Of the 25 U.S. metro areas with the highest percentage of gay and lesbian households, two are in Georgia. You might guess that Atlanta is one of these - Athens is the other.
There are several reasons so many gays and lesbians choose to live in this city of 120,000, which makes for a very enjoyable weekend trip from Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and other key cities in the Southeast. The University of Georgia (UGA) fosters an open-minded, tolerant population, as does the edgy arts, theater, and live-music scene, which has cultivated such queer-relevant music acts as the B-52s, the Indigo Girls, and R.E.M. (out rocker Michael Stipe resides here). Vegetarian Times has called Athens one of the country's best cities for noncarnivores.
Like other big collegiate communities in the Southeast, such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia, Athens provides a big mix of arts, culture, lively nightlife, first-rate restaurants, and gay-friendliness into a relatively small, affordable, and accessible package.
Every April (next year's date is expected to be April 22, 2017), Athens hosts the Boybutante Ball, an AIDS benefit with drag fetes, concerts, a women's dance, and a campy gala ball held at the famed 40 Watt Club. This is the gayest event in a city that hosts countless fun gatherings, from AthFest Music and Arts Festival in June to the Taste of Athens food celebration in February.
Major Athens Events in 2016-2017:
Athens Exploring - Athens Museums - University of Georgia Campus
Athens - one of the few Georgia communities spared by Gen. William T. Sherman during his infamous Civil War "March to the Sea" - contains numerous antebellum homes, most of them within 13 national historic districts.
America's first state-chartered university, The University of Georgia (information on guided and self-guided campus tours) abuts the dapper and walkable downtown; the historic North Campus (at S. Jackson and E. Broad Sts.) is ideal for a leisurely stroll. Stop by two-and-a-half-acre Founders Memorial Garden, a tribute to the 12 women who established the Ladies Garden Club of Athens in 1861 (the first of its kind in America). This is just a preview, however, of what you'll see at the 313-acre State Botanical Gardens of Georgia (706-542-6159, 2450 S. Milledge Ave.), where a glass conservatory with tropical plants complements thousands of colorful outdoor plantings. The gardens are about 5 miles south of downtown.
The exceptional Georgia Museum of Art (90 Carlton St., 706-542-4662) is on the University of Georgia's East Campus, in a dramatic contemporary building that completed a major expansion in 2011. The superb collection contains more than 8,000 permanent works and is notable for its American (including Southern folk), with works by several GBLT notables, including Paul Cadmus, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Thomas Eakins, and Andy Warhol. There are excellent rotating shows throughout the year.
In downtown Athens, art collectors should explore downtown's Clayton Street, a strip of reputable galleries showing important, often provocative, works. Several fun boutiques and shops are along Clayton and the intersecting blocks as well. Culture vultures appreciate the many top-notch performance venues in town, from cozy historic theaters to the esteemed University of Georgia Performing Arts Center.
Athens Restaurant Guide
Athens has no shortage of memorable dining options, many of them serving sophisticated fare priced for budget-minded students and artists. The city has become a bastion of farm-to-table, regional dining.
One of the first restaurants to put the city on the national dining map was Five & Ten (1073 S. Milledge Ave., 706-546-7300), which remains a stalwart for its stellar contemporary cuisine and first-rate wine list - consider the modern take on classic Lowcountry Frogmore stew (with Georgia shrimp, fingerling potatoes, leek, corn, spicy andouille sausage, and leek-tomato broth), as well as velvety corn soup with poached shrimp, vanilla, and tarragon. Chef Hugh Acheson is also behind downtown Athens's wonderful Mediterranean-inspired eatery, The National (232 W. Hancock Ave., 706-549-3450) as well as Atlanta's vaunted Empire State South and Savannah's fine eatery, The Florence.
You'll find a strip of hot dining spots downtown along West Washington, including the Trappeze Pub (269 N. Hull St. at W. Washington St., 706-543-8997), a nice choice for any meal. This rambling gastropub specialize in local and international craft beers (try the 90 Shilling, produced locally at Athens' Terrapin Beer Co., at which tours and tastings are available. The lively Trappeze is justly famous for its version of a regional classic snack: boiled "p-nuts". Also consider beer-and-cheddar soup (again made Terrapin Golden) with spiced bacon, and the "double pig" sandwich (braised pork and bacon) with house-made pickled green beans.
Some tables at the beloved Last Resort Grill (174-184 W. Clayton St., 706-549-0810) overlook an exhibition kitchen where talented chefs juggle pots and pans sizzling with Carolina crab cakes or house-braised pork belly roasted with an ancho glaze. In a building part-owned by Michael Stipe, The Grit (199 Prince Ave., 706-543-6592) serves up delicious vegetarian faves, such as tabouli salad and black-bean chili. Relax with Athens' intelligentsia at Jittery Joe's Coffee (297 E. Broad St., 706-613-7449), a sunny coffeehouse facing North Campus (there are a few other Jittery Joe's locations around town, too).
You could spend a week in this town without making your way through all the celebrated eateries - no-frills Taqueria Sr Sol (175 Tallassee Rd., 706-546-1570) for flavorful Mexican fare; Weaver D's (1016 E. Broad St., 706-353-7797) for sublimely delicious soul food; and cheerful Mama's Boy (197 Oak St., 706-548-6249) down-home brunches and lunches are also worth seeking out.
Athens Hotel Guide - Gay-Friendly Athens Hotels
The city has plenty of chain options, in all price ranges, many on the outskirts of town. To truly soak up the city's vibrant personality, consider staying at one of the handful of very nice hotels in the pedestrian-friendly downtown. One of the newest and most striking of these is the hip Hotel Indigo-Athens (500 College Ave., 706-546-0430), a handsome, LEED-certified mid-rise with smartly designed rooms and a fun vibe - there's a nice little gym on-site, a fun bar and restaurant (Madison Bar & Bistro), and a cool live-music venue called the Rialto Room. It's part of the gay-friendly Indigo boutique hotel brand.
Formerly known as the Foundry Park Inn & Spa, the gloriously hip and smartly designed Graduate Athens (295 E. Dougherty St., 706-549-7020) offers among the coolest and most interesting downtown accommodations - this former motor lodge has been converted into a stylish boutique hotel with a full-service spa and an exceptional bar and restaurant (The Foundry) serving modern takes on regional American fare and featuring some great live bands in the bar, and a first-rate coffee lounge, Iron Works Coffee. You'll also find a few other reliable chain hotels downtown - good bets include centrally located Hilton Garden Inn - Athens Downtown (390 E. Washington St., 706-353-6800), and the campus-adjacent Holiday Inn Athens (197 E. Broad St., 706-549-4433).
Fans of B&Bs should check out the gay-welcoming inn The Colonels (3890 Barnett Shoals Rd., 706-559-9595), a stately, white-columned, 1860s plantation house that contains seven handsomely furnished rooms (some of them can be joined together as suites). The inn is a 15-minute drive southeast of downtown and UGA campus.
Athens Gay Nightlife Guide - Gay-Friendly Bars in Athens
Music fans from all around head to Athens to catch alternative-rock acts at downtown's seminal 40 Watt Club (285 W. Washington St., 706-549-7871), which is always hosting talented bands on the cusp of fame. Notable acts who built their following at 40 Watt include R.E.M., the B-52s, the Indigo Girls, Widespread Panic, and Pylon, but over the years patrons have caught countless other notables - 10,000 Maniacs, Bob Mould, and so on. The club also hosts the annual Boybutante Ball, one of the South's top GLBT fundraising events.
Athens hasn't had an official gay bar since long-running Boneshaker's closed in 2005. But the many bars and music clubs downtown and virtually all gay-friendly, this being a city with sizable GLBT population, and you're only an a little more than an hour from the lively gay bar scene in Atlanta. Note also that Atlanta's wonderfully offbeat homage to pop art, kitsch, and dive-bar drinking, Sister Louisa's Church (254 W. Clayton St., 706-850-3668) has an inviting outpost here in Athens.
Some of the restaurants covered in the Restaurant Guide, including Last Resort Grill, The National, and Trappeze Pub, also cultivate lively bar scenes. If you can't decide between coffee or a cocktail, check out atmospheric Walker's Coffee & Pub (128 College Ave., 706-543-1433), which is steps from UGA campus. Another favorite around town for hobnobbing and hoisting a mug is the lovably dive-y Manhattan Bar (337 N. Hull St., 706-369-9767).
Following a devastating fire, the legendary and historic Georgia Theatre (215 N. Lumpkin St., 706-850-7670) reopened following a beautiful rebuild. The rooftop bar and restaurant is an enjoyable spot for a drink or a snack. The theater books plenty of prominent bands and cool concerts.