LGBTQ Travel Guide: Atlanta

Midtown Pride Crossing

Gene Phillips, Courtesy of ACVB & AtlantaPhotos.com

One of the Southeast's buzziest, most diverse, and civil rights history-rich cities—RuPaul's home during the 1980s, this is where the now iconic drag queen developed his skills as a performer on public access TV, in live bands, dancing at bars, and starring in the campy 1987 cult film Starrbooty —Georgia's capitol is also a vacation and permanent residence mecca for LGBTQs across the region and home to the world's biggest annual gay Black Pride celebration, with an estimated 100,000+ attendees.

In recent years, Atlanta has also established itself as one of North America's major film and TV production hubs, with Marvel Studios being a major presence, a plus for queer celebrity spotters. Summer 2021 saw the commencement of filming on Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever, while competing superhero comics studio DC was shooting the Shazam sequel.

Atlanta's tourism office, Discover Atlanta, dubs the city "Yaas-lanta" these days on its website's LGBTQ landing page, while you can discover landmarks from the city's colorful past—from restaurants to gay bars to places that figured into important queer civil rights related cases and incidents—through website Gay ATL Flashback (Gay A.F.). For current and future LGBTQ happenings, news, and to-do's, check out online/print publications Georgia Voice, Project Q Atlanta and their free nightlife-centric publication, Q Atlus, and Peach.

The Old Fourth Ward (or O4W for short) is known as Atlanta's hottest "gayborhood" these days, and its annual Old Fourth Ward Arts Festival, held October 2-3 in 2021, certainly brings out the LGBTQ crowd, while Midtown holds the original "gayborhood" destination and still thrives with nightlife destinations. And let's not forget that RuPaul's glittery magic still lingers, with many Atlanta queens competing on Drag Race and The Boulet Brothers' Dragula to date, including the former's Season 7 winner Violet Chachki.

Atlanta Pride

Peter DeMoore, Courtesy of ACVB & AtlantaPhotos.com

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021, having started as a friends' Labor Day picnic in 1996, the culture-filled Atlanta Black Pride Festival and Atlanta Black Pride Weekend entail an exciting series of concerts, parties, and events (including specifically male and female-designated) will take place from August 31-September 6 and September 1-7, respectively, while the free outdoor Pure Heat Community Festival is slated for Sunday September 5. Check the websites for updates regarding performers, DJs, speakers, workshops, and more.

Celebrating 50 editions in 2021, Atlanta Pride takes place every October, smartly sidestepping June's frenzy of regional Pride events across the country (and, in fact, world!), and summer's intensely sweltering Georgia weather to boot. 2019 saw progressive political powerhouse Stacey Abrams as a Grand Marshall, and attracted over 300,000 attendees, and the sure to be jubilant 2021 edition is scheduled for October 8-10.

Atlanta's 34-year-old LGBTQ film festival, Out On Film, also takes place during fall time, with a solid 11 days of screenings, events, and filmmaker guests slotted for September 23-October 3, 2021.

National Center For Civil & Human Rights

ExploreGeorgia.org

The Best Things To Do

The birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., and formerly represented by the late Congressman John "Get In Good Trouble" Lewis, Atlanta is one of the most important stops on the US Civil Rights Trail. The Atlanta Electric Car Tour by ATL-Cruzers covers some of these spots during its 15-mile, 90-minute journey, as well as Atlanta's pride rainbow-painted street crossings at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and 10th Street NE (installed in 2017 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub massacre) and several hipster and queer districts.

You can do a self-guided tour of LGBTQ landmarks from Atlanta's past including The Nitery Club, where a young RuPaul appeared with his early 1980s bands The Wee Pole and U-Hauls, thanks to website Gay ATL Flashback (Gay A.F.), which boasts an interactive map with deep dive write-ups rich with photos and video embeds. Meanwhile, queer history buffs should definitely make a visit to The Atlanta History Center, which features items related to Atlanta's LGBTQ community and evolution in its collection.

A spectacular and ambitious development, the Atlanta BeltLine is like NYC's Highline Park times one-hundred: a 22-mile loop of former railroad corridors turned series of trails, parks, murals, and fantastic restaurants, cafes, and shops, which will ultimately connect 45 neighborhoods. Be sure to experience at least part of a completed section.

Located in the same outdoor complex, Pemberton Place, as major tourist attractions World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium (the world's largest), The National Center For Civil and Human Rights features temporary and permanent exhibitions including the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection of his papers and other personal items, and a harrowing, immersive simulation of a pre-segregation lunch counter sit-in.

A true gem affiliated with the Savannah College of Art and Design (which boasts Atlanta campuses), SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film is a small but excellent space dedicated to temporary exhibitions (including items from its permanent collection). 2021's calendar includes a retrospective by film costumer Ruth E. Carter (of Black Panther, Selma, and many of Spike Lee's films' fame) and photographer Albert Watson, which run through September 12 and October 17, respectively.

For retail therapy, the 40+ year old Boy Next Door spotlights a curated and queer-geared array of mens' clothing and accessories, including sexy brand name swim and underwear, while Charis Books & More—which relocated from Atlanta's funky and indie Little Five Points district into a spacious house in neighboring Decatur, GA in 2019—is the south's oldest feminist and progressive book and gift store.

Friends on Ponce

Lawrence Ferber

LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

Atlanta is home to a robust, diverse LGBTQ nightlife scene, ranging from predominantly Black spaces to quirky hipster hangouts and some of the sassiest bartender personalities—pouring legit stiff drinks, with rare exceptions—you'll ever encounter. For a rundown of special nightlife happenings and events during your visit, check out the latest online issues of Peach and Project Q.

Celebrating its 33rd anniversary in 2021, Midtown's Blake's On the Park is a beloved neighborhood with extra. Tuesday is Latino night, while drag queens including local star and House mother Shawnna Brooks perform on Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights. Brooks and some Drag Race alumni regularly appear at the nearby X Midtown, where you can also indulge in their signature chicken sandwich and other fried chicken-centric fare.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021, lesbian bar My Sister's Room (a.k.a. MSR) features plenty of entertainment including comedy, karaoke, and drag with an edge. One of the country's 21 remaining lesbian bars, MSR is part of The Lesbian Bar Project collective.

Midtown's 40+ year old Bulldogs brings in a predominantly Black male crowd (although all races are welcome) that features special karaoke nights and pop-up shops, plus hip hop and urban tunes. Located on Ponce de Leon Avenue, Friends on Ponce has been serving up fun, pool, and mixing and mingling for 17 years, drawing a predominantly POC, mixed crowd.

Quite a few Atlanta LGBTQ bars serve food or double as restaurants, notably Joe's On Juniper, 10th & Piedmont, the predominantly Latin Las Margaritas, and Woofs Sports Bar, the latter of which relocated in late 2019 to a spiffy new 4,600+ square foot Armour district location with over 25 TVs and irresistible pub grub.

Quirky and divey, East Atlanta's Mary's draws a truly eclectic crowd, from twenty-something hipster otters to middle-aged trans women to millennial straights, and small outdoor patio, while Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium is a truly one-of-a-kind, must-see two-level temple of kitsch and cheeky decor including off-kilter art, quotes, and crazy vintage religious record covers (if you're a John Waters fan, make this a top priority). In fact founded by a queer, former member of the clergy, Sister Louisa's is officially mixed, but Sundays see the phenomenally popular daytime, dancing-filled "Sunday Services."

The iconic 28-year-old bear, leather, daddy and fetish bar/club, Atlanta Eagle, officially closed its Ponce Street location, and as of late 2021 is seeking out a new permanent location in which to reopen. During the interim, Eagle has partnered for pop-up events at venues including The Hideaway, while its DJs can be found spinning sets online on Mixcloud: check Eagle's Facebook page for updates. Meanwhile, the bear/leather/daddy/fetish/Western crowd congregate - and enjoy backroom action—at The Heretic.

Feeling really naughty? Make a beeline to 25+ year old Midtown go-go boy bar BJ Roosters or full monty male strip club Swinging Richards (after all, "Dick" is short for Richard), which was subject of the, ahem, revealing 2017 documentary All Male, All Nude.

And for weekly after hours circuit-style parties, check out Xion, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021.

Escobar

Cam Kirk Studios

Where to Eat

One of Atlanta's most high profile restaurateurs and entrepreneurs is Detroit-born Mychel "Snoop" Dillard, a gay Black woman whose eight businesses include Little Five Points' casual American and Southern Crave, and her glitzy collaborations with rapper 2 Chainz, Escobar Restaurant and Tapas Lounge and Esco Seafood, the latter serving Southern and decadent takes like shrimp or oyster Po' Boys, fried catfish, and a Lobster and creamy shrimp thermidor.

Also LGBTQ POC owned, Gocha's Breakfast Bar - with locations in the Cascade neighborhood and, outside Atlanta's city borders, nearby Fayetteville - specializes in Southern-style, pescatarian and vegan-friendly breakfast and brunch fare (it's open until 3pm), while Virgil's Gullah Kitchen & Bar is inspired by the Gullah Geechee peoples' family recipes of Gregory "Gee" Smalls' father, who descended from enslaved Central and West Africans (Smalls, who owns Virgil's with husband Juan, is also an author and co-created Atlanta's annual celebration of Black LGBTQ people, The Gentlemen's Ball, benefitting The Gentlemen's Foundation).

Atlanta's urban markets offer something for all tastes and mealtimes. Occupying a former Sears warehouse and retail showroom, Ponce de Leon Avenue's Ponce City Market is a sprawling complex with dozens of vendors from craft coffee to ramen to vegan fare to ice pops, plus a super buzzy greasy spoon with upscaled design for breakfast and brunch, Pancake Social, live concert, drag brunch and vino venue City Winery, and rooftop amusement park/bar/weekend brunch spot. And a former cast iron cooking range factory along the BeltLine was reborn as Krog Street Market in 2014, with 22 food and retail vendors including both local and nationally known names (Jeni's Ice Cream).

Dining is always a literal drag at Atlanta's location of drag queen restaurant chain Lips, while upscaled cuisine fans will love the modern seafood offerings and cocktails at Inman Park's BeetleCat—winner of the 2018 Down East Lobster Roll World Championship—while Chef Craig Roberts' Lyla Lila in Midtown crafts superb and seasonal southern European-influenced, texture rich plates like a fine cut beef tartare and his addictive signature crispy duck and cocoa bechamel-laden lasagna.

The Wylie

The Wylie

Where to Stay

Just a few minutes' walk from Ponce City Market complex and gay bar Friends on Ponce, and imbued with LGBTQ history, the Fourth Ward district's 111-room boutique property, The Wylie Hotel, opened in May 2021. Formerly home to a lesbian tavern and, later, gay western and leather bar called Mrs. P's—read about the building's colorful, storied queer history here—The Wylie's guest rooms are clean, crisp and compact at 200-270 square feet, although deluxe rooms and suites include outdoor balconies. The ground level restaurant pays homage to its former occupant with its name, Mrs. P's Bar & Kitchen, serving Southern and international-tinged comfort food.

Located just east of Old Fourth Ward/Ponce City Market/BeltLine along Ponce de Leon Avenue, the Poncey-Highland district's 94-room Hotel Clermont, housed within a 1924 former motor lodge, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and boasts the distinction of home to a 55+ year old, female-owned basement level strip club/dive bar, Clermont Lounge. Rooms are colorful yet restrained with retro-artsy flair, while contemporary French-American brasserie Tiny Lou's (named after a seasoned stripper who danced here during the 1950s), cafe, rooftop and lobby bar cater to guests' appetites.

Smack dab in downtown's tourist zone and easily accessible to its attractions (e.g. Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park), the 237-room W Atlanta is tops thanks to its clubby chic, an all-weather rooftop WET pool and adjacent wet bar with unbeatable views, 16th floor spa, fitness center, and Local Motives restaurant and Living Room bar/lounge.

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