was, as office towers and condos have cut into the area's queer identity. The good news is that with such a visible and vibrant gay and lesbian population, it sometimes feels like all of Atlanta is a "gay neighborhood" -- from downtown to Buckhead to the burgeoning East Atlanta Village.
The bad news is that Atlanta's gay (and straight) nightlife scene is still experiencing posttraumatic stress due to reduced bar hours and the closure of the legendary 24-hour gay club Backstreet a few years ago. The good news is that there's still not a single night of the week when you won't find a gay bar or club jam-packed, and Atlanta remains home to such major annual parties as Joining Hearts in the summer and Toy Party during the winter holiday season. And no one celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday weekend like the gay folks in his hometown.
The bad news is that much of Atlanta's commercial growth is bland and unoriginal -- like the highly celebrated (and gay-popular) Atlantic Station area, essentially an over-hyped outdoor mall. The good news is that gay retailers in Midtown and Virginia-Highland continue to offer style while showing remarkable staying power, as other gay business owners pave the way in rehabilitated districts like the East Atlanta Village and Old Fourth Ward.
893 Peachtree St., 404-872-3025
Hands-down the best drinks in Atlanta -- cheap and stiff, how we like our men. A tiny club that packs a powerful punch, and is the sole surviving gay club on Peachtree Street.
1287 Glenwood Ave., 404-624-4411
Located in the East Atlanta Village, this bar attracts the city's cutest gay hipsters and features potentially life-changing karaoke nights.
Thumbs Up Diner
573 Edgewood Ave., 404-223-0690
There's usually a healthy wait to get into this restaurant for weekend breakfast, but you're sure to chew on lots of delicious eye candy while waiting on some of the best potatoes, pancakes, and biscuits in Atlanta.
990 Piedmont Ave., 404-253-2010
Tongue-tickling Asian cuisine in Atlanta's gay ground zero. Visit on Monday nights to dine and unwind with the Dragamaki show.
960 Spring St., 404-745-9494
From its upscale VIP area to its pair of rotating dance floors, WETbar is usually the first stop for big-name DJs when they visit Atlanta. It also features the swankest bar patio in the city, with a gorgeous nighttime view of Atlanta's skyline.
1287 Columbia Dr., 404-835-7790
Atlanta's largest gay club is technically located in neighboring Decatur, but a drive out to Traxx is always worth the trip. Up to 6,000 of Atlanta's finest squeeze into the gay hip-hop club on major party weekends, and Traxx's Thugged Out Tuesdays have been among Atlanta's most popular sets for years.
Boy Next Door
1447 Piedmont Ave., 404-873-2664
While visiting Piedmont Park, stroll over to this gay menswear mainstay -- you'll look like anything but the boy next door.
784-792 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-6055
High fashion meets practical living at this local boutique, a star attraction in the Virginia-Highland shopping district.
125 10th St. NE, 404-873-4800
Much of the magic of Midtown Atlanta -- from a handful of gay bars to the historic Margaret Mitchell House (Gone With the Wind) -- is moments away from the hotel lobby.
188 14th St. NE, 404-892-6000
Opening in February 2008, this hotel is located up the street from Piedmont Park and promises the W's trademark sleek features and "it" bar.
Lenox Square Mall
3393 Peachtree Rd., 404-814-9858
A so-so place to shop, Lenox Square turns into one of Atlanta's most happening informal gay clubs on Saturday evenings as gay boys people-watch and make weekend plans.
400 Park Dr.
Atlanta's largest and most popular park -- home to the city's annual gay pride festival -- is ideal for a casual walk or Frisbee game, or to check out one of the many gay sports leagues that play and practice there.
Originally published in OUT March 2008, issue 172