Taking a spin at the Polaris

After a decade out of circulation, the iconic revolving restaurant re-opens next week.
Photographs by Caroline C. Kilgore

When the Polaris originally opened atop the Hyatt Regency, Gina Christman was 16 and desperate to get into the cobalt-domed prime rib palace hovering at the top of the downtown skyline. “I came with my adult cousins and they thought they could sneak me in, so I put my hair in a bun so I looked older!” she recalled. It worked. “I’ve loved the Polaris ever since.” Christman, now the publisher of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine, was back at Thursday’s night preview party for the reinvented revolving cocktail lounge, which will open to the public Tuesday, June 10.

Surveying the updated design by the Johnson Studio, Christman said, “It still has the same energy. It’s a throwback but it’s modern as well.” The reimagined Polaris houses two living room spaces, a bar, and a small restaurant. There’s a definite emphasis on cocktails and socializing over dining.

Standing in the stationary center area as the redesigned spaces rotated behind her, PR maven Amanda Brown-Olmstead observed that back in the 1960s Polaris’s motion “caused a much bigger sensation” but doesn’t seem as noticeable now. “It felt like it was swirling back then—probably because we had never experienced a revolving restaurant before,” said Brown-Olmstead, who as fashion and publicity director for the J.P. Allen & Company department store, helped throw some of the original parties and fashion shows at the Hyatt. Perhaps that’s also because, in the early days, the management sped up the Polaris’s rotation to try to prevent diners from lingering too long. (For more Polaris lore, read the May 2014 feature “Full Circle.”)

Out on the Hyatt’s rooftop garden, Sammy Sinatra and the Mad Men played a swing version of “Movin’ On Up,” the theme from the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons. Just after 8 p.m., the act was forced to seek cover as a pop-up thunderstorm enveloped the blue bubble. Inside, attendees set down their Old Fashioneds and Peach Daiquiris to take cameraphone pictures of the strange red sky.

Steve Nygren, founder of Serenbe, recalled many revolutions in the Polaris in the early 1970s when he was busy launching his Pleasant Peasant restaurant business.

“My office was just across Peachtree at the top of the Mart,” Nygren said. “This feels as fun and as festive as it did then. And that elevator ride up here never gets old.” Nygren said that while he appreciated the farm-to-table menu samples—such as an asparagus-adorned Steak Oscar bite created by executive chef Martin Pfefferkorn—he hesitated to make comparisons to the original Polaris menu.

“We always came for the drinks,” he said. “I can’t even remember the food. And if you had too many cocktails, you had trouble remembering which part of the Polaris was rotating, too!”