Virginia-Highland bills itself as the original work-live-play neighborhood, and this charming intown neighborhood may be right. It’s known for its casual lifestyle with shops, restaurants, 1920s bungalows and a diverse population. Despite a recent onslaught of new condos, apartments and mega-mansions, ViHi (as it’s known, along with VaHi) still maintains the old-fashioned feel of a neighborhood. No need to dress up; it’s casual, friendly and welcoming.
Virginia-Highland is a 612-acre area nestled among Morningside, Midtown and Poncey-Highland. Early in its development, small commercial districts popped up, some of which still operate. Atkins Park Restaurant opened in 1922 as a deli, and today has the honor of being the city's oldest continuously licensed tavern. Art Deco Plaza Theatre has shown talkies (movies with sound, as opposed to silent films) since 1939, the Collins family runs the go-to dry cleaner, Sig Samuels, which opened in 1932, and the Majestic Diner has been serving "food that pleases" since 1929. The Samuel M. Inman Middle School has welcomed students since 1923, and Fire Station 19, which opened a year later, still rushes to extinguish flames.
There are several places to enjoy the comings and goings of Virginia-Highland with perhaps the best being the benches right at the heart of the district — the intersection of Virginia and Highland avenues. Get a gelato from Paolo's Gelato Italiano and just relax. The area's parks are also perfect people-watching spots, including one on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and North Highland, and the John Howell Memorial Park where children play on the swings and young 20-somethings play rigorous games of sand volleyball. From shopping and eating to partying and chilling, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shares a few neighborhood staples visitors can enjoy while exploring the Highlands.
Where everyone knows your name
Although ViHi has a number of sleek, chic bars, it has its fair share of authentic, worn bars where people sit, relax and feel at home. Four of them are at the intersection of Virginia and Highland where you'll find Moe's & Joe's and George's. Both have been around for decades and serve up inexpensive food with pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Grabbing a table outside at George's is another fun way to watch the world go by.
Across the street is Highland Tap and Fontaine's Oyster House. Both serve up great food (prime rib and seafood, respectively), but the bar is the star. Highland Tap has a subterranean coziness, and the martinis are among the best in town. Next door Fontaine's has a long bar where people watch the game and eat oysters (half-price on Tuesday).
Atkins Park looks just like it did in the early 1920s, except for the television sets and the jukebox. This is is a place where people sit, talk to strangers and relax; in fact, it's so connected to its customers, restaurant personnel throws bi-annual customer appreciation nights. Diesel Filling Station is a former gas station with a well-used bar and hosts special events such as Dirty South Trivia and Nerd-Core Tuesday. Oh, and if you think you see zombies, you are. Diesel throws "Walking Dead" parties.
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Catching a bite
There is a lot of culinary variety in the Highlands. Taco Mac has a large patio that's perfect for ordering wings and any of its 100 available beers. The restaurant audaciously credits itself for introducing wings to Atlanta in 1979. Also, Murphy's is a choice destination for upscale comfort food with an enviable wine list while La Tavola is an authentic trattoria known for its classic veal meatballs. Another standout is Osteria 832, whose patio is a perfect setting to eat reasonably priced pizzas and Italian dishes while children play.
Virginia-Highland is also a longtime hub for entertainment. Limerick Junction is an old-fashioned Irish pub with lots of whiskeys, cottage pie and entertainment, including a full line-up of folk singers and comedians, many of whom are from Ireland. The blues have been wailing from Blind Willie's since 1986, and this club is nationally recognized for its real vibes and great sounds. Dark Horse Tavern is a multi-level popular spot with a long bar, dance floor and, downstairs, the 10 High Club with live band karaoke. Dark Horse, by the way, is the No. 1 drop-off bar spot in Atlanta for Lyft.
Most of the retail shops around the area are locally owned. Cachée recently opened and sells leather products and shoes handmade in Turkey. Dakota J's has been a retail institution since 1996 when it opened selling trendy and distinctive clothing and accessories for women. Across the street, there is Art Bath Soul, a bath shop and enrichment lounge with barrels of highly fragranced bath salt and original paintings on the walls. Blabla Kids sells whimsical dolls, puppets, knitwear, rattles that are handmade using 100 percent natural fibers.
Time to play
Orme Park is a 6.6-acre park located along Clear Creek and is a quiet park that is perfect for children. The park is sunken so the risk of children running into the street is minimal. There’s plenty for kids to do including slides, swings, sandbox, climbing/balance beams and areas for imaginary play. There are picnic benches and parts of the park are wheelchair accessible.
There are often races that go through the neighborhood, but the biggest outdoor event is the Virginia-Highland Summerfest, which takes place in early June on Virginia Avenue between North Highland Avenue and Park Drive. Approaching its 38th year, the festival celebrates music, art, food, a 5K race and a neighborhood parade and picnic. More than 200 vendors from the Southeast showcase their folk and fine art, including paintings, photography, clay, metal, stone, wood, jewelry and mixed media. The festival offers games, crafts and activities for kids and local food vendors line Virginia Avenue.
WHERE TO EAT
Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar
794 N. Highland Ave.
George’s Bar and Restaurant
1041 N. Highland Ave.
1026 N. Highland Ave.
822 N. Highland Ave.
1006 N. Highland Ave.
WHERE TO SHOP
Art Bath Soul
1037 N. Highland Ave.
1189 Virginia Ave
772 N. Highland Ave.
1038 N. Highland Ave.
WHERE TO PLAY
Along Clear Creek on Brookridge Drive
About the Author
Credit: Channel 2 Action News