The Odd and Marvelous Little Five Points of Atlanta
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if you’re looking to feel at home in Atlanta, no matter who you are, this is it.
By Nick Fouriezos
Little Five Points is where biker gangs get burgers, buskers bum their smokes and tattooed 20-somethings get the jobs their Atlanta suburb parents told them they would never get because of those tattoos.
That may seem an odd description of a place. But nestled between Inman and Candler parks in East Atlanta, this neighborhood is a (too often unheralded) ode to all that is odd. That diversity of characters and businesses — everything from vintage shops and novelty wig thrift stores to independent bookshops and an indie radio station — has led to writers calling it the bohemian capital of the Southeast and “Atlanta’s favorite neighborhood.”
“For me, it feels a bit like a mini, multicultural, urban Haight-Ashbury,” says Teresa Lynne, a real estate broker who lives in Inman Park. “A funky, hipster vibe where the homeless can blend in with underground culture entrepreneurs, buskers and the surrounding upscale neighborhood inhabitants share music, ethnic food, vaping flavors and retro garb. It’s a colorful fabric woven of shared humanity where everyone fits in.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Little Five Points (L5P) has emerged as a cultural crossroads. After all, the first Atlanta streetcars were constructed near here in the 1890s. The area where the trolley lines converged and its growing population led to the neighborhood becoming one of the region’s first major shopping centers, according to the National Park Service.
But after a combination of White flight and fears over a new highway in the ’60s, the neighborhood fell into disrepair. This eventually led to new residents: Hippies looking for cheap land in the ’70s, followed by a group of local retailers (the Little Five Partnership) in the ’80s who were determined to build an edgy entertainment district out of the rubble.
The remnants of that heritage are easily seen today. The trolley tracks may be gone, but many of the businesses from that partnership have stayed. Like the Variety Playhouse, a World War II-era movie theater that was restored and turned into a music venue in ’89, has since hosted artists ranging from Adele and Gnarls Barkley to The Whigs and Modest Mouse. The Vortex, which was established in 1992 and is known for having the best burgers in Atlanta, gives the neighborhood its most distinctive monument — a 30-foot-tall skull serving as its storefront façade.
When visiting, ignore the parking meters on Euclid Avenue and park off Washita Avenue for free, as the locals do. The smell of the freshly-mown grass at Bass High School is quickly replaced by that of cigarettes being dragged outside Java Lords, one of three coffee shops known for its eclectic night crowd, when it turns into the neighborhood’s friendliest bar. The historic buildings — colored every hue of red, blue, green and yellow — are covered in street art, with works from famous artists including New York’s Jerkface and Atlanta natives Chris Veal and R. Land. Clothing stores abound, including Rag-O-Rama, Get It GRL Boutique and the Psycho Sisters. Criminal Records remains a popular grunge hangout, while Crystal Blue serves the New Age crowd with crystals and tarot cards. The annual Halloween festival and parade is a highlight that “gives it a true neighborhood feel,” says Ashley Haggard, an account manager from Sandy Springs.
Despite its funky charm and neighborly warmth, Little Five often gets overlooked by those visiting Atlanta. Perhaps that’s because Atlanta tourists, often in town for business, are more likely to be told about the more suit-friendly Buckhead or the affluent, yuppie Virginia Highland neighborhoods.
One major trend of the U.S. back-to-the-cities movement has been a shift of neighborhoods toward a certain aesthetic: millennial and minimalistic (think gleaming glass architecture, restored hardwood floors and artfully placed cacti). Little Five is, to say the least, not that. But what it is — a melting pot of new tastes and fondness for old things — is worthwhile in its own right. And its why Atlantans continue to flock to it, perhaps to remember a time when places with a bit of grit (and equally gritty characters) weren’t seen as such a bad thing.