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Lauren Leathers

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Nine Atlanta events to (safely) get into the holiday spirit 

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Atlanta covid-safer holiday activities drive-in
The Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker is virtual this year, but every bit as delightful

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Ballet

Early this year, many event spaces shut their doors to the public. Plagued by the coronavirus, the city’s entertainment spaces were left empty and dark. But, if Atlanta is anything, it is resilient. Now, entertainment venues of all sorts have modified their space to welcome spectators just in time for the holidays. We’ve curated a short list of drive-in and walk-through spaces—plus one streamable classic—for you and your family to enjoy the holiday season safely.

Starlight Drive-in
Times: 9:30 p.m.; 11 p.m.
Location: 2000 Moreland Avenue
Price: $1-$10

At 70-years-old, the Starlight Drive-in is an Atlanta classic and was easily able to adapt to pandemic-friendly programming. The permanent drive-in theater boasts big Blockbuster films nightly. Ticket prices are for double features, which means you’ll get to see two movies that are playing on the same screen. (But you can’t move to another screen after your first movie, sorry.)

Atlanta covid-safer holiday activities drive-in
Atlanta Festival of Lights 
Date: Through January 18
Time: 6-11 p.m.
Location: Pinnacle Lot, Atlantic Station
Price: $25-$35 per car

In partnership with the Atlanta Beer and Wine Festivals, Atlantic Station lights up the Pinnacle Lot seven days per week through January 18. The inaugural drive-thru light show experience provides a safe way to get into the holiday spirit.

Plaza Theatre drive-in movies 
Various dates, times, and prices.

The Plaza Drive-In offers a variety of holiday-themed movies that can be enjoyed from the safety of a vehicle. Classics including The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Holiday, Christmas Vacation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more will be available on the big screen.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights 
Date: Through January 16
Time: 5-11 p.m.
Location: Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Price: $24.95-$56.95

The Atlanta Botanical Gardens continues its annual tradition of covering roughly 30-acres with lights to create a holiday-themed outdoor trail. New this year, Alice and the Red Queen join the White Rabbit and Phoenix in a glowing cast of sculptures. Nature’s Wonders returns with new music and motion, illuminating through countless strands of synchronized dancing lights. For safety, masks are required, entrance capacity has been lowered, all tickets must be purchased online, and visitors are to remain six-feet apart from others.

Atlanta covid-safer holiday activities drive-inA Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play
Date: Through December 23
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood in the parking lot of Georgia State University’s Center Parc Credit Union Stadium (formerly the Gold Lot at Turner Field)

The Alliance Theatre found a new way to tell its annual tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts. A Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play—co-adapted by director Leora Morris and Ben Coleman—takes place as a drive-in performance at Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood. Cars are parked at least one space apart, allowing attendees to stretch their legs during the 90-minute performance (masks must be worn when exiting the vehicle).

Atlanta Ballet presents The Nutcracker 2020 Experience
Date: Through December 27
Location: Streamed online
Price: $25 for 3-day viewing access

The Atlanta Ballet offers The Nutcracker in an online format this year. Available on-demand, the full ballet production has been captured on video and can be streamed directly from the safety and comfort of your home. The ballet is also celebrating “30 Days of Nutcracker” on social media, featuring dancer takeovers, behind-the-scenes glimpses, makeup tutorials, and other insights into the production.

PRISM: Winter Lights
Date: Through January 31
Time: The park is open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
Location: Woodruff Park
Price: Free

Back for its second year, PRISM: Winter Lights at Woodruff Park, presented by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and curated by Dashboard, is a two-month art exhibition displaying works by artists from around the country. This year’s show explores the theme of water and features three light-based landmark sculptures installed on the park’s main lawn. Additionally, Arts & Entertainment Atlanta will pilot a projection mapping effort that showcases animated artwork by local artists on the park’s International Peace Fountain water wall. Featured artists include MaDora Frey, Ellex Swavoni, Jason Sweet, Kris Pilcher, NNEKKAA, Amelia Carley and Joseph Peragine.

Stone Mountain Christmas
Date: Through January 3
Location: Stone Mountain
Price: $29.95-$31.95

Stone Mountain will glow with millions of lights this season, joining many other holiday-themed activities at the park, including festive music and shows. Early visitors can enjoy regular park attractions like the Scenic Railroad and Summit Skyride. Face masks are required for visitors age 3 and up, with some exceptions including if you’re eating or drinking, and temperature screenings will be taken prior to entry.

The Springs Cinema & Taphouse
Date: Holiday movies through December
Location: 5920 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs
Price: $28-$49 per car

This theater is open for indoor viewing but has also added the drive-in option open on Friday and Saturday nights. You can have food delivered to your car, but keep in mind that the restrooms are inside the main facility.

These handcrafted guitars are made with lumber salvaged from the former Masquerade

Holgado Handmade Guitars Masquerade
Tomas Holgado at his workshop

Photograph by Brock Scott

Argentinian-born Tomas Holgado was 14 years old the first time he stepped on stage at the Masquerade, one of Atlanta’s most iconic and scrappy venues. He played bass in his older brother’s band and recalls the floor of the uppermost of the venue’s three stages—named Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory—shaking as though if it would cave in at any moment. He recalls the moment of bliss that came with performing in front of a live audience and the pungent scent of booze, cigarettes, and sweat.

During Holgado’s youth, the North Avenue rock haven was located within the old DuPre Excelsior Mill, which for decades chopped wood slivers from logs to use as a packaging material. In 2016, the lot was purchased by developers Southeastern Capital Companies and Coro Realty with initial plans to convert the property into a mixed-use development called North + Line. In December 2019, the developers announced a new project for the Old DuPre Mill location: The Mill Marketplace, an office park.

The Masquerade venue, meanwhile, moved and inked a 10-year lease at Underground Atlanta in 2017, but the previous location’s nonhistoric buildings were set to be demolished in the redevelopment. Jay Clark, founder and CEO of Southeastern Capital Companies, previously said those who are worried about preserving the history of the 118-year old structure building shouldn’t be, because plans were to preserve the original flooring and columns. However, that was before the east wall of the mill partially collapsed during construction on December 27, 2019. The developers have since resumed construction and are working closely with the Atlanta Urban Design Commission and the Atlanta Department of City Planning to stabilize and restore the historic structure.

Holgado spent many late nights at the Masquerade attending shows, performing and later backstage as an employee for a company that supplied equipment to touring bands. He became good friends with the staff and management of the venue and when it came time for the big move in 2017, he was on site, lending a hand.

“We were using our trucks and helping [the Masquerade] move to their new location,” he says. “My mom sent me an email about this dude from New York who built guitars from buildings that were being remodeled that had incredible pine, similar to this stuff at the Masquerade—really old growth pine that’s dried inside for 100-150 years, which is unheard of. You can’t just buy that stuff.”

He decided to give it a shot and took a truckload of salvageable lumber pulled from the walls, floors, and railings home. So far, Holgado’s designed and built six guitars made from the Masquerade wood, and will make at least three more. He says the wood is covered in stains, scrapes and nail marks, but the imperfections are what carries on the venue’s legacy most.

Holgado Handmade Guitars Masquerade“Going into it I didn’t know if the pieces of wood were going to end up actually sounding awesome or just being more memorabilia of the Masquerade,” he says. “It turned out sounding incredible. The wood is super solid, dense and stable—all things it could have not been—it was the best case scenario.”

The limited edition guitars aren’t sold for top dollar, rather, he bases his sales on merit, vetting potential customers with one question: “Why do you want this Masquerade guitar and not just any other guitar?”

Holgado Handmade Guitars MasqueradeBut beyond the Masquerade guitars, Holgado has a full-service shop he runs from his home in Decatur, Holgado Guitar Works. There, he builds, repairs, and does other craftsmanship work on string instruments. The shop guarantees same-day repairs, which he says is a rarity in the music industry. Customers often hang around the shop while he works, strumming on one of the many guitars on display or cozying up with his rottweiler, Georgia.

“I’m halfway a therapist and halfway the guitar tech,” he says. “I get the Pawn Stars kind of feel because I get every sort of character in here, from heartwarming to heartbreaking. We call it the center for deprived rock ‘n’ roll musicians.”

Holgado Handmade Guitars MasqueradeHe also has his own line of guitars, Holgado Handmade Guitars, which are crafted exactly to customer specifications, take between two and three months to make, and cost between $1,500-$2,000.

“Building guitars has affected everything I do in every sense,” he says. “I’ve become more of an old man—careful, woodworky, finicky, and picky. Translating that to playing music, it makes everything present itself a lot easier. There’s a lot more structure and it makes more sense.”

He’s seen the ebb and flow of the Atlanta music scene over the years, through both firsthand experience and through the lens of each musician that comes through his shop.

“Atlanta is becoming a little more uppity with the new, more expensive buildings,” Holgado says. “But the music scene is persistent. The Masquerade was scooted out and it persisted. There’s something for everyone who loves music in Atlanta and I see every sort of musician. It shows me there is no shortage of diversity and resilience in the music scene in this city.”

Beyond the Brew: Waller’s Coffee Shop aims to promote strong mental health

Waller's Coffee Shop DecaturWhen Jason Waller began thinking about opening his own coffee shop, he had a lot more in mind than just selling a good brew. “I knew I wanted to run a coffee shop that was also a music venue, and I wanted to host different programs in an environment where people could talk openly without fear of someone shaming or judging them,” he says.

Waller, who has struggled with anxiety and depression, has been hosting his own YouTube series D.A.D Presents since 2016, which focuses on breaking the stigma tied to mental health issues. He wanted Waller’s Coffee Shop to be a space to foster discussion about and provide resources for mental health, including support groups and first-aid training. A musician himself, he’ll also host weekly live music at the shop, with songwriter nights and bluegrass jams. And, of course, it’ll serve as a place to sip coffee, serving Batdorf and Bronson beans.

“I want this to be a place that people can come for help, guidance, and just for quiet time,” Waller says. “I want to help make Atlanta a place for mental awareness for musicians and beyond.”

Waller's Coffee Shop DecaturLocated around the corner from Your DeKalb Farmers Market on DeKalb Industrial Way in Decatur, Waller’s will host a grand opening celebration on March 2 from 1-6 p.m. with treats from Ashley Sue’s Baked Goods and a lineup of live music all day long, including an evening performance from Mudcat.

Below, we chatted with Waller about his mission behind the shop.

Tell me about your YouTube series, D.A.D Presents.
[It stands for] Depression Awareness Dude. I was fed up with my own depression and anxiety and I wanted to out myself and interview songwriters. I would ask questions mainly about the negative stigma attached to mental illness. I didn’t want people to be ashamed or afraid to ask for help. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of—its body chemistry. People who get cancer or break their arm—these are medical issues that society deems okay. But when we talk about mental illness, it’s a taboo subject with many misconceptions.

How did the video series tie into creating Waller’s Coffee Shop?
As I progressed with my mental health, I started to realize what I was capable of and all that I had to offer to the community. Everything that is going on at Waller’s is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Coffee is just the vehicle. Though funny enough, when I started focusing on my own mental health, I stopped putting sugar in my coffee. That’s when I realized coffee could actually [have] taste, which sent me on my journey to tasting different brands and types of coffee. Now, I love learning about and tasting new coffees.

You’re also a musician—how has that role tied into the shop?
It’s me fulfilling my hero’s journey. I’ve been a musician more than half my life and with that comes many odd jobs. The other half of my working life, I was a wilderness therapy guide. When I quit that, I went straight into playing in bands and writing. But when I had children and started a family, touring with a band wasn’t exactly in the picture. So creating a music venue struck my mind.

What kinds of programs and activities will be offered at Waller’s?
I am continuing the D.A.D Presents videos by having artists—or anyone, really—talk with me about the negative stigma attached to mental health. I want this to be a place to somewhere for open dialogue.

We’ve had a great success with the Songwriter’s in the Round series every Friday night. Soon, we will offer a Saturday Wellness Program, and currently we are hosting Family Fun Sundays with a bounce house and other activities for kids.

It’s limitless what we can do with community programs here. Eventually, I’d like to open my office for therapists to use as a satellite office, create support groups, and more. It’s been tough in these early stages, because starting a business from scratch has taken up so much time, but I’m so excited to really get into all these things.

What food items are on the menu?
As of now, we don’t have a full kitchen. But we do plan to have sandwiches, soups, and baked goods to offer soon.

Why did you choose to use coffee from Batdorf and Bronson?
They provide a lot of training and technical support. When I reached out to them, we just hit it off. I learned about the company and the more I learned, the more I fell in love.

You used to have a coffee cart you took around town. Will you continue the mobile coffee cart?
I was selling coffee at the Avondale Farmer’s Market this past summer, and I’ve done different music festivals here and there. I imagine the coffee cart will continue, but for now, I’ve been focusing entirely on the brick-and-mortar.

What styles of live music do you plan to have?
I’m a songwriter that just wants to celebrate songs. Bluegrass, folk music, rock, anything really. But I’m going to start things off on the acoustic side. Mainly music that won’t be too loud and abrasive with the atmosphere, kind of Eddie’s Attic-style.

Beyond pumpkin spice: 4 Atlanta coffee shops serving festive fall drinks

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Americans love coffee. While the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte may be the most well-known fall drink, Atlanta offers plenty more fall drink specials guaranteed to warm you up (plus local versions of that eternal favorite PSL). Whether drinking a roast as dark as your soul or one that contains an excessive amount of sugary syrup (no judgement here), let’s tip our hats to a few of the local shops serving comfort in a cup.

Chrome Yellow Trading Company Spiced Apple Latte
Spiced Apple Latte

Photograph courtesy of Chrome Yellow Trading Company

Chrome Yellow Trading Co.
Spiced Apple Latte, $5
Chrome Yellow recently released the Spiced Apple Latte, made with a maple-apple syrup, espresso, steamed milk, and tad of allspice. The industrial-style shop opened in 2013 and beyond coffee, carries modern-yet-classical attire. The open layout, lighting, and music create a clean-cut vibe that invites a variety of people to work, shop, and relax. 502 Edgewood Avenue

Hodgepodge Coffee Maple Syrup Latte
Maple Syrup Latte

Photograph by Lori Manis

Hodgepodge Coffeehouse
Maple Syrup Latte and Apple Cider Chai, $5 each
The walls of Hodgepodge Coffeehouse are covered with art and color, making the shop live up to its name, and the cozy space has a warm and welcoming vibe perfect to ignite conversation. The shop offers fall drink specials including the Maple Syrup Latte—two shots of Batdorf and Bronson‘s Whirling Dervish espresso, maple syrup, and steamed milk—along with an Apple Cider Chai topped with whipped cream and cinnamon powder.

Hodgepodge Coffee Apple cider
Apple cider

Photograph by Lori Manis

The shop is also serving up the fall essentials: the Pumpkin Spice Latte and apple cider. Top it all off with a pumpkin cream cheese muffin, available for limited time. 720 Moreland Avenue Southeast

Aurora Coffee
El Diablo Mocha, $3.75-$5
Pecan Pie Latte, $4
Aurora Coffee prides itself on being a relaxed, independent coffee shop nestled in Little Five Points. For fall, they’re once again bringing out the El Diablo Mocha. Not for the faint of heart, the El Diablo is spiced with cayenne and cinnamon to provide a similar feel to Mexican hot chocolate. The drink is also available in an espresso-less version—essentially a spicy hot chocolate—appropriately called Lil’ Devil.

For those with a sweet tooth, Aurora is also fine-tuning a Pecan Pie Latte, flavored with light molasses and butter pecan syrup. 468 Moreland Avenue Northeast

Java Monkey Pumpkin Spice Latte
Pumpkin Spice Latte

Photograph courtesy of Java Monkey

Java Monkey
Gingerbread Latte, $3.25-$4.15
Gingerbread Frappe, $4.25
Mint Hot Chocolate, $2.85-$3.95
Pumpkin Spice Latte, $3.50-$4.25

Java Monkey provides a relaxed environment complete with coffee, quick bites, and a wine selection. The shop offers entertainment most nights, including comedy and spoken word. For fall, they’re serving a Gingerbread Latte and a the frozen Gingerbread Frappe (for those who just can’t let summer go), a Mint Hot Chocolate, and back by customer demand, the Pumpkin Spice Latte, so you can embrace fall to the fullest. 425 Church Street, Decatur

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