Great Stays: Buckhead Atlanta
Atlanta’s answer to Beverly Hills, the Buckhead neighborhood is home to high-end shops (a Dior boutique and a new Tom Ford store are recent arrivals to the blue chip Buckhead Atlanta development and the local malls boast a Versace, Agent Provocateur, Jeffrey, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Cartier, among many others, between them), the governor's mansion and a nationally-reviewed, diverse restaurant scene that has made the area a foodie destination.
And this luxe neighborhood also happens to be the perfect place to transform the often stressful activity of checking items off of your holiday shopping to-do list into a chance to visit this exciting Southern city dressed in its seasonal wardrobe. To balance your shopping fix with a cultural one, during the holidays Atlanta is also a feast of high art opportunities, from the beloved, iconoclastic production of the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre, a multicultural A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theater, Christmas With the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (featuring the incredible Morehouse Glee Club) to an exhibition of work by high-profile German photographer Thomas Struth at the High Museum and the spectacular Garden Lights, Holiday Nights light show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Or you could just nurse a post-shopping bourbon cocktail (I recommend the Governor, a spin on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail made with Four Roses bourbon) at the InterContinental Buckhead’s Bourbon Bar and call it a day.
Buckhead is an increasingly walkable community in Atlanta’s car-clogged streets and two of the shopping malls that lure holiday and post-holiday bargain shoppers to the area, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, have both undergone recent facelifts. Featuring anchor stores like Nordstroms, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus, both malls are a short stroll to the InterContinental Buckhead, the ideal amenity-packed launching pad for a strategic attack on local retail. In addition to a free shuttle that runs on demand from the InterContinental to Phipps, Lenox, Buckhead Atlanta and any location in a 2-mile radius from the hotel, the Lenox Square concierge on the mall’s main level (404.233.6767) offers a free package delivery service Thursday through Saturday during the holiday season that will ferry your purchases to your hotel.
The InterContinental Buckhead, a glamorous, glittering 22-story luxury high rise boasts a fitness center, a spa with five treatment rooms, a year-round heated saltwater outdoor swimming pool and hot tub and a buzzing lobby with well-dressed cosmopolitan types out for drink or dinner on the weekends (70 percent of the bar and restaurant customers are Atlantans, which gives the hotel a wonderful local vibe).
The hotel’s destination restaurant is the brainchild of celebrity chef and former personal chef to Oprah, Art Smith, whose Southern Art and Bourbon Bar offers a hearty, deeply satisfying and unpretentious spin on Southern cuisine. The Bourbon Bar features 70 versions of the quintessential Southern spirit, and the equally Dixie-minded Ham Bar includes a selection of regional swine paired with biscuits and house-made jams and mustards. In between heavy bag-lifting at the malls, you’ll definitely want to try Smith’s comfort food fried chicken with mashies and green beans; and shrimp and grits topped with ribbons of fried okra. Dinner at Southern Art starts with addictive, homemade biscuits so cheesy and airy they will make you forget any hope of sticking to your diet over the holiday and a small Mason jar of pickled vegetables to get you in the proper Southern mood.
The hotel’s friendly staff and prompt, attentive service as well as traditional, plush rooms well-appointed with marble baths and soaking tubs make the InterContinental the perfect cozy-luxurious home-away-from-home as you make your list and check it twice. Check out its Legendary Shopping Package for great deals during the holidays.
For those traveling with children, on Dec. 4, the hotel hosts their annual children’s holiday party featuring Santa, real reindeer, a hot cocoa bar, cookie decorating station and a host of activities for just $10 per child. For harried grown-ups, the spa features foot massages and seasonal scents like peppermint to counteract all of that extra Christmas shopping mileage.
And speaking of glamour and twinkly lights, with the state’s 30 percent tax credits offering a real bargain for Hollywood productions, Atlanta has become a film mecca too, with productions shooting every day of the week on the city’s streets and neighborhoods. Locals no longer bat an eye about running into Helen Mirren at the Buckhead Whole Foods, spotting Jon Hamm at the chic Corso Coffee at Buckhead Atlanta or sitting next to Daniel Craig at the high-design Japanese speakeasy Himitsu.
The neighborhood is a nexus for celebs who tend to bunk at the local 5-star hotels (the InterContinental has played host to celebrity guests including Ludacris, Oprah, the cast of Selma and Ted Turner, who celebrated his 75th birthday at the hotel) and enjoy the great nearby restaurant choices including local phenomenon chef Ford Fry’s wonderful St. Cecilia, focused on Italian specialties and sandwiched between Lenox and Phipps and a wonderful choice for brunch, lunch or dinner. Spitting distance from the InterContinental is Bistro Niko, a very good approximation of a French bistro, with its brass railing and crisp, white table cloth ambiance. There is a wealth of eclectic and memorable dining located in the ring of hip Shops Around Lenox next door to Lenox Square including the wonderful, cozy Seven Lamps featuring house-made charcuterie and other rustic fare and a bar program good enough to get it named one of the Best Bars in America by Food & Wine magazine. In between shopping, don’t miss the reviving influence of delicious, intense flavors at the fresh take on Indian, Bhojanic.