The Royal Peacock is one of Atlanta’s last remaining third places

Atlanta's oldest Black music venue has been operating continuously since the 1930s

The Royal Peacock
The Royal Peacock in the 1960s

Photograph by AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Skip Mason Archives

186 ½ Auburn Avenue is a landmark in itself. The small, nondescript two-story brick building has been the hub of Black art, entertainment, and nightlife for nearly 90 years: The Royal Peacock, Atlanta’s oldest Black music venue, operating continuously since the 1930s.

For decades, historic Auburn Avenue was Black Atlanta’s Main Street, the heart of its economic, social, and political power. Once called ‘the Richest Negro Street in the World,’ Auburn Avenue was anchored by venues like The Royal Peacock, a music venue and lounge that has withstood the test of time; constantly adapting, but never abandoning its audience.

Over its nearly 90 years of operation, The Royal Peacock has hosted an astonishing string of legends: Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, and the Supremes, not to mention homegrown Georgia stars like Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Little Richard, and James Brown. The crowds that flocked to see them play included notable patrons like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Then and now, The Royal Peacock has served as one of Atlanta’s longest-lasting “third places”: public, social places, outside the required domiciles of everyday life, including home (the first place) and work or school (second). Third places offer a community gathering spot, self-selected by people who want to connect beyond those requisite daily activities.

The great American suburbanization of the last half-century has upended the social fabric that once tied cities together. Regional planners traded human-scale, walkable neighborhoods—full of easily connected places for formal and informal social gatherings—for transactional, retail-based strip malls and isolationist cul-de-sac development. The creation of Atlanta’s suburbs and exurbs came at the cost of its urban neighborhoods.

In the mid-1960s, city officials built the Downtown Connector interstate straight through Auburn Avenue. The multilane highway initially disrupted, then fully dismantled, the heart of Black-owned business and community strength. Despite this collapse, The Royal Peacock persisted, enduring as Auburn Avenue’s last remaining third place. The music venue, now a reggae nightclub, is one of Atlanta’s few continuously dedicated places for Black music and social gatherings. The venue has managed to outlive Jim Crow segregation, the highway invasion of Auburn Avenue, and ’90s-era Olympification; will it manage to survive in Atlanta’s new era of rampant gentrification? Only time will tell.

This article appears in our May 2024 issue.