It was a simple post published on Nextdoor one day in April: “For those that do not know, [Peters Street] lounges and bars will all be closed by the end of the year…” The user was referring to the popular street in Castleberry Hill, where a cluster of black-owned restaurants and bars, retail, and other businesses are located. While the post contained both accurate and inaccurate information about the fate of popular nightlife hubs—including the Spinning Pie (also known as Spin), 255 Tapas Lounge, and Escobar—it spurred an immediate response as it was shared across other social media platforms. A screenshot made its way to Twitter, where it racked up more than 200 retweets and likes.
“Nightlife as Atlanta know it is DEAD,” one Twitter user commented.
“Smells like gentrification.”
“How dare y’all do this … if we can’t go to [Peters Street], where can we go?”
It’s true that some of the Peters Street businesses, including Spin, 255, and Pearl Restaurant & Lounge, are set to close in 2020, according to Alphonzo Cross, who along with his sister has owned 249-259 Peters Street since 2001. The exact dates for when the businesses will close is unknown, but Cross says the leases are staggered. Contrary to the initial rumors, Escobar, the lounge co-owned by rapper 2 Chainz, will not be closing, as it is not part of Cross’s properties. (Atlanta reached out to Pearl and 255 for comment but had not heard back by press time. Spin declined to comment.)
“I know that the misconception is that we’re kicking everybody out. That’s not the case at all,” says Cross. Rather, he says there have long been plans to revamp the building. “The building has some age and could use some love. And in order to renovate and develop—all of the stuff that needs to be done for the building to exist for another 40 to 50 years—we can’t do that with it occupied.”
Cross, who previously co-owned the now-shuttered healthy corner store Boxcar Grocer in the building, says the renovation plans include adding a boutique hotel, the Cato Hotel, which is named after Cato Alexander, a former-slave-turned-tavern-owner, according to Eater. Other plans include adding new food and beverage businesses, retail, and office spaces. Cross says he plans to “hire from within the community,” including Atlanta University Center students and graduates, and to work with local vendors to bring his plan to fruition. The space will remain a hub for black entrepreneurs, he says.
“Because we’re black, we are going out of our way to look for black [owners]. People have to understand that to get to these beloved places, we provided the platform for that ideation,” he says. “We have to take some solace in the fact that this is going to remain a black community,” he adds, pointing to other black-owned businesses in the area such as the Old Lady Gang restaurant and Zucot Gallery.
Still, Cross admits the businesses that will replace Spin and 255 won’t have the same vibe and atmosphere as the beloved Peters Street staples. Although he insists the upcoming changes are simply a result of needing to renovate and update the businesses in the space, there have been long-standing tensions between residents, business owners, and patrons in the neighborhood—which initially garnered a lot of attention for its high-end condos and art galleries in the 1990s—that may have contributed to the social media outrage over the bars closing.
Off The Hook owner Carl Booker, who has operated the barber shop in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, says he noticed Peters Street became popular for partying when many of the nightlife spots in Buckhead began to shutter in the 2000s. “When Buckhead and all these other places started shutting out different venues, Peters Street started opening up,” he says. ”People on the southwest side of town didn’t have to go to Buckhead anymore.”
A 2008 article published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled “Nightlife: Not everyone likes the burgeoning scene” chronicled the problems, ranging from noise to parking to crime, that arose as a result of the growing popularity of nightlife establishments such as 255. In the article, Cortland Jackson, owner of 255, said many of the issues between the white residents and black business owners and patrons in the area had “class and racial overtones.” A quote from a local businessman in the same article seems to hint at this. “The [AUC] college kids are really well-behaved,” Steve Messer told the publication at that time. “It’s the other group of people who don’t go to college—either they don’t work or work very little—and all they want to do is party.”
Michel “Snoop” Dillard, who co-owns Escobar with 2 Chainz, says she would walk to 255 and Slice (now Spin) when she lived in Castleberry Hill about decade ago, and says she’s sad say goodbye to the places that inspired her to open her own bar in the area. “I just thought the neighborhood and the area was so cool to have several black-owned bars back-to-back like that,” she says. “I thought that it would be a good idea to add another one.”
Dillard says she initially wanted to house Escobar in the building owned by Cross—the same one that houses 255 and Spin—but she says Cross was clear that he was already interested in heading in another direction. She eventually opened Escobar at 327 Peters Street in 2016. (She says 2 Chainz owns Escobar’s building.)
Dillard says those tensions from the late 2000s still remain, adding that the white residents who attend neighborhood meetings often overshadow and are more outspoken than the black residents. Booker notes that residents and business owners within the black community also often have differing opinions about the future of the neighborhood.
Booker is optimistic about the new plans for the building, though. He says he has a great relationship with the owner of Spin and 255, but admits he’s looking forward to getting more family-friendly, upscale restaurants in the neighborhood.
“I think it’s time for somewhat of a change,” he says. “I’d love for you to be able to bring your son to get a haircut at 5 p.m. on a Friday and take him to get pizza after that, but you won’t want to do that if you have to be pat down going into the place. I understand why people are upset about 255 and Spin leaving, but they’re not looking at the overall picture. They’re only looking at what they want to do.”