Everyone who read my last blog post knows that Atlanta hasn't been particularly good to me over the past year. My love affair with this city has morphed into a bit of a situationship, and I recently started thinking that maybe I should be asking more of Atlanta. Maybe this city should level up and show me a good time with some fancier, more traditional date nights. Maybe that would help me see the A in a new light and rekindle the romance that began here so many years ago.
After searching the internet for popular date night recommendations, polling friends who pride themselves on their sophisticated taste, and consulting the full list of stuff rich people love, I ultimately landed on these five Atlanta attractions:
I've shared my reflections on each experience and highlighted what was most amusing or enjoyable at each spot. However, if you appreciate my regular content, don't worry. I found something a little quirky or kitschy at almost every "fancy" venue, and I've provided a cheaper alternative for each of the upscale date nights for those of us who don't feel the need to ball out all day, every day.
PORSCHE EXPERIENCE CENTER
The main attraction at the Porsche Experience Center (PEC) is the test track. Visitors can choose between a driving experience where they take the wheel alongside a driving coach or a demo lap where they ride shotgun with a professional driver who can properly show what a Porsche can do. I opted for the demo lap and took a ride with a former race car driver in a Porsche 911 Carrera. As I remember it, the take off was exciting, there were a few moments where I thought I might die, and then it was over.
In addition to the test track, the PEC also houses a museum and a restaurant. The museum features restored cars and artifacts that portray the Porsche as a work of art. The restaurant offers fine dining overlooking the track, and although I didn't get a chance to try the restaurant during my inaugural visit, I would consider returning for dinner primarily to verify that the butter is served in the shape of tiny Porsches.
The most comparable low-budget alternative to the PEC is probably the drag racing and drifting that regularly takes place on Atlanta's streets, but since that's illegal, my cheaper alternative for the Porsche Experience is Andretti Indoor Karting. Although kart racing doesn't offer the same thrill as accelerating from 0 to 60 in a few seconds, it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon or evening - especially if there's some friendly competition.
THE GARDEN ROOM
The Garden Room is the ultraposh garden-themed bar and dining experience adjacent to the St. Regis in Buckhead. Its photogenic backdrops are a big draw for social media influencers, and any given night offers the possibility of a celebrity sighting. Securing a spot at the restaurant typically involves making a reservation months in advance, but arriving as soon as the doors open can sometimes result in snagging a free seat or two at the bar.
During my visit, I tried a couple of cocktails, a few small plates, and the "Smash Me" dessert. I was amused by the flirty and tawdry names of the signature cocktails like Bend and Snap, Hot Mess, and Send Noods, and I thought the wordplay aligned well with own schtick for my blog. I also appreciated how attentive our bartenders and servers were, and I was relieved that nothing about the experience came across as pretentious.
While The Garden Room has been dubbed the "crown jewel of Buckhead's social scene," the Atlanta Botanical Garden is the "emerald jewel in the crown of Atlanta culture," making it the obvious cheap date alternative for this experience. Although the garden is an attraction on its own, I like to coordinate my visits with the unveiling of new art installations and seasonal events like Cocktails in the Garden and Fest-of-Ale.
Fever's Candlelight Concerts have been popping up in venues throughout the city offering a variety of live music experiences amidst the glow of flickering candlelight. I attended the "Bach to The Beatles" performance at the Trolley Barn on a late summer evening, and this was by far my favorite of my fancy date nights.
The Edgewood String Quartet performed classical pieces by Bach and then transitioned to contemporary pieces by The Beatles, providing some historical context for the former and encouraging some crowd interaction for the latter. The concert was outdoors, and the most on-brand feature of this experience was that it was BYOB with picnics encouraged. Not all of the concerts have this option, however, so check the venue information prior to attending a show.
My cheaper alternative for this date is one of the free Friday night concerts at Colony Square. Unlike the candlelight concert, the events at Colony Square are not BYOB, but there are multiple bars and plenty of affordable dining options nearby to create a similar picnic under the stars with complimentary entertainment.
Several of my friends rank Umi as one of their top date spots, so I was excited to finally check it out as a part of this project. As with the The Garden Room, I had to wait a little while for a reservation, but when date night rolled around, I sampled a variety of sashimi and negiri and ended the meal with the angel food cake dessert. I wanted to try the "UMI magical donut," but it's one of those dishes that is served in a limited quantity during a limited time window each night.
Of course, the meal was quite good, but the coolest part of this experience was the ambiance created by the art from Shanequa Gay. At the onset of the pandemic, the restaurant commissioned the local artist to design an installation to help facilitate social distancing. The result was a collection of intriguing masked mannequins that have been strategically placed throughout the space.
I know that my cheaper alternative for this date is going to make some people question my credibility, but I am a big fan of Kura Revolving Sushi Bar. While the sushi at Kura is obviously not the same quality as the sushi served at Umi, it is surprisingly good for just $2.60 a plate. Plus, the conveyor belt adds a playful, carnival-like element to the experience, and if loving Kura Revolving Sushi Bar is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
the cook's warehouse
My last date night involved a class at The Cook's Warehouse. Each month, the Midtown retailer hosts a variety of cooking classes. Some of the options are demonstration only while others are immersive, hands-on experiences, including date nights that are specifically designed for teams of two.
I chose a class titled "Dreaming of the Mediterranean: A Food & Wine Pairing Demonstration," and despite the fact that the class took place in the back of a retail space, I found this experience to be more enjoyable than dining in a typical restaurant. The food was delicious, and the wine pours were generous. The evening was relaxed and socially engaging, and I would liken the vibe to that of a dinner party at the home of a friend.
The on-brand portion of this experience was that all of the featured wines are available at local merchants, and while there was a range of prices, most were pretty reasonable. Additionally, recipes and pairing notes were provided for all of the dishes that were prepared, making it possible to recreate a personalized version of this date night at home.
Although I thought that the price of the class was justifiable for the amount of time, food, and wine involved, my cheaper alternative is a wine tasting at VinoTeca. Every Friday through Sunday, this boutique wine shop offers themed tastings of three wines for $15. No reservations are required, and there's often live music in the outdoor seating area.
WORTH THE SPLURGE?
Every upscale experience that I've featured is definitely worth trying at least once, but I'm not ready to convert my internet persona from ATL Cheap Date to ATL Extravagant Escort. I'm also no more or less in love with Atlanta than I was before it treated me to the fancy service, so we will see what the future holds.
Meanwhile, if you try out any of the attractions mentioned in this post, let me know what you think by commenting below or by tagging me on social media - @atlcheapdate, #atlcheapdate. I really enjoy seeing people make use of the content I create, so let me know you like me if you want me to keep putting out.