It really hasn’t been that many years (eight, to be precise) since the forces of money, politics, and good taste combined to chase the raucous bars of Buckhead Village into extinction. It seems longer, though, doesn’t it? Could it really be only eight years since bubbles were pouring out of Uranus? (Not a joke, I swear.) Since girls cavorted on swings at Mako’s? Since the plastic alligators at Lulu’s Bait Shack?
Maybe it feels longer just because the sight of those places—unabashed hedonism and glorious tackiness amid the oldest money in town—was too much cognitive dissonance for our brains to process. (Was the governor’s mansion really that close?) Today our contributions to the civic trash quotient are reserved, more or less, for the glut of reality TV shows set here. And Buckhead? The blocks where most of those bars did their dubious business became a hole in the ground, as Ben Carter’s Streets of Buckhead development stalled, then was sold off, finally becoming Buckhead Atlanta. And so where once there was Coyote Ugly, there is now Christian Louboutin. Whether this saddens or gladdens you says a lot about your age, your career choice, and whether you ever use the word winter as a verb.
This month, with Buckhead Atlanta poised to open, we take a look at the Buckhead of 2014. In many ways, it doesn’t look much different from the Buckhead of ten or twenty years ago. The malls at Phipps and Lenox are still the places to see and be seen—and to shop. The gyms and spas are packed with the young and beautiful. The restaurants, too, are humming with patrons. And above it all, the cranes are raising the skyline to loftier and shinier heights. But it wasn’t very long ago that Buckhead, the city’s financial and glitzy heart, was knocked on its heels by the Great Recession. The Streets of Buckhead—abandoned rebar and concrete pillars—was just the most visible sign. Today, though, we’re happy to report that Buckhead is very much back. And the nightlife? It’s grown up. And who can complain about that?