When word got out that downtown Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency was working to reopen the Polaris—the blue-dome saucer that was immediately a skyline hallmark when it opened in 1967—the city buzzed with excitement. Details on the redesign have been kept under wraps since, and so I was excited when I got to meet the designers at The Johnson Studio and see the space last week.
Although I was not able to obtain any renderings nor allowed to take any pictures of the space, I spoke with Brian Finkel, the principal and architect at The Johnson Studio behind the renovation; Sharon Severance, the executive coordinator; interior designer Anna McGrady White; Hyatt’s marketing manager Walter Woods; and Hyatt’s executive chef Martin Pfefferkorn about what Atlanta can expect from the redesign.
At this point, the Polaris, which closed back in 2004, is in full-throttle construction mode. According to Woods, it remains on track to open in late March or early April. With the exception of the kitchen, everything else, including the bar, will rotate. Currently, the hotel team is working to make the Polaris meet today's building codes (which have certainly changed since the late sixties).
From a design aspect, the studio was keen to create a warm, modern space but also make subtle nods to the Polaris’ past.
“We took it from a retro-cool factor instead of trying to make it historical,” White says. “Everyone likes a craft cocktail, a lux leather chair, and a masculine wood vibe. Little touches like that have a sense of the past, but they’re also present day as well.”
Gold and brass, for example, are back, says White, and “it’s serendipitous that we’ve chosen a palette that harkens back to the original [space].” The color palette will be neutral with injections of color throughout. Think reflectivity and glitz, gold and shin glass, metals and stones.
The space will be divided into four zones for four distinct experiences. A bar and media zone will feature communal tables, two televisions, and personal speakers; a cozier living room will have cushy sofas, screens, and barriers; a more traditional dining area will have one communal table and multiple four-tops; and a library will be brooding with dark, masculine colors.
Each space was designed with the view in mind. Bar stools will face out, windows will not be reflective, and certain walls will be clad in a mirror-polish to minimize light refractions and only reflect the space itself. The view, I should add, is mesmerizing. One might think that downtown’s towering office buildings would hurt the experience, but they don’t. Stone Mountain, the Georgia State Capitol, Georgia Tech, Midtown, Old 4th Ward, Cabbagetown, Ponce City Market, Virginia Highlands, even Kennesaw in the distance—I could see it all.
The kitchen, set in the center of the rotating space, will be designed to look more residential than commercial, with an island and induction heating.
“You’ll be able to see ingredients in the fridge. It will be like being in a cool house,” Woods says.
Pfefferkorn, a classically French-trained chef who has been with Hyatt for more than a decade, is leading the charge on the food, which is being called “contemporary supper.” Recognizing that most visitors may just want a light, pre-theater or after-dinner snack with their choice cocktail, Pfefferkorn has designed a lighter-fare menu around small plates that will change every two weeks. Many ingredients will be sourced from a nearby rooftop garden (a “green roof”) visible from the Polaris. It’s the only peach tree on Peachtree, apparently.
“We’re not tying ourselves to a Southern concept,” says Pfefferkorn, who grew up on a farm. “We’re tying ourselves to local, seasonal products. That means I can make sushi. There are no boundaries.”
Pfefferkorn wasn’t ready to unveil his opening menu, which will range from under $10 to $17 per plate, but he’s certainly thinking about spring meats like lamb and rabbit. Where drinks are concerned, Hyatt’s own mixologist will tackle the beverage program.
“The original concept was a prime rib house that also served brunch on the weekends. That’s a little more than what people want now,” Woods says.
Although the team hasn’t nailed down the exact times, Woods says that the space will be open in the evening from around 5 p.m. to 1 a.m Wednesday through Sunday. Some are concerned that the Polaris will be overrun when it first opens. It’s a likely possibility since the space only has a 100-person occupancy, but being too busy is hardly a deterrent for a project of such historical importance.
“I see the Polaris as a signal of economic development,” Woods says. “We never intended for it to be closed for this long…It was the symbol of the city. It hasn’t been. It needs to be again and will be again.”