JUST A FEW MILES EAST of downtown Atlanta, the city square of Decatur is packed with food, festivals and fun. This vivid neighborhood boasts unique restaurants, history and art, and a festival for everything — all within walking distance. And, if you haven’t seen Decatur lately, you likely haven’t seen it at all. It seems to be ever-changing.
You’ll have a great chance to see what we mean this month when the Decatur Arts Festival takes its yearly turn in the spotlight. The 26th annual event, running May 24-25, bursts with artistic expression. Shop for jewelry, pottery, paintings, apparel and accessories from Southern artists. Both days feature music, performance art, dancing and special events for kids and teens. Mark your calendars also for the May 23 ArtWalk, the one-night, citywide exhibition that features local galleries, retailers and restaurants showing artwork and sharing free refreshments.
Decatur is best experienced on foot, so grab your flats and make a day of it. A quick MARTA ride will drop you off in the middle of it all, but parking can quickly be found as well. Here are a few highlights on or just off the main drag, East Ponce de Leon Avenue.
EATS AND TREATS: If you can’t find something delicious in Decatur, well, friend, you ain’t hungry. For Southern decadence, try the steakhouse Parker’s On Ponce. To please a global palate, visit Chai Pani — a quirky Indian street-food joint that offers feel-good, flavorful dishes (pair the chickpea-battered fried kale with a Thums Up cola). Colbeh Persian Kitchen & Bar offers big bites of succulent, savory meats and addictive rice dishes. For quick and casual, try Calle Latina for authentic Latin lunch dishes including crab empanadas and veggie arepas.
If you need a little pick-me-up, there’s coffee, tea and sweets all along the way. Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, a storefront for renowned, eco-conscious coffee roasters Batdorf & Bronson, offers eye-brightening espresso beverages, locally made doughnuts, and a showcase of single-origin coffees. Java Monkey is the place for a sip and a story. The comfy organic coffee shop/wine bar exhibits local artwork, plus a rolling list of live music and poetry readings. Greene’s Fine Foods has “all your pecan gift-giving needs” — rows of candies, chocolates, and bags of salty or sweet, spiced or spiked nuts. For fro-yo fans, The Yogurt Tap is a must. The creamy, yummy flavors change frequently, and all are made without artificial sweeteners or dyes. It offers dairy-free and no-added sugar options, too.
LOCAL LIBATIONS: A bona-fide speakeasy, Paper Plane is tucked down a side alley, shaded by overhanging trees. Sit at the bar. Watch these cocktail craftsmen artfully pour drinks inspired by vintage flavors and spirits. For artisan cocktails (and an adventurous raw bar) go to Kimball House. Made with seasonal, local ingredients, the drinks are guaranteed conversation-makers. If you dare, go off menu and try a Gin-Gin Mule — forget muddling, these herbs are blasted with liquid nitrogen then smashed, causing the drink to burst with the freshness of a spring morning. Twain’s Billiards and Tap, Decatur’s own award-winning brewery, features up to eight in-house beers. All-day Wednesdays and on Sunday evenings, you can get a burger, beer and side for just $10, one of the best burger deals in town. A longtime Decatur Square fixture is still one of the best places in the world to find craft beer. If you’re in the mood to quaff some of the best, you can’t go wrong at the Brick Store Pub.
CONCERTS ON THE SQUARE. On Saturday nights in May, enjoy family-friendly tunes at sunset. Whatever your groove, you’re sure to find a new favorite from such genres as New Orleans funk, retro Top 40, acoustic rock, and even folk -rock performed by Michelle Malone. Shows start at 7 p.m.
BEACH PARTY. Grab your flip-flops June 20 and head to the Square, filled with 60 tons of sand. Highlights include a kids’ boardwalk with games, live music, dancing on the plaza, a food court and beverages.