Westside Story: Former industrial area transforms into a chic place

Story by H.M. Cauley. Photos by Jenni Girtman.

It’s not possible to feast on a rib eye at Abattoir, sip a cocktail at JCT Kitchen’s open-air bar or watch a dance performance at the Goat Farm without frequent reminders of the Atlanta Westside’s past. The rumble of the CSX freight trains harks back to the days when this district between Howell Mill Road on the east and Marietta Boulevard on the west was strictly an industrial zone.

Even the names of buildings (White Provisions) and restaurants (Abattoir and Miller Union) evoke the late 1880s, when slaughterhouses, factories and warehouses — not shops and homes — were the primary attractions. Today, the Westside has capitalized on its history by reworking those structures into destinations for diners, shoppers and arts enthusiasts.

Those historical reminders distinguish the Westside from neighboring West Midtown, dominated by Technology Square, student condominiums and the coffeehouse/bookstore culture that caters to the Georgia Tech crowd. The streetscape also sets Westside apart from the nearby outdoor mall Atlantic Station, which brings shoppers to Dillard’s and H&M. The Westside’s rejuvenated structures provide homes to entrepreneurs, artisans and some of the city’s top restaurateurs.

HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS

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In the later part of the 1880s, the Westside was anchored by the E. Van Winkle Gin and Machine Works, one of the state’s largest manufacturing centers. In its heyday, the company produced cotton gins and other cast-iron items in 15 buildings encircled by three rail lines. During World War II, production shifted to ammunition and mortars. The ruins of the plant now make up part of the artists’ enclave known as the Goat Farm (see following story on page TBD).

Another notable relic of the area’s past is the towering White Provisions Company, a 1910 structure at 1100 Howell Mill Road that takes its name from its builder, William White Jr. The building served as a distribution center for the nearby meat-packing plant and the Miller Union stockyards, located just south of White’s building along the railroad tracks. Though it fell into disrepair in the 1960s and ’70s, the building and its environs were given a makeover five years ago by Jamestown Properties, the same group transforming the old City Hall East complex into Ponce City Market. The project added 94 condominiums, retail shops, a parking deck and Abattoir and Ormsby’s restaurants.

COMMUNITY

Most of the industrial spaces inside the boundaries of Marietta Boulevard on the west, Huff Road on the north, Howell Mill Road on the east and West Marietta Street on the south have been refurbished as retail or office spaces. The primary residential neighborhoods nearby are Home Park and Knight Park/Howell Station, two areas of modest bungalows that sprung up to house Westside’s working class.

Between its industrial past and present-day incarnation, the Westside enjoyed a reputation among the city’s arts and crafts crowd as the part of town where an atelier or loft came cheap. Those spaces are now few and far between. Instead, the post-recession rental boom has brought a few sleek apartments into the heart of the commercial district. The 1016 Lofts at 1016 Howell Mill Road feature concrete floors and high ceilings, while the recently opened Elan Westside (691 14th Street) offers loft floor plans in a range of size. Outfitted with upgrades such as granite counters, hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances, many of these units may be beyond the means of struggling artists, as rents range from $950 to almost $3,000.

“I don’t even call them apartments anymore,” says rental agent Joey Elia of the Above Atlanta real estate firm. “Some of them have the fit and finishes on par with a nice condo.”

But they’re not hard to lease, he adds. “For the first time that I can remember, people are asking for [the Westside]. It’s going gangbusters.”

SHOPPING

The Westside long had a reputation for shopping off the beaten path, where the adventure lay in unearthing a dusty antique from of back room or plowing through bolts of fabrics at Forsyth’s to find just the right shade of teal. The warehouses and showrooms along Huff Road still offer those experiences, but upscale shopping increasingly defines the neighborhood.

A number of retail businesses have united under the banner of West Midtown Design District to showcase furnishings for every room of the house. They also include shops for jewelry, art, lighting, gifts and consignment buys. (Explore the options at www.westmidtowndesigndistrict.com.)

The area’s urban-hip vibe makes it a good source for upscale fashion boutiques. Guys who want to look sharp head to Sid Mashburn for the latest styles in suits and accessories. Nearby Anthropologie offers a chic selection of women’s fashions, shoes and accessories. Kids aren’t overlooked either: Sprout and its offspring, Seed Factory, offer a luxurious range of clothing and decor, from strollers and cribs to plush animals.

Former Joel Brasserie sommelier Perrine Prieur of Perrine’s Wine Shop (1168 Howell Mill) will help you find the perfect bottle of wine for any occasion and may offer a tasting of a few vintages while you’re browsing.

DINING

The list of worthy dining destinations on the Westside has steadily increased in the 20-plus years since Bacchanalia broke onto the scene. The city’s consistently rated leading eatery is famous for its organic ingredients, creative presentation and attentive service worth the prices and the three-month wait for reservations. Around the corner of the parking lot is JCT Kitchen, a two-tier space that’s established a reputation around its Southern dishes, annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival and “meat and three” Sunday suppers. At the family-friendly Taqueria del Sol, lines snake out the door as hungry diners queue up to order tacos and enchiladas at the counter.

Howell Mill Road is also home to the recently opened Cooks & Soldiers, a Basque-inspired menu of small and large plates created by the Castellucci family of foodies. West Egg fills up early in the day for breakfast and brunch. It also dishes up grilled cheese, tomato soup and a selection of participatory games on Thursdays; and offers Sunday “binner” brunch favorites that go until closing.

On the southern edge of Westside, Bocado has become a favorite for fans of seasonal American dishes, including its top-rated “burger stack” served up with house-made pickles. Miller Union, named for the neighborhood’s former stockyards, draws on that tradition for a menu of select meat dishes, from steaks and chops to rabbit, duck and — occasionally — house-made hot dogs. The Optimist focuses on seafood, and an expansive raw bar dominates the main dining room.

For dessert, you may find a Saturday afternoon or late-night line at Vintage Frozen Custard or Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. At Vintage, start with a chocolate or vanilla custard and personalize it with a ton of toppings, or go for a specialty concoction such as salted caramel or blueberry cobbler. Nearby, the original home of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams remains at the Star Provisions complex, and offers sorbets, yogurts and ice creams in creative flavors, including five variations of chocolate alone.

ATTRACTIONS

King Plow Arts Center

Easily identified by the painted “King Plow” sign on its brick facade, this building originated as a plow factory in the 1890s. Now the facility houses about 65 IT, design and consulting businesses, as well as Uber, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, the Ballroom Dance Club of Atlanta, the Bold American Events caterers and Actor’s Express, an acclaimed small theater company that specializes in cutting-edge works. Several spaces in the complex can host receptions and events, but the biggest is Terminal West, a 7,000-square-foot area often transformed into a dance and performance venue.

887 Marietta St. 404-885-9933. www.kingplow.com

Compound

This hip-hop nightclub doubles as an event venue and features a meandering design of multiple bars and outdoor party areas. On club nights, expect to stand in line, pay a cover charge and scramble for parking or a taxi.

1008 Brady Ave. 404-898-1702. www.compoundatl.com

Star Provisions

If you can’t wait for a reservation at Bacchanalia, you can sample some of the ingredients at this emporium just outside the restaurant’s entrance. Inside the various niches, discover a world of cheeses, meats and decor items, as well as a boutique selection of wines, a decadent dessert array and sampling of cookbooks.

1198 Howell Mill Road. 404-365-0410. www.starprovisions.com

Octane Coffee

This corner coffeehouse offers a short menu of sandwiches and treats, but puts the focus on the beverages. Along with strong cups of joe from El Salvador or Ethiopia and organic, fair-trade teas, servers also offer hand-crafted cocktails, beers and wines. The no-frills space, furnished with metal bar stools and stark wood tables, draws a mixed crowd from Tech students to visiting suburbanites.

1009 Marietta St. 404-815-9886. www.octanecoffee.com.

Insider tip

No matter what the weather outside, it’s always comfortable downstairs at Ormsby’s, where the indoor bocce lawn allows for play year round.

Insider tip

The panoramic view from upstairs bar at JCT Kitchen has one of the best vantages of the Atlanta skyline for a nightcap at the end of a romantic evening.

Insider tip

Since 2009, the Westside Arts District, a local alliance of art galleries and spaces, has offered a Third Saturday Art Walk. From noon to 5 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month, the six member galleries offer tours, talks and art exhibits. wadatlanta.wordpress.com.

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