Maybe it’s hard to believe, but the final nail in the coffin for Buckhead's reputation as a raucous, all-night party mecca came 10 years ago this month.
That’s when dignitaries including then-Mayor Shirley Franklin, bigwig developer Ben Carter, and even a famed sculptor gathered next to cranes and backhoes in Buckhead Village, and through the August humidity they declared a resurgence was afoot in this Southern metropolis—and that Buckhead’s wild days were officially dead.
For Atlanta newbies, let’s review:
Carter himself once described the core Buckhead Village to the New York Times as “Bourbon Street at the entrance to Bel Air.” A generation flocked to the area around Peachtree and Pharr roads for boundless revelry options that didn’t close until the wee hours—if then.
By one estimate, 100 bars and restaurants once pulsed within a two-and-1⁄2-block radius.
Then things got a little too wild. In 2000, an incident involving NFL legend Ray Lewis, in which two men were fatally stabbed following the Georgia Dome’s last Super Bowl, was probably the nadir. The bars began shuttering (some would say forced out by city regulations) and developers started assembling land.
By July 2007, Carter had spent $210 million buying about 8 acres in the Village, with plans to start razing it all within weeks.
That month, the AJC’s Bill Torpy relayed this description: “Along Peachtree, the sign for Club Chaos has been whitewashed; the plate glass front door is smashed and boarded up. East Village Grill’s neon sign promising ‘Late Nite Breakfast $3.99’ is unplugged. And the entrance to Lulu’s Bait Shack is rotting.”
Longtime Atlanta radio and TV personality Steak Shapiro staged a “Bye Bye Buckhead” party (12,000 strong showed up), and he didn’t mince words in an AJC interview: “It’s horrible. It’s terrible," Shapiro told the newspaper in 2007. “Buckhead Village was known around he world. It was the epicenter of the city, the place Atlanta was known for, and the place where, when you got to town, that’s where you wanted to go. For this city to let it deteriorate and think they are better off with retail and condos is just wrong.”
But that’s what happened. Just not quite according to plan.
Carter did indeed plow forward with his magnificent, $1.5-billion Streets of Buckhead project in 2007, with hopes of opening this “Rodeo Drive of the South” in 2009.
But the recession interfered, and by 2010, investors who were $320 million in the hole on Carter’s concept—literally, it was a massive hole—brought in a new developer, San Diego-based OliverMcMillan.
In 2014, OliverMcMillan debuted the still-evolving, haute retail and dining district now known as The Shops Buckhead Atlanta—on the ashes of places like Club Uranus and Cobalt Lounge.
Perhaps these scenes from the old Buckhead Village, as captured by the Buckhead Coalition, look vaguely familiar:
So, for this Open Thread installment, we’ll open the floor in the comments section and encourage ye Atlantans to (tastefully) wax nostalgic about what once was—a decade after the rip-roaring Buckhead of yore met its maker.
For better or worse, Hermes and Jimmy Choo have replaced the swinging girls at Mako’s Cantina and those lethal fishbowls at Lulu’s, but memories of “the Buckhead Strip” will always remain.
Unless you don’t remember anything.