Turns out bowling alley bars don't have to serve PBR and tepid draft pitchers. The Painted Pin is evidence to the contrary, an upscale boutique bar in a repurposed Buckhead warehouse. You can bowl, sure, for $25-$35 per hour, and shoes must be rented separately. Or you can hang out and let others roll gutter balls while you enjoy bocce ball, shuffleboard or people watching. On the menu: Edamame, waffle dogs, strawberry-arugula salad, that sort of stuff. And to drink? How about milk stout on tap, gin punch and other signature cocktails, or a sip from the impressive wine list.
225 W Crogan St., Lawrenceville. 678-869-5220
Strange Taco lives up to its name at its half-hipster, half-beach hut home on the Lawrenceville square. Proud to be un-authentic, the eatery/bar is awash in bright lights and boardwalk colors and slings duck tacos and frozen margaritas with inventive, candy-color add-ins beneath an upside down bicycle on the ceiling. It fits in and stands out at the same time, since local laws make it possible to take a Strange Taco frozen beverage outside to stroll the more conventional square.
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466 Edgewood Ave. SE; 404-522-8275
A list of unique bars in Atlanta wouldn’t be complete without this staple. The irreverent Sweet Auburn bar ranges from fun to manic. It furnishes choir robes if you'd like to look the part for church-organ karaoke amidst the church kitsche. Yes, ping pong is a thing, and you can order most mixed drinks and lots of different beers. But if you're expecting hushed tones or are offended by brisk adult language, better opt for another congregation.
111 West Paces Ferry Road NW. 404-869-1992
South Africa comes to Atlanta at this flavorful Buckhead neighborhood spot. In the warm months, it's a "Beach Haus," with comfy seating and decorations reminiscent of a Georgia coast family vacation home, both inside and on the outsize patio. Come November, it transforms into Yebo Ski Lodge for a few months, and out come the pine trees, comfort food (think "beer cheese fondue") and fire pits. All year, the food and drinks are South African/American fusion, from the "little plates with lots of options," to the hand-crafted cocktails to expansive options for South African wine.
22 N Avondale Road. 404-292-4607
Avondale Estates is home to this beer joint that's also a comic store and pinball arcade. It serves nostalgic snacks transformed into small plates and features a full bar that shows off mixologist meddling.
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303 East Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-378-3502
Inspired by the Kimball House Hotel in downtown Atlanta, this unique bar is stately, warm and has a farm-to-table emphasis, just like its restaurant. But what makes it really unusual for Atlanta (or anywhere on the globe) is its extensive absinthe menu, all prepared in the traditional fashion. If absinthe's not your thing, it's also one of the few places to get raw oysters at happy hour during the week.
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117 North Park Square, Marietta. 770-293-0080
The sweet theater in downtown Marietta has a silent-film inspired cocktail lounge that's 21 and up and open Wednesday through Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. While that's convenient, it's hardly unique, nor are the trivia and comedy nights, or even the live piano players. But there is an absolutely impossible to imitate aspect of the Luminere Bar on Second Thursdays. That's when they host a comfy couch board game night, bring your own if you like. And (piano riff, please) they cap this off with a one-shot Dungeons and Dragons game for six lucky participants, that includes a live accompaniment from the house pianist. Honestly, bingo night at another bar cannot compare.