659 Peachtree St. N.E., inside the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta.

If ghosts exist, I'm sure that the one belonging to former Atlanta Mayor Livingston Mims is hanging out on the stairwell at Livingston Restaurant and Bar, inside the newly renovated Georgian Terrace Hotel in Midtown. Mims took office in 1901 and was known for his love of wine, food and entertaining, so the restaurant bears his name. He had a residence on the very spot the hotel and restaurant now occupy.

Trouble is, if it's before 8 p.m., he may not be able to get an elbow in edgewise. Everyone packs the restaurant's lovely bar, taking advantage of chef Gary Mennie's clever prix fixe bar menu just right for theatergoers. Then, at 8:05, the place is practically a ghost town.

Mennie's efforts deserve much more than just this passing glance.

Most Atlantans think of this chef, who headlined the kitchen at Canoe when it opened in 1995, as their very own. But while Mennie has certainly garnered most of his career accomplishments in Atlanta, he's not from here. He worked at a couple of iconic restaurants before arriving, most notably Maxime's in Granite Springs, N.Y. (an apprenticeship while he studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park) and Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., with Wolfgang Puck.

He was under the stewardship of Guenter Seeger at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead before Gerry Klaskala of Aria picked him for the kitchen helm at Canoe.

Just a year before the Olympics, the two turned the spot into one the city's most beloved. But after 10 years, Mennie set out on his own, and in 2005 he opened Taurus, an upscale chophouse in south Buckhead that had heavies such as steak and chops on the menu, a tony ZIP code and a clever crowd of followers. But Taurus closed in January, one of 2009's first high-profile casualties of the economy. Within months, Mennie was announced as executive chef for Livingston.

Opened in 1911, the Georgian Terrace has a long history — for one thing, it hosted the opening reception for "Gone With the Wind," which premiered in 1939. For all my adult life, I have longed for it to return to the glory days it knew in the 1930s and 1940s. Nothing an $11 million gamble can't fix, right?

Walking from Peachtree and Ponce into Livingston's stunning bar, with flowing curtains draping the foyer and a grand patio to both sides, I'd say the gamble paid off. The hotel is equally as stunning, but Livingston offers an anchor for the entire area, a solid hit of pomp and splash to finally spruce up this corner of Atlanta again.

Most will state that the dining room's focal point is the open kitchen, but I would argue that it is the bar, which has a portal from one side that offers a view all the way through the dining room and into the kitchen. Bathed in shades of beige and ecru, the dining area gives way to a winding staircase that offers more seating upstairs. A revolving door that once opened onto Peachtree Street has been cleverly changed into a champagne display case.

As for Mennie, he bucks the current recession-inspired stylings of large portions and spruced-up boarding house cooking for a stroll down memory lane to the late '80s, when haute nouvelle cuisine, with tiny portions and coyly styled offerings of three to a plate, was in vogue. He succeeds on most levels, especially with beautifully presented soft-shell crab, crisply fried and served tastily with caramelized ramps in a citrus-laced dressing and a hint of tarragon. Georgia white shrimp show off nicely with fava beans and the salty, organic flavor of ham hocks to boost them.

Indeed, many of the dishes reminded me of Joel in its glory days, with precious portions of hearty things like creamy, stone-ground grits crowned in their own special pots and presented as if they were caviar.

The idea falls flat with an entree of Berkshire pork, served as pork belly and sliced as tenderloin with a tasty, tiny onion tart in the center of a rectangular plate. When it arrived at the table, my friend dropped his brow and whispered, "What is this? The Malibu Barbie pork plate?"

But it works beautifully with a veal porterhouse, bone-in, dressed with a rich, creamy cauliflower gratin.

And, of course tiny, precious and stylistic is perfect for dessert presentation, where mini-beignets are served with a demitasse cup of cafe au lait and mocha gianduja (which was really more like a light, chocolate- and hazelnut-flavored mousse.


Overall rating:


contemporary American


Knowledgeable and helpful, but spotty — we waited almost 40 minutes between appetizers and entrees on one visit.

Price range:


Credit cards:

American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Dinners Club

Hours of operation:

Lunch: 11 a.m.-2: 30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays- Saturdays. Breakfast: 6: 30-10 a.m. daily. Brunch: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.

Best dishes:

soft-shell crab, veal porterhouse, Georgia white shrimp, grits, cauliflower gratin

Vegetarian selections:

salads, some sides


yes, for early evening, lunch or brunch


complimentary valet at Peachtree Street hotel entrance for the first three hours only



Wheelchair access:



patio only

Noise level:






Address, telephone:

659 Peachtree St. N.E., inside the Georgian Terrace Hotel. 404-897-1991

Web site:



Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.


One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good:

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.


A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit or miss.


The food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated





means more than $75;


means $75 and less;


means $50 and less;


means $25 and less;


means $15 and less. (The price code represents a meal for one that includes appetizer, entree and dessert without including tax, tip and cocktails.)