Best of Atlanta 2019: Work & Play

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Kids creating toys in a "Toy Testing Lab" with a giant chalkboard as one of the walls

Photograph courtesy of Kefi

Best New School Attraction: Kefi

In Greek, “kefi” means “good times.” For every parent who has ever cursed Chuck E. Cheese, this new play space may come close to nirvana. Created by a Buckhead dad who formerly worked for Disney and Coca-Cola, it is colorful, interactive, clean, and well staffed with plenty of “Playsmiths.” Areas range from toy-testing labs and interactive digital storytelling to climbing blocks. There’s no chance your child will get lost—all visitors wear sensor bracelets that make them easy to track. From $15 for two hours (advance purchase), per person.

Best Confederate Callout: DeKalb County Commission

Governments across the U.S. are confronting their racist histories, some by taking down Confederate monuments altogether. But Georgia is one of seven states with laws prohibiting removal. The law is silent, however, on the addition of historical context. This year, DeKalb County commissioners installed a plaque near the Confederate monument in Decatur Square, and it does not equivocate: This monument “bolstered white supremacy and faulty history” and was created to “glorify the Lost Cause,” “intimidate African Americans,” and “[foster] a culture of segregation.” The officials also approved the placement of a lynching marker in the Square in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Best Gift We’ll All Enjoy: Blank’s Support for Westside Park

Westside Park, which—when it’s complete—will be bigger than Piedmont Park, got a shot of adrenaline this year when the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation announced a $17.5 million donation that will go toward the park’s construction. The Blank money will be targeted specifically toward 50 acres of the park’s eventual 280 and will pay for, among other things, walking paths, drainage and irrigation, restrooms, and a pathway that connects the park to the Grove Park community. With the BeltLine nearby, Westside Park will be truly transformational, and Blank’s gift ensures we can start enjoying it that much sooner.

Best New Local Podcast: WABE’s Bottom of the Map

Hip-hop scholar Dr. Regina Bradley and journalist Christina Lee aren’t just two music fans talking about how America’s hip-hop culture is awesome. With years of experience writing about and studying the socioeconomic nuances of rap, and with help from producer and ATL arts scene regular Floyd Hall, Lee and Bradley deftly relate topics like self-care, spirituality, and swag-stealing to Southern rap icons like OutKast and Goodie Mob.

Best Refresh of a Beloved Movie Theater: Springs Cinema & Taphouse

Early this year, after months of renovation, George Lefont’s old movie theater in Sandy Springs reopened as the Springs Cinema & Taphouse. The property, which Lefont—the cinephile and entrepreneur whose theaters for years were the only game in town for anyone wanting alternative films—sold in 2017, is now owned by Brandt Gully, who runs a financial advisory firm. Gully upgraded the space to make it millennial-friendly. (Craft beer! Bar service! Reclining and reserved heated seats! $7 tickets on Tuesdays!) Gully has sought to retain some of the DNA from Lefont’s old place, with occasional runs of more iconoclastic films, plus throwback movies on Sundays and Wednesdays. Why yes, we would like to see The Maltese Falcon on the big screen.

Lil Gotit
Lil Gotit

Photograph courtesy of A3C

Best power move by a local festival: A3C

For its 15th year, the city’s homegrown festival celebrating hip-hop didn’t just go big; it literally got bigger. Seeing an opportunity to add tech and entrepreneurship to the event, new co-owners Paul Judge, a serial start-up investor, and Gathering Spot co-owner Ryan Wilson—not to mention a star-studded crew that includes rapper 2 Chainz and Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams—organized panels on building a music business and using Silicon Valley smarts. When not learning, attendees of the five-day conference mixing tech, music, and social justice took over the Masquerade with performances by the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and Pink Sweat$.

Best Permanent Pop-Up: Trap Music Museum

Originally conceived by T.I. during the lead-up to his 10th album, Dime Trap, and intended to close after Super Bowl LIII, the Trap Music Museum celebrated its first anniversary in October and has remained in weekly operation after becoming a nationwide sensation. Originally curated by former LaFace Records creative director D.L. Warfield, the museum adds new exhibits constantly, including an area dedicated to late California rapper Nipsey Hussle and several installations representing Atlanta rappers like Migos, Future, and Jeezy. It demonstrates how artists found inspiration in places where crime and drug dealing thrives and survival depends on serious creativity. There’s also an “Escape the Trap” challenge, where it’s not easy to break out but is much less difficult than doing it in real life.

Mike Conti and Jason Longshore

Photograph courtesy of Atlanta United

Best Broadcast Duo: Mike Conti and Jason Longshore

During Atlanta United’s first-round playoff victory in October against New England Revolution, there was one moment that was emblematic of the wonderful give-and-take between Mike Conti and Jason Longshore, who provide play-by-play and color commentary, respectively, on 92.9 The Game. Late in the first half, with both teams still scoreless and the season on the line, it appeared striker Josef Martinez had earned a penalty kick during contact with New England’s goalkeeper. “Penalty! And a yellow card!” shouted the ever-animated Conti, who was immediately corrected by the ever-cerebral Longshore. “No!” Longshore retorted, at an escalated volume he rarely employs. “It’s not a penalty!” Indeed, it wasn’t (the yellow card went to Martinez for bad acting, officially called simulation), but the exchange highlighted what makes the combination of the two men so entertaining that fans watching at home will mute their TV and queue up the Conti-Longshore broadcast instead. Remember that Conti is calling the game for radio, and his ability to describe the movements of the game in both descriptive and real-time terms is astounding, while Longshore’s encyclopedic analysis of the game always feels educational without being condescending. It’s their voices that are piped through the stadium concourse on game days, and it’s their call on the 2018 MLS Cup (Atlanta’s first major sports victory in a generation, thanks very much) that earned the duo a Georgia Association of Broadcasters award this year. We concur with the judges.

An arcade room with a Pac Man game, air hocky, pinball machines, and more

Photograph courtesy of Don Hopkins

Best Way to Spend a Rainy Afternoon: Retro Arcade

This Airbnb Experience in Lithia Springs gives guests free range (and free play!) in their very own 42-piece, 1,250-square-foot arcade. Play unlimited rounds of Terminator Salvation, Skee-Ball, and Galaga under the dozens of custom and vintage neon signs lining the walls, but don’t miss the Pac-Man Smash air hockey table, which randomly floods players with 28 neon pucks. $45 per person gets you 2.5 hours with the $100,000 setup that includes a rare Punchy the Clown pinball machine (one of just 103 in existence). That beats Xbox any day.

Best Old-School Attraction: Cyclorama

This circular painting of the Battle of Atlanta debuted in Minneapolis in 1886 and made its way to Atlanta a few years later, where it was altered to glorify the Confederacy. Its historical inaccuracies were corrected in the 1930s, and the attraction later earned support from Mayor Maynard Jackson. (The battle was a Union victory, after all.) However, the panorama never quite shook its rep for political incorrectness. Last February, thanks to benefactors Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker, the artwork moved into a dramatic new space at the Atlanta History Center, which completed a painstaking renovation and is using the display as a cautionary tale about how history can get distorted. As a bonus, Zoo Atlanta is turning the painting’s former Grant Park home into a stunning new event facility overlooking the elephant exhibit.

Best New Pro Sports Franchise: College Park Skyhawks

An NBA G League franchise, the Skyhawks and their Harry the Hawk lookalike mascot Colli Park made their debut this fall. College Park native Tauheed “2 Chainz” Epps is among the owners. Home games take place at the brand new Gateway Arena, a $45-million, multi-use facility located next door to the Georgia International Convention Center that will also house the Atlanta Dream in summer 2020. Two Skyhawks, Charlie Brown, Jr. and Brandon Goodwin, are signed to two-way contracts that allow them to move back and forth between College Park and State Farm Arena. The best part? Tickets start at under $10.

A man giving a haircute to a homeless man

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Best Dressed: Hope Thru Soap

Founded in 2016, this nonprofit serves people experiencing homelessness by making regular stops around town with a trailer that provides hot showers and a bus that offers fresh clothes and free haircuts. Sometimes these visits turn into mini–block parties, with music and a cookout. So far, the organization has helped more than 18,000 Atlantans. And this year, they took their services to Cobb and Forsyth counties. Soon they’ll move into Gwinnett.

Best New Gaming Destination: Axis Replay

This new BeltLine-adjacent destination appeals to a wide range of fans. Casual gamer? Hop into a broad selection of games and get the full experience with top-spec rigs, peripherals, and a fast internet connection—whether you prefer console, virtual reality, PC, or even tabletop games—for just $5 per hour. Competitive gamer? Join the constant rotation of tournaments for popular games or viewing parties for pro competitions. Part of an eSports organization? Axis Replay offers conference rooms, networking events, and, of course, free coffee. Although the business is young and still working out the kinks (on a recent trip, our testers weren’t able to play a game together because their consoles’ storage space was full—an ordeal that took a chunk of time out of our hour-long session), Axis Replay is a culture and experience serious gamers shouldn’t pass up. There’s also a (soon-to-open) bar and Dance Dance Revolution station.

Best Love For ATL: Atlanta Influences Everything

You’ve surely seen the T-shirts, but “Atlanta Influences Everything” is much more than a fashion statement. It’s a civic and creative agency formed by four Atlantans—Bem Joiner, Yami Jaramillo, Ian Ford, and Tory Edwards—which, in addition to selling tees, hats, and other merch, consults with government and business interests in Greater ATL, connecting them with the communities they hope to impact. Clients have ranged from Fulton County Arts & Culture to Church’s Chicken. Fans including Atlanta Hawks executive Grant Hill, Gucci Mane, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms can be spotted wearing their geographic hearts on their sleeves.

Creature Comforts Tropicalia can

Photograph courtesy of Creature Comforts

Best Product Placement: Creature Comforts in Avengers: Endgame

Thanks to Avengers: Endgame, Atlanta can now proudly claim the highest-grossing movie of all time. The Marvel blockbuster filmed scenes at various spots in Georgia, including Fairlie-Poplar and the Porsche Experience Center. Local beer fans were delighted to find out that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a fan of Creature Comforts. The character is seen drinking a can of Creature Comforts Athena early on in the film and later is actually bribed into returning to Avengers HQ with what was evidently a pack of Tropicália, as the beer-loving Asgardian is spotted sipping it a scene later before delivering a long, drunken monologue. Creature Comforts CEO Chris Herron was delighted, and on the Athens’s brewery’s fifth anniversary, he took his staff to the film’s opening night, cheering when the familiar orange and blue can appeared on screen.

Best New Way to Geek Out: The Void

Blink and you might miss the newest addition to the Battery: the Void, which opened in late September in a nondescript space next to the Roxy. But once inside, you can explore incredible virtual worlds, including those from franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel’s Avengers. The Void utilizes 4-D effects, VR headsets, and backpacks to help visitors immerse themselves in digital environments. As a Stormtrooper exploring the lava planet of Mustafar, you can smell the smoke from molten rocks and feel the heat. The experiences are fairly short (30 minutes), and the fun doesn’t come cheap: While non-Disney experiences can cost $20 a person, the Star Wars and Marvel missions will set you back $35–$40 per person. But for die-hard fans, it’s still cheaper than a trip to Disney World.

An overhead shot of kids playing soccer on a field across from the East Point MARTA station

Photograph courtesy of Soccer in the Streets

Best Urban Soccer: StationSoccer

StationSoccer’s third pitch officially opened across from the East Point MARTA station on October 5. Counting the thriving Five Points and West End pitches, the organization is now three locations deep into its goal of becoming the world’s first league of soccer teams representing transit stations. The initiative is run by nonprofit organization Soccer in the Streets, which manages a free urban soccer program for Atlanta youth and provides work-readiness and leadership training. And it’s funded by adult-league play, along with support from Atlanta United and other partnerships.

Photograph by Charlie Bard/EyeEm/Getty images

Superlative services

Here are three great places to eat and drink where you can bring your dog.

ParkGrounds
Let your pup socialize at a fenced-in dog park while you sip on coffee (or beer) and devour French toast at this Reynoldstown coffeehouse.

Neighbor’s Pub
With six doggy treats on the menu and plenty of patio space and TVs, enjoy a burger and drink while you and your four-legged friend relax in the shade at this Virginia-Highland hangout.

Orpheus Brewing
It abuts Piedmont Park, allows dogs in the tasting room, and hosts frequent adoption events with the Atlanta Humane Society.

Readers’ Choice

Best public park
Piedmont Park

Best coworking space
The Lola

Best boutique hotel
Clermont Hotel

Best bike shop
Loose Nuts Cycles

This article appears in our December 2019 issue.

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