Monday, August 30, 2021

"Ancient" Police Lockup Box in Inman Park

In a 1935 article in The Atlanta Constitution, a reporter theorized that the "interesting relic", "ancient lockup box" in Inman Park, which had not been in use for more than 35 years at the time of that article, would likely be dismantled due to leaking and damaging stored parcels and coats.

This is one of those rare incidents where preservationists in Atlanta have persevered and saved an artifact from old Atlanta, now at least more than 130 years old! Various reports tell that these lockup boxes were used in Atlanta from 1890 until around 1905.

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

Speaking of 1890, that's about the time that Inman Park was established and it was Atlanta's first suburb. Today it's certainly not considered an "outlying district" but it is an historic neighborhood—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—with an amazing annual festival, an abundance of charm, delicious and delightful dining destinations, and a unique police lockup box!

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The photo accompanying an article in The Atlanta Constitution, dated June 30, 1935, shows patrolman M. R. Dodd standing next to this lockup box. Dodd said that his father, Asa Dodd, also a policeman, had used this same box 47 years prior.

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The Atlanta Constitution reported July 16, 1935, that Atlanta banker and collector John K. Lottley was purchased the police lockup box for $1. Following the death of Lottley, this box was on display at the Cyclorama, in the basement, when the Cyclorama was in Grant Park.

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

According to Celestine Sibley in a 1974 article in The Atlanta Constitution there was once a marker that accompanied the Lockup Box. The marker, dated 1935, read: "Many a miscreant got his first taste of Atlanta hospitality when he was lodged in this lockup box to await transportation to roomier quarters. 

"Nearly 50 years ago before the advent of telephone and motor-driven patrol wagon, the City of Atlanta installed four of these lockup boxes at various points. Arresting officers would confine their prisoners in the depositories while they would await the horse-drawn Black Maria which would make its rounds to collect human cargo as regularly as the postman does to collect mail. 

"These boxes also served as lockers in which police would store their helmets, night sticks, raincoats and other belongings. This particular lockup was located at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Delta Place and although its use was abandoned by the city about 25 years ago, it remained there until acquired for this collection in July 1935."

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

I've found no record of what happened to the other three lockup boxes, but this one was returned to its original spot, where it sits today in Delta Park, in time for the 3rd Annual Inman Park Festival & Tour of Homes held in late April 1974.

Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Police Lockup Box in Inman Park | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

A couple of blocks down the street is The Trolley Barn, once the home of the first electric streetcar system in the United States! Do check out the beautiful, vibrant, and historic Inman Park neighborhood. But first, go to Delta Park and step inside this piece of history, perhaps the last of its kind in the whole of Atlanta!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Flatiron Bar in East Atlanta Village

Yesterday, after running some errands, I decided to experience lunch at a restaurant that has been on my list for years. I should not have waited so long...

Flatiron Bar & Restaurant is awesome! Serving up thirst-quenching beers and libations, award-winning delicious food, in a friendly neighborhood atmosphere since 1997, this 21 and up, non-smoking bar with a dog-friendly patio is open from lunch until midnight!

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

You'll see why it's called "Flatiron" as soon as you see the building. Did you know that Atlanta has more than one flatiron building? The downtown Atlanta 1897 Flatiron Building is chapter 6 in my book and Flatiron Bar in East Atlanta Village is the "tip" on the photo page! I'll share more about this particular building further down. Keep reading!

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

One of the first things I noticed here is how attentive and friendly the staff are. I'd barely warmed my barstool before I had a menu and a draft beer in front of me. The three people behind the bar were seemingly performing an elaborate symphony—serving, chatting with patrons, cleaning, bringing food and taking dishes...it's fascinating to watch! I was here at 3pm and there was a surprising number of diners—a great sign!

Even though I use "symphony" as a descriptor you can probably tell from the restaurant's chosen font for its sign that the music of choice is Rock. I heard something about live music, so that might be something you want to ask about when you stop in.

I asked my server for recommendations for lunch. He went through a few and when I heard Spicy Fried Cauliflower my resounding "Yes!" screeched the recitation to a halt. I've had a LOT of cauliflower dishes over the years, but my Southerner love of all-things-fried has a new love. You can see the phenomenal crunch on these and the cauliflower was oh-so-creamy! I opted for the blue cheese dipping sauce, which is amazing, but there are others available. A Sweetwater 420 draft was the perfect accompaniment. 

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The decor is, well, it's eclectic. There are stickers everywhere, an antler chandelier, neon in the upper windows around the main dining room, Edison light bulbs, various mediums of art, and taxidermy in the form of a warthog (or maybe it was a boar), a turkey, and several deer. The deer with an eye patch made me laugh. Totally made me think of Nick Fury, of the Marvel Universe, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The eye could wander for hours just on the decor, from the tin ceiling to the amazing early 20th century architecture...

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

I almost ordered the Umami Burger but opted for the Smash Burger. They all sound amazing! The Smash Burger is made with angus beef, beer-braised onions, house pickles, and American cheese, and I opted for the tots...some of the best tots ever

The tots were super crispy, just the way I love them! The burger was delicious on so many levels. I love a loaded burger, but when it has only a few ingredients, those should be meticulously curated and of the highest quality and that's what we have here. When you have a burger craving, this is one that satisfies!

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

While my tastebuds were being delighted my imagination was all over the place! Again, the decor is awesome and lends itself to all kinds of stories. I was on my own on this visit, but I highly recommend visiting with friends. Although I had a great time, I get the sense that this is a the-more-the-merrier situation. 

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

One of the recommendations my very attentive server had made earlier was the chicken wings and indeed others at the bar were enjoying them—it was obvious that I had to try them, so I got an order of the Buffalo Wings with the Blue Cheese sauce, of course. I enjoyed them later at home and they are indeed excellent! They also come in lemon pepper, barbeque, cowboy, and teriyaki.

Flatiron Bar and Restaurant, Atlanta | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Flatiron Bar and Restaurant | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

In the heart of East Atlanta Village, the ground-breaking for this building was Wednesday, November 2, 1910, for the future home of East Atlanta Bank, which you can barely make out on the front of the building near the 1910 marker at the top. 

According to an AJC article the following day, socialite Miss Louise Marbut "took up the first shovel of earth". The bank, which cost $5,500 to build, officially opened at noon on Wednesday, March 15, 1911, with a capital of $25,000. Following speeches, the opening was celebrated with "an old-fashioned barbecue"! I find it fascinating that the building's roots include a nod to sharing food and drink together.

One of the profound lessons I've learned by living through a pandemic is to NOT ignore one's "want to experience" list! We've seen far too many businesses have to shutter their doors in the last year and a half. The opportunity for "I really want to go there, I'll go sometime soon" has vanished for so many places on our lists, whether written down or in our heads.

Life is short, my friends. Get out there and see and do everything you possibly can. Don't wait for "some day". Make that day today! Perhaps your list will now include Flatiron Bar & Restaurant!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Brunching at Babs Midtown

Brunching at Babs Midtown is a wholly unique experience. I've known the eccentric and delightful proprietor, Randy D. Adler, for years. We were colleagues years ago, but we've been friends much longer. Randy has a heart of gold, a quick quirky wit, and an incredibly strong love of food, family, and friends.

Please, enjoy this interview Randy gifted me and then make plans to bring your friends in for brunch! And breakfast and lunch, too. It promises to be "an experience"!

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

You'll find Babs Midtown at 814 Juniper Street, one of the tree-lined main thoroughfares in Midtown. It's in the basement of a house (not where Randy lives), but the restaurant front faces south (left side of the house) and has a patio and lovely gardens with water features. It's easily accessible, just look for the maroon awning.

Once you're inside, to say the décor is eclectic would be an understatement, but as you settle into the environment, the theme coalesces. There are numerous collections and more than a few nods to the restaurant's namesake. More about that momentarily...

wanderlust ATLANTA: If I'm a first-time visitor to your restaurant, what should I order?

RandyWe offer bistro and comfort food, made from locally sourced ingredients. If you're looking for a hamburger, we're not the place—we've never done a hamburger, since day one! We don't do ground meat, except sirloin for a lamb dish. While you're looking over the menu, enjoy a cocktail. Thrillist named Babs Midtown's Saki-Mary "one of the best Bloody Mary's in Atlanta"! And we won Atlanta's inaugural Bloody Mary Festival! It's quite popular.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

The above photo is Babs' Country Club Chicken Salad and Sweet Potato Fries. Delish! 
On another visit I enjoyed Babs' featured pressed sandwich, the Sundried Tomato Chicken Salad! That's tossed in their house-made celery and black pepper mayo served with Sweet Potato Fries and curry-sriracha dipping sauce. Also delish!

wanderlust ATLANTA: Where are you from and how long have you been in Atlanta?

Randy: I am from Rye Brook, New York, but was born in Brooklyn. I moved to Atlanta in 1982. I worked on the Pre-Opening and was part of the Opening Committee for the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead/Downtown and then served as Chef Tournant and Garde Manger Chef at the Ritz.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

When Randy says, "Put an egg on it!", he's not kidding. The number of menu items, particularly the brunch menu, that has eggs or an egg is quite remarkable. I love eggs so this is a philosophy I can get behind. There's also an egg tie-in to the name of the restaurant. Keep reading...

wanderlust ATLANTA: What got you into the restaurant business?

Randy: It paid much better than babysitting. (Ha!) Also, when you lock the door, the day is done. Every day is a new adventure, with different folks invited onto the stage to participate in my particular realm of reality.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: What was the catalyst that launched Babs Midtown?

Randy: I wanted an outlet to create "a great place to gather", where food, fun, and fresh were all under one roof. It was also an outlet for my whimsical side. Since my former business of 28 years, The Preferred Caterer, was a full-service events and delivery option, Babs seemed like a natural extension. And I needed a challenge. I needed something that was done at night when you locked the door, and by "night" I mean 2:30pm. We're a breakfast, lunch, and brunch dining destination.
 
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: When did Babs Midtown first open?

Randy: We opened 18 years ago on April 1st. Then I blinked and here we are 18 years later! I enjoy it. I can lock the door, I don't take this home, and it's my own kingdom. We're also the longest operating sole proprietorship in midtown that has not changed location. And our employees are loyal. Some of our staff have been here 15 years.

wanderlust ATLANTAIf the Thrillest-recognized Saki-Mary isn't quite your speed, opt for the delicious, bubbly Blood Orange Mimosa! Randy serves it with "a dollop of decadent reality" in an oversized red wine glass. It will brighten your morning (or cure that hangover) quicker than coffee ever did--it does for me, at least.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: You've had a number of celebrities dine at Babs. Can you drop a few names for us?

Randy: Hmmm…everyone is a celebrity when they're at Babs! A few names you'll know though include Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Queen Latifah, Ana Ortiz, Judge David Nahmais, Tony Gonzalez and his wife January, and Martha Stewart who was a lot of fun. And of course my regulars are a real treat...it's very Cheers-esque sometimes.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

Dessert! There are always fresh, delicious desserts on the menu at Babs, but my favorite is the Banana Coconut Crème Layer Cake frosted with white coconut frosting and served in a give-me-a-straw pool of organic Israeli Date Syrup.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's something that you'd like people to know about Babs Midtown that they won't know until they experience it?

Randy: Although we're in the heart of Midtown, I didn't want to be a gays-only restaurant. We have a great mix of everyone! This restaurant is a safe haven for people. A few examples... (1) People are very comfortable being themselves here. (2) People have come out to their parents here--again, it's a really safe environment. (3) And we're such a unique experience that the owner of Last Resort Grill in Athens, Georgia, said that when Babs closes it'll be the end of an era.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

Randy: We've tried to do our part during the pandemic. I've made it a practice not to charge seniors on a fixed income more than $12 for a meal. During the pandemic, I've told them the register is broken...we've comped $5,000-$7,000 during this time. The blind enjoy dining here because they know I won't coddle them. Older people feel secure here. It makes a difference, too! We've had reports made and the results show that we're doing it right. Our customer retention rate is 78%, more than 70% of our customers drive here, and the average guests visits 3 times per month. 

Our menu changes every day now, and I put it up on Facebook. Surprisingly, 30% of our sales comes from frozen food. When they said, "Pivot or perish", we pivoted! We did not take federal loans we laid no one off of work, and we didn't cut off anyone's benefits. I'm proud that we've taken care of our staff and they in turn cheerfully take care of our guests. 

We’re more than Brunch…we’re a destination. As I tell our employees, you can go anywhere to get a meal. Give them a show and as many talking points as you can, which our art, snowglobes, and salt and pepper shakers all do. But the bottom line is good food that is locally sourced and delish, and staying true and being authentic to my values and standards.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: I originally thought the restaurant was named for Barbara Streisand. She's a gay icon and Midtown is the gay mecca of the South. But it wasn't named for Streisand. So, Randy, how did Babs Midtown get its name?

Randy: If you know the John Waters movie Pink Flamingos (1972), starring Divine as Babs Johnson, and you see all the Divine memorabilia around the restaurant, it becomes obvious that it's named for Babs Johnson, who coincidentally discussed eggs quite a lot in the film. Among the décor here at the restaurant is a framed original Odorama card, from the film Polyester, the first of its kind to be used in cinemas! Speaking of the décor, it may not look like it at first glance, but much of it is strategically placed to create conversations, and our guests do converse!

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: What do you like most about owning a restaurant?

Randy: I enjoy the ability to adapt, the vision to create, and the reality of getting to embrace my concept of what food is and should be. I feel respected, not toyed with and not overworked. We are also part of the fabric of the neighborhood. I gambled when I chose this locale but I knew in my heart that this area was going to be the heart of Midtown. I know I'm fortunate...I get to be me every day!

VIDEO: Have a listen at what other Babs Midtown customers have to say about their experience...

A Great Place to Gather from Joshua Allan Howard

wanderlust ATLANTA: What do you do for fun?

Randy: I collect graters from all time periods. Of course I enjoy food. I like to read, the theatre, and traveling. Have a look at the decor in the restaurant and you'll see more of what I like. A personal favorite is a photo of movie director John Waters wearing a Babs t-shirt!

wanderlust ATLANTA: Please share with us a little about The Tzedkah Project.

RandyThe Tzedakah Project is a nonprofit, a fully accredited 501(c)3, that seeks to help others through financial and personal support. We launched it on my birthday during the pandemic, April 2020. We're currently focusing on people affected by the pandemic and when that's past us, we'll revaluate how we'll operate going forward. The Tzedakah Project works with community groups that strive to improve the lives of individuals who are looking for a hand up, rather than a hand out.

wanderlust ATLANTA: This interview barely scratches the surface of who Randy is and the depth of kindness in his heart. I hope we'll be friends for a very long time. In the meantime, Babs Midtown, an 18-year-strong dining destination, is indeed "a great place to gather."

Thursday, July 1, 2021

SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion

During my last visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I once again felt like a tourist in New York City, craned neck looking up in awe at the towering skyscrapers. But there are no skyscrapers within the 30 acres of the Garden. But there's this...(video)...

The second part of this summer's SUPERnatural exhibition is Aerieal Art in Motion, by Poetic Kinetics based in Los Angeles. In particular, this piece is called Dream Flora, part of Patrick Shearn's signature Skynet Art Series

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

Patrick Shearn is also the founder of Poetic Kinetics, which he launched in 2008 after a 30-year career in the film effects industry. Their large-scale works of art have been seen around the world. If this is your first sighting of one of their works, know that you are in for a spectacular treat!

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

I hope you get to visit on a breezy day. Dream Flora is composed of red, orange, purple, and yellow nylon streamers attached to webs of transparent nets that are suspended by ropes in the trees. Even the slightest breeze will make this piece of art dance!

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion - "Dream Flora"

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion - "Dream Flora"

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

At the point on the Canopy Walk where you find the Andrew Crawford stools, Dream Flora branches off toward Saffron Tower placed at the fartherest northeast point in the Garden.

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion - "Dream Flora"

Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

Almost at the end of the Canopy Walk, I realized that I'd not been looking down. I was so mesmerized by Dream Flora that I wasn't paying attention to the Garden. That was resolved by another walk along the bridge, as well as under it where I got some awesome views of Dream Flora!

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

At 600-feet long, 40-feet high, the 12-feet wide serpentine elevated pathway known as the Kendeda Canopy Walk opened in 2010 is considered the largest tree canopy-level walkway of its kind in the United States.

Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Dream Flora | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The two summer exhibitions, collectively called SUPERnatural, intersect near Sourwood Terrace. Glass Art in Bloom, by Jason Gamrath, continues in the more formal part of the Garden and all the way to the Skyline Garden.

Check out Dream Flora during the day or during the evening (or both!) during Cocktails in the Garden. This exhicit will be on display through September 19, but you know not to wait...see it now so you don't miss this spectacular opportunity!


Monday, May 10, 2021

SUPERnatural: Glass Art in Bloom

I can't express how exciting it is to have friends visiting again! Some friends recently visited from Washington, DC, and the Dominican Republic. We excitedly enjoyed a sneak peek of SUPERnatural: Glass Art in Bloom, officially opening at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on May 15, 2021! It's yet another magnificent yet wholly unique summer exhibition here.

SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

This show, going on through October 31, 2021, features the work of contemporary glass artist Jason GamrathGamrath's career has been inspired by fellow Seattle artist Dale Chihuly, who has exhibited at the Atlanta Botanical Garden numerous times, including in 2004 and again in 2016, to name a couple.

There will be a total of 13 installations, comprised of approximately 150 pieces of glass, representing brilliantly colorful blooming plants, and approximately 30 of those are new, specifically for this exhibition! 

Carmen & Colomba | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Carmen and Colomba | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

I've been visiting this Garden since the late 1980s and I was totally blown away, so you can imagine how impressed my friends Carmen and Colomba were. It was their first time at the Garden. Actually, it was their first time to Atlanta and the Garden was their first local tourist attraction, which ended up being the favorite of their visit—and they packed a lot in! Of course I was thrilled to share the Garden with them, it being one of my favorite destinations in the city.

SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

Garmath's interpretation of the Aquilegia plant is magnificent! I didn't know it was fashioned after a real flower—too many science-fiction movies, I guess. These are "planted" in front of Longleaf Restaurant where garden-goers were dining, mostly alfresco because it was such a beautiful day. Lots of photos were being made here.

Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

As is the case with so many flowers at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the peonies are absolutely stunning! It's no wonder they're such a popular flower in bridal bouquets. I love visiting the Garden this time of year...there's no other place like it in the city.

SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

To call Garath's "Large Orchids" large is an understatement. I'm 6'2" they totally dwarf me! The ones we saw are along the Great Lawn and, of course, inside the Fuqua Orchid Center, which opened in 2002 and has become one of the most popular attractions at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and for good reason...it's home to one of the largest collections of various species of orchids in the Southeast, the world even!

Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

As mentioned, I've been visiting the Garden for decades, but I don't recall a time when the Rose Garden was quite so stunning. It was like the Garden was showing off for my friends, for which I'm grateful. Did you know that the Rose Garden predates the incorporation of the Atlanta Botanical Garden in 1976? You'll learn a LOT on one of the Garden's tours!

SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

Native to Africa, we got to see the real-time installation of a cluster of Kniphofia, commonly known as Red Hot Poker plants or Red Hot Torch Lilies. The gardeners "planting" the towering sculptures were very kind in answering the burning questions that my friends had. That kind of courtesy goes a long way in making someone's day, so I'm grateful to them for enhancing my friends' visit to the Garden.

Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

We toured the Desert House in the Conservatory where I got to explain that there are no cacti in the Desert House, but there are LOTS outside in the Skyline Garden, some of them in bloom on this particular visit.

SUPERnatural | Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

One of the aspects of the Atlanta Botanical Garden that I love most is the fact that every time you turn a corner, look up or down, side to side, you see yet something else that is beautiful and fascinating. Any visit to the Garden has the makings for a great day!

Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

I also don't visit the Garden without a camera. Okay, I don't go most places without a camera, but I know that the Atlanta Botanical Garden will always provide amazing subject matter for my lenses. And it has consistently proven to be a favorite of friends visiting from out of town.

Be sure to catch SUPERnatural: Glass Art in Bloom this summer and before it closes on October 31, 2021. And bring some friends...they too may find that it's a favorite of theirs.


Friday, March 26, 2021

INTERVIEW: Marykay, Decatur Alpaca Cottage

Atlanta has many fabulous places where out-of-town guests — or staycationers — can opt to stay, but Decatur Alpaca Cottage is among the most unique and utterly adorable! Guests consistently say that their experience was "above our expectations".

Marykay, the owner and awesome hostess, gifted me an interview. Her story is quite fascinating and I'm certain that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Enjoy...

Marykay at Decatur Alpaca Cottage |  | Photo: Sarah Vitel Photography
Marykay at Decatur Alpaca Cottage |  | Photo: Sarah Vitel Photography

wanderlust ATLANTA: Thank you for talking with me, Marykay. Please tell us a little about you. Where are you from? How did you come to live in Decatur?

Marykay: I was born in Ohio and we moved to the South when I was a preteen. I've lived in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii, and of course Georgia. Atlanta is "home". I love Atlanta and I love Georgia. My family moved to an urban farm about 16 years ago. Before that we lived in Tucker. I've been in the area for about 30 years. So, that's where I'm from, but you asked about me. 

When I was a kid, I loved playing with my "dollhouse" — this Cottage is the grown-up version of that. As an adult, I've been called innovative and interesting (and sometimes even quirky), and a lot of my guests admire my attention to detail. In addition to caring for the alpacas, the farm, and the cottage, I also have a day job in global executive benefit that I love. I'm also a writer. I've completed about nine chapters for my book, so far and hope to finish it this year.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: Why and how do you have a herd of Alpacas and Llamas in Metro Atlanta? What a delightful surprise!

Marykay: Decades ago, I had wanted to become a veterinarian and was even accepted to vet school, but instead I opted to have kids because the years were passing quickly Instead, I fulfilled my love of animals by having quite a few pets and even doing wildlife rescue back in the day. Some years ago, I was visiting with friends in North Georgia who had a herd of alpacas and was asked "Would you want to take on a herd of rescue alpaca?" With little hesitation, I enthusiastically said “Yes!” and set about learning how to care for them including renovating an existing outbuilding on my farm to serve as their barn. Our first herd was four older males.

Typically, alpacas who need to be rescued is because circumstances have changed, health issues, changes in a financial situation, or even an owner passing away. In the case of this herd, the owner’s husband had died and the herd was too much for her to care for. The life span of an alpaca averages between 15 and 20 years, so having a good plan in place for a herd is important. I actually have a plan for mine included in my Will as well as some financial support to facilitate any transition that might need to take place. In short, a commitment to alpacas and llamas is a long-term commitment.

In addition to the original four alpacas, I have adopted and rescued others over the years. "Skyboy Blue" — yes, they have their own names — is from Florida. He has blue eyes which is unusual. Two are from Kentucky. I currently have four alpacas, one miniature Himalayan llama ("Beau"), and one huarizo ("Mr. Bingley"). A huarizo is a cross between a llama and an alpaca and huarizos tend to be much smaller than llamas given that they are half alpaca. I also work closely with the nonprofit Southeast Llama Rescue as a volunteer to help raise funds.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Okay, we have to talk about the chickens. What's their story?

Marykay: That’s a fun story! One day when my son was 8 years old, he said, "Momma, we need chickens." Of course, I asked, "Why?" His response, "Momma, because they're healthy and the cholesterol in a backyard chicken’s egg is way healthier than a grocery store egg! It's 'green' and we can use our kitchen scraps for compost AND feed the chickens. And they’re educational!! Do you know how much I'm going to learn from having chickens?"

At that point, he’d convinced me, if only because he was so clever in his "chicken sales’ pitch," so I agreed with the caveat that he meet three requirements...
  • They have to fit into the budget I set;
  • We would take great care of them, first and foremost as pets; and
  • They would have to lay pretty eggs (I wanted blue, brown, etc.).
We got the chickens and they each have their own name. We have "Peck-a-rino" and a rooster named "Irma" because it was born when Hurricane Irma came through. We still have chickens today and have fresh eggs every day!

I usually sell our organic eggs to friends, family, and neighbors, but last Spring, as we all went into quarantine, I told my neighbors I would gift our eggs to the neighborhood for as long as I could. In the end, I gifted more than 123 dozen eggs during the first four months of the pandemic. That eggs were also in short supply at the grocery stores made it all the easier to choose to gift the eggs and it was something my family could do for others during a difficult time.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: Okay, the reason we're all here...tell us about the cottage!

Marykay: If we start at the very beginning, although my house was built in the mid-1950’s, based on architectural clues, we think the cottage was built in the 1940s. When I was in the market to buy a home, Cherie King, of Atlanta Intown Dwellings, took me to this property. It was a 50s brick ranch, the front yard was nondescript, and there was not a lot of curb appeal.

Already in my mind I knew I wanted a more cottage-like home and suggested we skip this one and move on to the next house. Instead, Cherie put her hand on my knee, and said, "Marykay, these people have left their home so you can look at it. Get your ass out of the car and let's go." So I laughed and got out of the car! I kid you not, two steps into the kitchen of the main house, I knew it was "home"...it had everything we needed.

Cherie then said, "Let's go see the rest of it!" Mind you, I had NO idea there was anything other than the main house. As we toured the acre and a half that comprises our urban farm, I saw the cottage, a workshop, several outbuildings, and a large field that was a part of the original dairy farm long ago. My grandparents had a dairy farm in Ohio so it seemed a really amazing symmetry moment! I was very excited, thinking “How many people have an opportunity to live on a legacy farm?

In no time, I crunched some numbers and bought it! That was 16 years ago! I actually have stayed in touch with the former owners' children. The oldest son came and stayed in the cottage a couple years ago and before he left, I shared some starts and plants from my garden that his parents had planted. So part of my garden is now in his garden in Tennessee. With tears in my eyes, he said, "This means so much to me." There is something really beautiful about the gifting and sharing of plants with others. It adds to the story of a garden and keeps the legacy living, so to speak.

When his family lived here, his grandmother lived in the cottage until she moved to a retirement community. At that time, the prior owner turned it into a long-term rental. When I bought the house and moved in, the same renter had been in the cottage for 15 years! When I bought the house I was more than happy to let her stay and she stayed another five years until she decided to buy her own home. After that, I had two more long-term renters and when it was empty again, I thought I would turn it into a writer’s retreat for myself so I started fixing it up.

Remember, I loved playing with my dollhouse as a kid, so this was a FUN project! I then reconsidered because my kids were growing and I would soon be an empty nester, so I started thinking about other uses for the cottage. I knew I didn’t want it to be a long-term rental again. About that time Airbnb was becoming a "thing" so I gave it a try. Now in our fifth year, the Decatur Alpaca Cottage is one of the top wish-listed Airbnb’s in the South!

I'm currently considering a second a "tiny home" Airbnb for my urban farm. Depending on how the rest of the year goes, it may be a really fun project for 2022!

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: When is Decatur Alpaca Cottage available for bookings?

Marykay: We are open year-round. Weekends definitely fill up first throughout the year. Weekends tend to book 4 to 8 weeks in advance. I also recommend booking further in advance if there is a specific weekend guests want. Weekdays are typically easier to book with less notice and also have a lower rate than weekends. The Decatur Alpaca Cottage has a a two-night minimum and our pricing varies, like hotels, based on season, events, and day of the week.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I closed voluntarily for 3 months and, before we reopened, I expanded our already-robust cleaning approach with an even more rigorous cleaning and social distancing protocol to ensure our guests’ and my family’s safety. I've known my cleaning team for 25 years and that’s really helpful to know that the protocol I’ve laid out will be adhered to every single time. I have an incredible team of helpers who help me keep up with the demands of running a side business and keeping up with our urban farm.

When I made the tough decision to close the cottage in the first months of the pandemic, I continued paying my team. Their loyalty and diligence are important to me and I didn’t want to create a hardship for them if I could possibly avoid it. Not only were they appreciative, but it further solidified the long-standing relationships we have in partnership to make the cottage an amazing experience for my guests! In my opinion, kindness is rarely a mistake and, although it was a terrible situation, the pandemic created lots of opportunities for kindness, in big and small ways.

Before COVID, 60% of our guests were locals. Our farthest guest came all the way from Singapore! Since the pandemic, 90% of our guests have been locals. I expect that this ratio will fluctuate a bit as travel restrictions ease, but it is wonderful to have a safe haven to offer Atlantans and surrounding communities during this time!

We only do bookings on Airbnb. There are two parking spaces next to the cottage and it sleeps four in a cozy 600 square feet.

We're also available for weddings, birthday parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and other special events on a limited basis. During the pandemic, however, we are only hosting micro-events with no more than 15 guests. Although we've hosted events with up to 50 guests, the niche for our venue is smaller, more intimate events. The brand is about beauty and peace and intimate gatherings are more in alignment with that.

From time to time, I get requests to host pets. As much as I love animals (and I do!) we are unable to host fur babies. Alpacas see strange dogs as predators and it’s just not worth the stress on the herd. Our guests are very understanding and respectful about the need to prioritize the health of the herd and I appreciate that!

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: What are the most common questions you receive?

MarykayOver the years there have been many questions, a few bizarre, but all respectful. The most frequently asked questions are:

#1 Don't they (alpaca) spit? 

Answer: Yes, they do, but there’s always a reason when this happens. It's not a random occurrence. Usually, there's competition involved. It's usually to do with food, breeding, or space, or neglect. I've only been spit on once, on purpose, and I totally deserved it. I was being somewhat clumsy with one of the monthly injections the herd gets and Loverboy (one of our alpacas) let me have it. Rest assured that spitting on people is the exception, not the rule. If you hear a warning gurgle, they might be getting ready to spit, but it's probably at each other.

#2 What's the difference between an alpaca and llama?

Answer: They're cousins and they get along well. There is a pecking order in a herd, always an Alpha of the herd. Both are Camelids, the same family as camels. Llamas tend to be more independent and have longer banana-shaped ears, and alpaca have short ears. All need to be in a herd of at least 3 and preferably 5 alpacas/llamas to be healthy and safe. No matter how cute it is, solo alpacas living with a family are not healthy and are apt to have behavior issues down the road. I’m a big advocate of responsible alpaca/llama ownership and pretty cut and dry about this aspect of alpacas, particularly as alpacas and llamas have become more popular.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: This is how sweet Marykay is...she added my new book, "111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss" — some of the places are in Decatur and DeKalb County — to the small collection of books in the cottage for guests to enjoy and the response has been excellent! Thank you, Marykay!

wanderlust ATLANTA: What can guests expect upon arrival at Decatur Alpaca Cottage?

Marykay: I host from a place of generosity. I truly enjoy going the extra mile and our guest reviews reflect this. Upon arrival guests are treated to a bottle of wine and special, custom cookies from a local bakery (Cookies by Kacie). One of my favorite special touches is a piece of art that I commissioned with Tiny Doors ATL. It is a copy of the cottage door in miniature and is absolutely adorable. It’s a wonderful feature next to the front door of the cottage.

The cottage is just a few steps away from the field gate. I'm meticulous about keeping the field clean to ensure the health of the animals and manage any odor. That said, alpacas are incredibly clean so it is very manageable. Many guest have commented that there's no odor and it’s important to me that they notice that! Guests can interact with herd from outside the field gate any time during their visit. I also give guests a bag of carrots with an instructional note of how to feed them. Our guests LOVE treating the herd with carrots and the herd loves it as well (of course!). After the pandemic, we hope to start up a "Meet & Greet" with the alpacas again, but won’t be able to offer those for the foreseeable future.

We are an ideal option for a staycation. We're near downtown Decatur and we're close to Atlanta, but far enough away to enjoy a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

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Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

Doesn't Decatur Alpaca Cottage sounds like a marvelous getaway? Be sure to follow Decatur Alpaca Cottage on their social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And Marykay has a newsletter, too!

A big "Thank you!" to Marykay for the interview and for giving Metro Atlanta a delightfully unique experience!

(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Decatur Alpaca Cottage.)