Over the course of the last ten years or so, Athens has become one of my favorite Southern cities. After Muscle Shoals, Birmingham, Nashville and Auburn, it's likely the one that feels the most like home. I fell in love with the place because my favorite band, R.E.M., calls it home and now, so does Patterson Hood.
Georgia football fans are an angry, violent bunch, and it can make enjoying the city on a game weekend very difficult, but I'm going to try to walk you through a few cool sights, restaurants, venues and bars among the 600 in six blocks they so arrogantly (and rightfully) boast about.
40 Watt Club. 285 W. Washington St. - The 40 Watt Club is one of the South's most famous venues. The center of the Athens music scene that made such a huge impact on all of alternative music in the 1980's and 1990's, it's no longer located in the same spot that first hosted a young band called R.E.M., but the Athens natives still call it home, and just last year, I witnessed Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills reunite on its stage in front of less than 1,000 people. Athens resident and Muscle Shoals native Patterson Hood joined the same set. Kevin Kinney was there. And rumor had it, Michael Stipe was in the room, refusing to make it a full blown R.E.M. reunion show.
I've gone to Athens for weekends with Drive-By Truckers at the 40 Watt, and I've seen another Athens band, Neutral Milk Hotel, in the same spot. This Saturday, you'll actually have a chance to catch a great bill there that I doubt will sell out: Jessica Lea Mayfield will open for T. Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate. The show will start late - you'll have plenty of time to make it over after the game. It's definitely worth your time if you enjoy live music.
Manhattan Cafe. 337 N. Hull St. - Almost directly across the street from the 40 Watt, is the Manhattan. The Manhattan is a dive, but they make fantastic drinks and it's much quieter than a lot of its neighbors. Like most bars in town, it's dimly lit and has a bit of a hippie aesthetic. It's always been my favorite of the late night places for great drinks and conversation.
The Max Canada. 243 W. Washington St. - Almost beside the 40 Watt is the Max Canada. And this is a slightly bizarre selection, just a place I've always liked. It's the type of place you end up at the end of the night - pool tables and a giant outdoor area that usually contains a food truck.
9d's. 400 E. Clayton St. - There's probably an element of cheese here, and I'm not even sure how much locals enjoy it, but I certainly always have because it's unique. There was an 80's Bar to complement 9d's, but I think it has since closed. When you enter, you'll find the walls covered in movie posters from the 90's: Swingers, Mallrats, Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump. The DJ will spin nothing but 90's tunes and you'll enjoy shouting memorable lyrics with your friends.
King's Shuffle Club. 223 W. Hancock St. - Now this one is one that I'm not as familiar with, but my pal Lauren insists it makes the list. She describes it as "a cool little bar down on Hancock. On the weekend, there's usually a DJ and a dance party. Awesome eclectic patio and corn hole." I trust her opinion, y'all.
The Rooftop at the Georgia Theatre. 215 N. Lumpkin St. - It's a rooftop. On one of the most historic venues in town.
Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods. 1016 E. Broad St. - Likely R.E.M.'s most commercially successful album, Automatic for the People, was named for the slogan of Dexter Weaver at Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods, where the service is "Automatic." It's a meat and three with large picnic table seating, so you'll not be able to be a stranger with your neighbor. The fried chicken is great, but most everything is, and you'll see old posters on the walls from R.E.M.'s time spent there.
Dexter is there every day, and he'll be happy to tell you tales. He threatens to close the restaurant more often than a Sticks N Stuff, but you never know when he'll make good on his threats. So take advantage.
The Grill. 171 College Ave. - The Grill is a greasy spoon? It's Waffle House with a dinner menu. It's one of the best burgers you'll ever have at 2 a.m. It looks like a 50's style diner and it's open 24 hours (I think). It's certainly open late enough for you to stop there before you go to the hotel and finish the night on a full stomach.
The Taco Stand. 247 E. Broad St. - I don't know that there's much special about The Taco Stand. It probably sounds a lot more like a dive than it is. It's just a restaurant on Broad that makes really good tacos and what not. And I love tacos and what not. They also have good brews.
Shokitini. 251 W. Clayton St. - Shokitini is some of the best sushi I've ever had, and to top it off, they have private karaoke rooms. This is very much a Georgia thing? Or maybe it's the way it's done everywhere but Alabama, I don't know. But you rent a room for an hour and go in for karaoke with your closest friends and the videos are these weird anime type deals. It's a unique experience and worth the trip. Sushi is top notch.
The Branded Butcher. 225 N. Lumpkin St. - Go have brunch on your way out of town at The Branded Butcher. Seriously. Just look at this menu. Also, make sure you order a scotch egg. A Bloody Mary. It's brunch bros. Go all in.
The Grit. 199 Prince Ave. - The Grit is a really cool vegan option that will remind you of BottleTree Cafe or The Stone Fox. Also has a nice Sunday brunch that's a little less expensive. Here's a menu.
Wuxtry Records. 197 E. Clayton St. - Wuxtry Records is where several of the members of R.E.M. met while working. If I recall correctly, Peter and Mike met here, but I may be speaking out of turn. In any case, it's got the best of every great record store in the South: it's modern, it's old. You'll be able to dig through crates that have been there for thirty years, but you'll also find the new War on Drugs record. There's a whole section dedicated to Athens artists, like R.E.M., Pylon, Drive-By Truckers, and if you ask the guy at the counter nicely, he'll bring out a collection of 7" rare R.E.M. releases. He'll probably even sell you one if you have like one million dollars. The walls are covered in old show posters from R.E.M. shows across town. OLD shows.
Agora. 260 W. Clayton St. - Bros, take your lady to Agora. She'll find things that are usually super expensive for, well, much cheaper than they should be. It's a funky little vintage shop that has actually spawned a cousin on Broad Street, Agora Vintage. She'll love you for it. I promise.
"R.E.M. Steeple." - The R.E.M. Steeple, as it's known, is now owned by Nuci's Space, a nonprofit that works to prevent musician suicide. It is the steeple from St. Mary's Church, which is the first space that R.E.M. ever performed in in 1980. All that remains is the steeple. A crowd funding campaign has begun to save the steeple. Follow this link to learn more about it and how you can get some cool stuff.
"Murmur Railroad Trestle." It's off S. Poplar, though I'm not sure the exact address, and if you aren't paying attention you'll miss it. But you'll have a great photo op at this railroad trestle, which was the back cover of R.E.M.'s first full length record, Murmur.
I'm barely scratching the surface here, but there's a start. Explore. It's a really spectacular place and a gem among cities in the Modern South.