Cover Story: 30 years of the good, the bad and the weird-as-hell
A special feature to celebrate CL’s 30th birthday
Thirty years ago, metro Atlanta moviegoers could choose between a dozen drive-in theaters. Midtown was known as home to massage parlors, head shops and aging hippies.
The mayor was young, Jewish and a honky. And a drive along the 3-year-old I-285 allowed one to count the evening stars and breathe fresh country air.
The point is, a lot can change in three decades.
In 1972, when Creative Loafing was born in a Morningside basement, a popular counterculture mantra warned, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” At the time, we probably agreed. Now, well ... we just don’t think that old adage makes much sense anymore. Instead, we find ourselves in the “those-who-do-not-know-their-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-it” brigade.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with a few chapters of history that actually might be kind of fun to repeat — and a lot more that we’d be pretty happy to forget about. So, in our proud, now 30-year-old tradition of letting it all hang out — the good, the bad and the weird-as-hell — here’s CL’s draft of our slice of Atlanta history.
I love the nightlife
Limelight/Rupert’s — Launched by New York club czar Peter Gatien, the Limelight was the home of ’70s disco decadence in Atlanta and the reason old-timers still refer to the supermarket next door as the “Disco Kroger.” Who can forget “Bare as you dare” night? In the late ’80s, Rupert’s picked up without missing a beat as the famed Rupert’s Orchestra confided, “I Just Died in Your Arms (Tonight)” and took us “Up Where We Belong.”
Petrus/Axys — Also started by Gatien, Midtown’s Petrus was the hippest, hottest dance club in town for gay and straight alike right up until its owner went to the slammer for tax evasion in the early ’90s. Axys briefly carried on in similar fashion until it burned. The former theater space has been gloriously resurrected as eleven50.
L5P Community Pub — When it opened in 1977, it was a symbol of L5P’s revival from intown slum to cool cultural melting pot. By the time it closed a decade later, the neighborhood was squarely on its feet and the folk-oriented Pub had helped nurture the Indigo Girls. Now the 9 Lives Saloon.
The Point — If you loathed the very idea of Buckhead, this divey L5P watering hole and music venue — specializing in punk and indie rock — was likely where you’d end up on a Saturday night in the ’90s. Arguably, it had the best bathroom graffiti in town.
The Beer Mug — One of the city’s first sports bars, the Beer Mug expanded over its 31 years, eventually becoming a Midtown landmark. Until its 1999 demise, it remained a popular destination, but its plot of real estate overlooking the Brookwood split simply became too tempting to builders.
Yin Yang Cafe — A stone’s throw from the Varsity, Yin Yang felt like a real New York jazz speakeasy, with tables packed in so close together you had to come armed with a strong bladder, and free-wheeling jam sessions that lasted into the wee, wee hours.
Aunt Charley’s — For 20 years, this casual bar at the nexus of Peachtree and Roswell roads served as the unofficial headquarters of the Buckhead Village. Owner Warren Bruno, who also has Va-Hi’s Atkins Park, closed it about the time the area was becoming a no-holds-barred meat market.
Stein Club — Smoky, grubby and utterly without pretension, the tiny Peachtree Street bar provided a cozy refuge from trendiness and posers for nearly 40 years before the walls came down to developers in 2000.
Twelfth Gate Coffee House — It represented relaxed bohemia in Midtown; Wet Willie played free on Wednesdays. In an old house on 10th Street (now a Domino’s), it had a gift shop upstairs for all your counter-cultural needs.↵↵
Gene & Gabe’s — For more than 25 years, G&G’s weathered the fickle nature of the club business, outlasting contemporaries and competitors with popular cabaret shows — many starring Libby Whittemore — and such hits as Della’s Diner and Big Hair and Other Teases until the Midtown dinner theater finally was defeated by changing tastes and the IRS. Its space is now occupied by Smith’s Olde Bar.
Oprah comes to Forsyth — In the very first show to take place outside her Chicago soundstage, Oprah’s “Live from Forsyth County” showed the nation what kind of redneck, racist peckerwoods could still be found in Atlanta’s northern suburbs in 1987. Thanks, Op.
Nation’s murder capital — We’re No. 1! We nabbed the top spot in 1973 when a record 263 Atlantans got offed, and came back in 1979, bookending a decade in which the ATL edged out the D.C. to hold the title of the country’s volume dealer in violent crime. In 1989, the “city too busy to reload” was back on top again; we nearly repeated in ‘90, but someone else had a particularly bloody year. Lucky stiffs.
Ray Lewis trial — After taking a prosecutorial slap on the wrist and watching his two homies beat the rap for a January 2000 stabbing murder outside a Buckhead nightclub, the Ravens linebacker proved that being named Super Bowl MVP is the best revenge.
Sports Illustrated names Atlanta “Losersville, U.S.A.” — We captured this 1988 honor the old-fashioned way: We earned it. At the time, the Braves and the Falcons were perennial doormats; for all their ups and downs, the Hawks had little in the way of playoff victories to show for it; and Atlanta’s first NHL team had Flamed out and moved to Calgary.
Olympic Park bombing — First, 911 operators squander the city’s shot at defusing the bomb when they refuse to send police to what is now Centennial Park without a street address. Then, the AJC rewards would-be hero Richard Jewell with an utterly speculative profile so mean-spirited it makes Pol Pot look good by comparison.
Sprawl City, U.S.A. — Metro Atlanta is tagged nationally as the “poster child for suburban sprawl,” “perhaps the fastest-spreading human settlement in history” and “the next Los Angeles.” The feds shut down highway construction because our air quality stinks. And we rival the Amazon basin in terms of ongoing deforestation. So what do we do about all this? The developmental equivalent of yelling, “Road trip!” at a frat house: Northern Arc!
Gold Club trial — Thanks to tabloid TV, network news and ESPN, even your Aunt Ida in Cedar Rapids was able to follow the stripper shenanigans and wise-guy hjinks at Atlanta’s all-star titty bar. Most of the club employees in last year’s celebrated racketeering-and-prostitution case managed to get off, but then so did their NBA idols Patrick Ewing and Dennis Rodman.
A Man in Full -- Tom Wolfe’s top-selling novel adroitly skewers Atlanta’s racial tensions, go-go materialism and vapid boosterism. But, hey, any press is good press, right?
Dubious moments in sports
Pasqual “Perimeter” Perez — The Braves pitcher missed his start because he’d gotten lost on the way to the game and spent the evening circumnavigating I-285. One of a handful of lighthearted moments in an era during which the Braves sucked serious ass; attendance rarely climbed above the four- figure mark; and for the $3 ticket price, they’d just about let you suit up.
Eugene Robinson — When the Falcons earned a hell-freezes-over Super Bowl appearance, the defensive back decided to celebrate his new league citizenship award the night before the big game with some tail-for-hire that turned out to be the Miami heat.
Nick Esasky — The Braves shelled out a stunning $5.6 million in 1989 for a slugger who immediately came down with vertigo and other out-of-left-field maladies. By the time Esasky was released in 1992, the team hadn’t gotten a single run for all that wampum.
Evander and Chipper — These hometown heroes suffered setbacks to their carefully crafted nice-guy images when it was revealed that their version of family values meant having another family on the side.
Jon Contract — The Hawks were duped by arch-rival Pistons in 1989 into giving journeyman center Jon Koncak a salary-cap- stretching, six-year, $13.2 million contract. ‘Cak became a head case, started shooting like a white guy. His previously modest stats went into the toilet, and so did the Hawks’ chance at a championship.
Olympic flameout — Having the Games in town was exciting for us local yokels, but the international press corps was unimpressed, hundreds of small businesses got burned, Johnny Samaranch damned us with faint praise and ACOG was tarred with allegations of vote-buying. At least we got to keep the Ted.
World’s longest-running hacky-sack game — Dude, it’s still going on over in L5P.
Deacon Lunchbox — With a voice as raw and murderous as the chainsaw he often wielded during his live shows, rebel poet Tim “Deacon Lunchbox” Ruttenber cut through the sludge of Atlanta’s music, performance art and spoken-word scenes with memorable compositions such as “Aliens Stole My Hibachi,” until he and two members of The Jody Grind were killed on tour by a drunk driver in 1992.
George Ellis — Atlanta’s original art-house impresario, he was the first to offer midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Atlanta and champion the work of high-falutin’ furners such as Bergman and Truffaut. To theatergoers, he was the friendly old guy with the long beard taking the tickets.
Hosea Williams — Hero and buffoon, populist and self-promoter, public servant and chronic scofflaw, successful businessman and well-known drunk, the civil-rights warrior and lifelong rabble-rouser was one of the most deceptively complex figures to emerge in our lifetimes. Arrested countless times for noble causes and dopey mistakes, Hosea still managed to get elected to the Atlanta City Council, DeKalb Commission and the state Legislature, once while serving a six-month jail sentence for leaving the scene of an accident. Frequently dismissed as a blowhard even by his colleagues, Hosea could be uniquely effective, either leading 30,000 marchers to Forsyth County or rallying Atlantans to feed the homeless at Thanksgiving. He died of cancer in late 2000, “unbossed and unbought” to the end.
Benjamin -- Blessed with the most distinct voice ever to emerge from the Atlanta music scene, Robert Curtis Dickerson performed variously as “Miss Opal Foxx” (when leading his “Quartet”) and as “Benjamin” (when fronting the gloomy but transcendent Smoke). His deep, dark, raspy tones sounded uncannily like Tom Waits and his grizzled countenance was a wrinkled map of pain and heartbreak. He succumbed to complications from Hepatitis-C in early 1999, but the film Benjamin Smoke has shared his unique outlook with misfits everywhere.
Earl Shinholster — The soft-spoken, dashiki-clad Shinholster was regional director of the NAACP in Atlanta when the organization was mailed a smoke bomb in 1989. A tolerant non-militant, he later served as interim head of the national organization. Killed in 2000 when the Firestone tires blew out on his Ford Explorer.
Panorama Ray — Often called the “Mayor of Cabbagetown,” Raymond Herbert chronicled daily life in his adopted neighborhood through the familiar panoramic photographs he took with an antique camera. Before he died of a sudden heart attack in 1997, Ray had become regionally known for his skillful photos, but he was best loved by locals for his generous spirit.
Willie B. — He was simian before simian was cool. Grabbed from the jungle and named after Atlanta’s longtime mayor (William B. Hartsfield), he superceded his namesake’s popularity. For years, Willie B. lived in a dingy concrete dungeon, watched soaps and had few encounters with other gorillas. But his resurrection should be inspiration enough to found a new religion. The zoo reformed, and Willie B. moved into fancy indoor-outdoor digs. He climbed trees, slept under the stars, was a practicing vegetarian, aged gracefully and never worked a day in his life, yet managed to juggle a veritable harem of seven lady friends. Willie, you’re our role model.
Screw the public trust
Reginald Eaves — Bounced in 1978 from the since-dissolved job of city public safety commissioner for supposedly helping cops cheat on their promotion exams, Eaves bounced back with his election to the Fulton Commission. Ten years later, he was convicted of selling his votes in dozens of zoning cases.
Pat Swindall — With a name like that, politics was his destiny. The Bible-thumping GOP congressman earned a year in prison for lying to a grand jury about his role in a money-laundering scheme.
Ira Jackson — The city councilman was nailed on 130 counts of bribery and fraud in 1994 for taking kickbacks from an airport concessionaire, who testified that he slipped Jackson and fellow Councilman D.L. “Buddy” Fowlkes each $500 a week over breakfast. It makes one yearn for the days before airport graft became so complicated.
Lillian Webb — The Gwinnett Commission chairwoman was dumped by voters after leading a 26-person, $52,000 pub crawl through Manhattan in 1988 in the guise of a bond-rating mission. Unable to abandon the public trough, Webb is now mayor of Norcross.
Bill Campbell — During Atlanta’s best economic times since Sherman left town, Campbell still managed to drain city coffers dry by turning the mayor’s office into an employment service for his poker buddies; leaning on department heads and even judges to throw contracts to his supporters; treating Hartsfield like his own personal fiefdom; and overseeing a culture of civic corruption so pervasive that even folks low on the food chain felt their hands were welcome in the public cookie jar.
Stages of our lives
Metroplex — The site of a thousand boiling mosh pits and bloody noses. With abattoir-like, bare cement floor and walls that made the Masquerade seem like Chuck E. Cheese, downtown’s Metroplex specialized in L.A. punk-style audience participation for an all-ages crowd. The club went under in 1988 when it spent big to bring in Abbie Hoffman for an anti-political convention that got shut down by the Man.
The Great Southeastern Music Hall — Located in the elbow of the Lindbergh Plaza strip mall, it played host to mainstream acts as diverse as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jim Croce, but it’s best remembered as the site for the Sex Pistols’ first-ever U.S. show Jan. 5, 1978. Nine days later, the Pistols were history.
The Moonshadow Saloon — This Morningside venue played host to Bo Diddley, the Ventures, Stevie Ray Vaughan and R.E.M. When the Stray Cats’ first Atlanta show was delayed for hours by a Monday Night Football game on the big-screen TV, bandleader Brian Setzer quipped, “We’d like to thank the Dallas Cowboys for opening for us.”
The White Dot — Conveniently located within staggering distance of the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon, this was a favorite watering hole for local rockers. Bands such as The Jody Grind played there frequently, and musicians in the audience often outnumbered those on stage.
Rumors — An indoor amphitheater complete with cement grandstands around its walls, Rumors was a wild and woolly rock club located at the intersection of Clairmont and North Decatur roads. X frontman John Doe still shudders at the memory of the night his band’s show was delayed while an undercover cop searched the dance floor for his missing gun.
688 — Atlanta’s greatest punk rock club, the little room at 688 Spring St. played host to some of the foremost names in British and American agit-pop, from the Stranglers to Wall of Voodoo. During his week-long 1980 residency, Iggy Pop had a love affair with the metal pole that bisected the small stage; his set list — painted on the wall — remained there for years afterward.
Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom — The man who’d pulled off the mammoth second Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970 leased the old Georgian Terrace ballroom and brought in the era’s top rock acts, from Billy Joel to Ted Nugent. High points included a transcendental 1975 show by a peak-form Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith’s week-long stint in the mid-’70s with John Cale. Later became the Agora.
Richards — Iggy and the Stooges played a 1973 show at this Midtown club that people were still talking about 10 years later; Elton John showed up in a bunny suit and the Igster stage-dove through a tabletop. Also memorable were New York Dolls sets. Now a gay country bar called Hoedowns.
Ill-conceived development schemes
Great Mall of China — You didn’t have to be Confucius to realize that the idea of building a huge exhibition hall in Atlanta to sell pricey Asian imports — not in “Chambodia” on Buford Highway, but on skanky Ponce de Leon Avenue, circa 1987 — was a bonehead move.
Rio Mall — The golden frogs were funky, the fountain was cool, the wall of TVs was eye-catching, but Rio — hailed as an architectural prize when it debuted in 1989 at the corner of Piedmont and North — was just too quirky and Gap-free to catch on with conservative Southerners, despite its intown location.
Braselton — It now sounds like a headline from The Onion, but in 1990, then-bimbo actress and Playboy model Kim Basinger bought up this tiny Jackson County town to build her own film studio and backlot. Instead, she was sued into bankruptcy when she backed out of the Atlanta-shot Boxing Helena (the jury decided she didn’t have a leg to stand on) and she sold the place in 1995.
GWTW theme park — Douglas County thought it had won the lottery in 1993 when a California firm selected it as the site for its planned $50 million Tara re-creation. When investors didn’t materialize and licensing was held up by Turner, the project lived up to its name. Well, tomorrow is another day.
Underground Atlanta — It’s difficult to imagine Underground packed shoulder-to-shoulder with curious Atlantans unless you were at Underground’s grand reopening in 1989. By then, the mall that had served as a focal point for Atlanta nightlife in the ’70s had already failed once (in 1980). It remains to be seen, now that millions in bad debt has been forgiven, whether there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the city’s subterranean albatross.
Flashes in the pan
Kris Kross — Twelve-year-old kross-dressing rappers Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac yelled “Jump” in 1991, and we did. Then they released their follow-up, Da Bomb, and it did.
Frabel — There was a time in the early ’90s when every silent auction, civic honor or award ceremony in Atlanta was required to feature a bent-glass sculpture by German ex-pat Hans Frabel. Elton’s gotta have a closet full of them.
Gwinnett Daily News -- Although the newspaper had been around for decades, the revved-up version owned by the New York Times lasted just five years before the AJC killed it off in 1992 and picked the bones clean.
Jackyl — Remember this Southern-shlock group’s lead singer, Jesse James Dupree and his musical chainsaw? Well, we do — and misery loves company.
British Knights — In 1988, you risked getting shot by some covetous gangsta for your ultra-stylin’ BKs. Now they’re on clearance at Goodwill.
The World of Sid and Marty Krofft -- From the acid freaks who brought you “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” came this indoor theme park that opened in the upper reaches of the Omni International in 1976 — and closed later that same year. Somewhere at this very moment, a 38-year-old stockbroker is having a flashback about being chased through Lidsville by Witchiepoo.
Milestones in political incorrectness
Aunt Fannie’s Cabin — This Smyrna Southern-cookin’ landmark dressed its black waitresses like Aunt Jemima and used little, barefoot “colored” boys to tote the menu — on chalk boards hung around their necks! So, so wrong.
Georgia flag — Fergit, hell! No, I’m afraid we’ll long remember with shame the logistical handstands that many state lawmakers performed in defending the repugnant St. Andrew’s Cross. You might be a redneck if ... you buy into that “Southern heritage” crap.
Lester Maddox — Not until his term as lieutenant governor ended in 1975 did the old-school segregationist and former guvner leave politics. Up through the mid-’90s, Maddox made every effort to cement his status as an elder statesman by riding his bicycle backward in parades.
Anti-gay resolution — When “Olympics out of Cobb” bumper stickers began showing up on cars across Georgia and in other states, we knew we had a(nother) serious image problem on our hands.
Chief Noc-A-Homa — He sported a feather headdress and buckskin, performed a “good luck” dance before games (it didn’t work) and lived in a teepee in the outfield seats before he finally got sacked in 1986. Of course, we still honor our Native American brethren by performing the Chief’s trademark tomahawk chop and buying tickets from scalpers.
Hildred Shumake — This free-wheeling former state senator was unafraid to tackle the big issues: He unsuccessfully proposed bills to make collard greens Georgia’s official soul vegetable, restrict concert lip-synching in the wake of the Milli Vanilli scandal and prohibit restaurants from charging for tap water. After two influence-peddling trials ended in hung juries, Shumake lost re-election to a fourth term.
Guy Millner — If it’s true that fools and their money are soon parted, that goes double for egomaniacal CEOs who refuse to take a hint from voters. The born-again, twice-divorced businessman so far has squandered more than $20 million of his own fortune on two governor’s races and a Senate campaign — and he still may have some hubris left over.
Ralph David Abernathy III — Son of the late civil-rights leader and crown prince of lame excuses, he was caught trying to smuggle a dime bag in his drawers, tried unsuccessfully to strike up a friendship in a women’s bathroom, blamed his wife for bouncing the qualifying check that cost him his state Senate seat, and ended up behind bars for helping himself to state funds.
Mitch Skandalakis — His name could be Greek for “lacking scruples.” No blow was too low for this right-wing pit bull, who has settled at least three lawsuits for libeling political rivals. After an ineffectual run chairing the Fulton Commission, he flushed his public career with an attack ad portraying now-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor as a junkie. He’s now under federal investigation. Squirm, Mitch, squirm.
Martin Luther King III — Trading on his beloved father’s name and an abiding sense of entitlement, Martin “Don’t call me Marty!” King coasted through two terms as Fulton commissioner, ran a somnambulant campaign for the chairman’s post, took a failed stab at running the King Center and has made the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chairman regret handing him that organization’s presidency. His is a lengthy resume that includes few actual accomplishments.
Gordon Wysong — The weaselish Cobb commissioner who drafted the disastrous anti-gay resolution and cancelled county arts funding later organized a Russian art exhibit that went belly up, stiffing dozens of local businesses, the Cobb Galleria and even the county’s convention bureau for more than $2 million.
Anneewakee — When Louis Poetter and nine employees of his Douglas County psychiatric center were arrested in 1986 for molesting dozens of troubled young boys, it was revealed that state authorities had allowed the suspected pedophile to slip through the cracks (so to speak) since 1970. Holy clerical error!
Eldrin Bell — Often investigated, never indicted. When Atlanta’s celebrity cop wasn’t rousting scumbags or sewing new epaulets onto his Sgt. Pepper-style uniform, he was a walking scandal machine. From beat cop to police chief, his long career produced some great tales: The Mystery of the Pistol-Whipped Plaintiff, The Burning-Car Peccadillo, The Case of Clueless Eldrin and the FBI Surprise Party. The Teflon fuzz tripped up for the last time in 1994, when he was bounced from the Fulton chairman’s race for not living in the county.
Vicki Long — In the more innocent era of the late ’80s, fallen priests were being caught for much more wholesome sins of the flesh, such as knocking up attractive, willing adult women. Atlanta Archbishop Eugene Marino and at least two local priests were disgraced when forced to admit they’d had affairs with Ms. Long, a Catholic groupie and lay minister (huh, huh) who genuflected for anything in a collar. She claimed a clergyman sired her daughter. Will the real Father please stand?
GOP hypocrites — Former state Attorney General Mike Bowers became less electable than a dog’s left nut when the public found out its defender of bedroom morality had been getting steady side action for at least a decade. (See also: Gingrich, Newt.) Meanwhile, conservative hit man and Clinton-basher Matt Glavin was destroyed by the vast left-wing conspiracy when it somehow maneuvered his hand onto a federal park ranger’s crotch — again.
Campbell years — The scorecard so far: Three people connected to his administration have pleaded guilty to corruption charges, four more have been indicted and the feds are still sifting through stacks of casino receipts. We’re waiting for Hizzonner himself to be dragged in manacles from his V-103 sound booth.
Harmon Wages — A former star Falcon, a highly paid TV sportscaster and a bona fide local celebrity, Wages apparently was still so insecure that he needed mucha coca to impress women. Busted by the feds in 1984, he still pops up on air from time to time.
Rob Lowe -- In town for the 1988 Democratic National Convention, the former Brat Packer made the tabloid covers when a videotape was widely circulated that shows him nailing an underage girl in his hotel room. The verdict: He’s no Tommy Lee. (Ironically, that year’s forgettable film starring Lowe is titled Illegally Yours.)
Hastings murder — Weldon Wayne Carr, heir of the Hastings seed fortune and owner of the prominent Atlanta plant nursery, remains a free man after his 1994 murder conviction was overturned; Carr was accused of killing his wife by torching their Sandy Springs house after beating her senseless.
Lopes/Rison romance — Long before she was awarded sainthood by the AJC, TLC spitfire “Left Eye” kept gossip columnists hopping when she burned down the $2 million mansion owned by boyfriend Andre Rison in 1994. A year earlier, the star Falcons receiver was charged with firing his gat into the Disco Kroger when the couple got into a tiff. Whatever happened to frying pans and rolling pins?
Buckhead socialite murder — When a hit man pretending to deliver flowers shot Lita Sullivan in the head in her doorway in 1987, suspicion immediately fell on James Sullivan, the millionaire husband with whom she was locked in a vicious divorce suit. Fifteen years later, however, the killing remains unsolved.
The Big Split — See Ted and Jane cheer at the ball park. See Ted and Jane host the awards banquet. See Jane convert to evangelical Christianity. Doh! After a decade-long marriage with few public tiffs, the secular humanist with a famously dim view of religion and his newly Jesus-freaked wife amicably called it quits.
Riverbend Apartments — Also known as Gonorrhea Gulch, this 600-unit complex overlooking the Chattahoochee at I-285 was the address for swingin’ singles in the ’70s. All-night keggers at the clubhouse, daytime skinny-dipping, live bands for weekend block parties and more casual sex than a Hedonism resort convinced Playboy to rate Riverbend as ground zero in the sexual revolution.
Ramblin’ Raft Race — Started innocently enough by Georgia Tech students in 1968, the annual “race” down the ‘Hooch soon devolved into an out-of-control, drunken, topless, floating grope-a-thon. Needless to say, the event was wildly popular till it was shut down in 1980 for what local officials termed “safety concerns,” meaning their wives wouldn’t let them go.
The Strip — An AJC story once described the Peachtree Street corridor in 1970s Midtown as being “overrun by addicts, hookers and weirdos” — a trans-parent slam on CL’s readership. The former hippie haven boasted the Bottom of the Barrel bar, Middle Earth head shop, Drama Arts bookstore, Pleasure Chest sex shop and enough massage parlors to relieve any kink you might have.
Caligula — Touted weekly by local “sexologist” Dr. Roger Libby on his late-’90s “Pleasuredome” radio show, this old-school swinger’s club was located a condom’s throw from the Tech campus. If you never walked in on your parents having sex, you could’ve approximated that experience here.
Randy Rockdale teens — And we thought the ‘burbs were boring. Playing a version of Spin the Bottle as re-imagined by Ron Jeremy, a network of junior-high kids in Conyers held pimply orgies in an apparent attempt to earn extra credit in sex ed. Their parents should have caught on when little Ashley dropped Sweet Valley High for the Kama Sutra.
Club district — In the ’70s and early ’80s, the few blocks of Peachtree Street on either side of 10th Street were lined with gay nightclubs and bars, With such bar names as Plumb Butch and its across-the-street counterpart, Plumb Nellie, the district was loud and proud.
The Cove — A run-down roadhouse teetering on the end of Clear Creek north of Piedmont Park, the 24-hour bar served the rough-trade crowd from the early ’70s until it was bulldozed by the city 20 years later. The undiscriminating could arrive at 4 a.m. to pick through the leftovers of everyone who hadn’t already tricked out.
Diamond Lil — She was queen of Atlanta’s drag scene in the ’70s. A huge club draw, she had a stand-up routine and did the lip-synchers one better by actually singing with a live band. Lil still occasionally performs around town.
Gallus — A popular Midtown nightclub and restaurant with an elegant dining room, Gallus anchored the Cyprus Street cruising corridor, allowing brunch patrons to entertain themselves watching the hustlers stroll by.
Sweet Gum Head — Atlanta’s premier drag bar of the glam era! Starring such absolutely fabulous luminaries as Rachel Wells and Lavita Allen, it was located behind the Varsity Jr. on Cheshire Bridge Road.
The Coolies — The Coolies rose from being the one-joke house band at Fellini’s on Peachtree — initially playing only silly cover versions of Paul Simon songs — to selling out the Cotton Club. Years after the group disbanded, their comic rock opera, Doug, was produced as a live theater piece. A movie version is currently in the works.
Guadalcanal Diary — The band packed the Agora Ballroom and Moonshadow Saloon with fans eager to hear the wild hootenanny sounds of “Watusi Rodeo” and the Diary’s bourbon-smooth rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” The group’s farewell concert sold out Centerstage (now Earthlink Live) two nights straight, and their occasional reunions have been equally well received.
Lava Love — Bizarro psychedelia and uninhibited weirdness, along with some undeniably rollicking rock ‘n’ roll, made Lava Love the darlings of the performance-art scene.
Swimming Pool Q’s — Atlanta’s answer to the B-52’s, the Q’s caught the crest of the city’s first new-wave movement and have been floating atop it ever since. Showcasing brainy, post-collegiate songwriting, the glorious pipes of Anne Richmond Boston and the guitar chops of bandleader Jeff Calder, the Q’s showed that you didn’t have to be from Athens to dance yer mess around.
The Hampton Grease Band — Old-timers still speak with reverence of the wildly psychedelic Hampton Grease Band, whose accomplishments include opening for Jimi Hendrix. Although it remains one of the two lowest-selling LPs in the history of Capitol Records, original pressings of their cult album, Music to Eat, are now valuable collector’s items. Bandleader Bruce Hampton appeared prominently in the film Sling Blade; guitarist Glenn Phillips has occasional gigs around town.
Brick — The original “dazz” band, Brick merged funk and jazz to score R&B hits during a five-year run from 1976 to 1981. Their first single, “Dazz,” climbed to No. 3.
The Jody Grind — Driven by the astonishing voice of vocalist Kelly Hogan, The Jody Grind made beautiful music ranging from rock to lounge to country, with a little of everything else thrown in. Quirky, hypnotic and immensely popular, the Grind seemed poised for national success in 1992 when a fatal crash ended their run. Hogan still plays Atlanta from time to time.
Write them C/O the warden at ...
Kenny Hardwick — Valdosta State Prison, where the redneck scumbag serves a life sentence for killing his 7-month-old daughter, Haley, in 1992, burying her by the side of the highway and claiming she’d been kidnapped until he finally ‘fessed up three weeks later.
Wayne Williams — Hancock State Prison, despite uncertainty in some minds that he was responsible for killing more than 20 children between 1979 and 1981. What is certain is that the Missing and Murdered Children era remains the most harrowing period in Atlanta’s living memory.
Fred Tokars — Federal prison infirmary in Florida; the former Marietta lawyer and magistrate judge hired hit men who killed his wife with a shotgun blast to the head in front of their two young children in 1992. Having escaped the death penalty, Tokars now suffers from MS; our hearts bleed for him.
“Little B” — Phillips State Prison in Buford, where wannabe teen gang-banger Michael Lewis, now 18, serves time for pumping three slugs into a man as the victim sat in his car with his kids outside a Vine City convenience store in 1997. When police charged Lewis with murder, he asked them if he couldn’t be punished with “house arrest or something.”
Walter Leroy Moody — Officially in transit between federal lock-ups, Moody was a middle-aged loser living in Rex, Ga., when he sent mail bombs that killed a federal judge in Birmingham and a lawyer in Savannah in 1989. He’s serving seven life sentences, plus 400 years, which will be a record if he makes it.
Jimmie Sue Finger Gambrell — State women’s prison, where the former Kennesaw hairdresser was sent for life for persuading her teenage lover to kill her husband in 1986. The triggerboy himself was paroled in 1993, but at least J.S. got the satisfaction of seeing herself played by foxy Barbara Hershey in the TV movie.
Mike Thevis — Oak Park Heights (Minnesota) Correctional Facility, where the nation’s former porn king and all-around bad egg is serving life for tax evasion, racketeering, bombing, extortion and, oh yes, some murders, two of which were committed after he broke out of prison to return to Atlanta to snuff the dirty rat who finked him out.
Tombstones in the arts
Mattress Factory shows — Legendary for its populist appeal and anything-goes aesthetic, the annual Grant Park event bubbled up from the arts underground in the early ’80s, giving disenfranchised and marginalized artists a venue to showcase their visions. Having petered out around 1990, its spirit lives on in Atlanta’s guerilla multimedia scene.
Arts Festival of Atlanta — When the end came in 1997 for this 44-year-old institution, we were all taken by surprise. After all, it had grown from an art exhibit in a Buckhead back yard to a monster multimedia festival that brought 2 million people to Piedmont Park over nine days each fall. But a summer move to Centennial Park brought smaller crowds, increased expenses and the Curse of the Campbell Bureaucracy, which likewise ruined a passel of Olympics vendors.
Academy Theatre — Atlanta’s oldest professional theater had grown steadily for 34 years and was at its artistic peak when it was yanked off the stage in early 1990 by financial woes brought on by a slump in donations and steep rent on the 14th Street Playhouse. The Woodruff-supported Alliance Theatre helped nail the coffin shut when it snatched up the building lease before its rival had a chance to erase its deficit.
800 East — A quirky little Fourth Ward hideaway that featured music, cartoons and fashion shows, performance art and scary drag queens 1990-1997. Parties hosted by vivacious, bespectacled Mistress of Ceremonies Saasha Foo were the stuff of legend.
The Silver Screen — The most beloved of the half-dozen or so repertory cinemas that flourished in Atlanta before home video killed them off, George Lefont’s little theater was a cineaste’s paradise tucked away in the Peachtree Battle shopping center. Where else could you see both the Three Stooges’ Spooks and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in the original 3D? It closed in 1982; the Rhodes in Midtown followed three years later.
The Blue Rat Gallery — An offbeat venue for counterculture art and nestled in Midtown, it was loudly championed by the Nightporters, a once-ascendant Atlanta rock group who played numerous benefits there. In the end, the bulldozers triumphed.
Theatrical Outfit — OK, so technically it still exists in Fairlie-Poplar, but the mainstream group of today is hardly the same edgy Outfit that operated out of a ramshackle theater at Peachtree and 10th, putting on The Rocky Horror Show — with RuPaul as Riff Raff — for several months in the mid-’80s and a crazy musical version of The Tempest starring the lead singer of Kansas.
Newspapers whose asses we’ve kicked
Great Speckled Bird — Atlanta’s original alt-weekly, the Bird was hatched in 1968 as an anti-war (Vietnam, that is), anti-racist counterculture rag that was merciless in its prodding of the city’s sacred cows and clay-footed heroes. Unable to grow out of its ’60s-era righteous anger, it petered out in 1976, resurfacing briefly in 1984.
Atlanta Gazette — The Gazette roared out of the gate in 1974, determined to drive CL under with a yuppier approach to local news and entertainment. After a hard-fought battle, it threw in the towel in 1980.
Southline — Former state legislator Todd Evans launched this liberal, if sober-sided, Midtown-based newsweekly in early 1985 with $300,000 of his own money. It offered perceptive articles about complex government issues, insightful columns and literate film reviews. It tanked, of course, around 1988.
Footnotes — This colorful weekly gave CL tough competition at music coverage for a couple of years in the early ’90s before becoming — well, a footnote to the Atlanta publishing story.
HighPoint — A short-lived L5P-based biweekly, HighPoint — you could call it Southline Lite — made a decent stab at covering local music and ran some edgy columns in the early ’90s before it went belly up. Publisher Bill Smith found gainful employment at a Chicago daily before returning to Atlanta.
Atlanta Press — Originally launched in 1984 as the offbeat monthly Poets, Artists & Madmen, the paper lasted a couple of years after changing its name and trying to make the jump to a newsweekly. Only too late did they realize that resistance is futile!
Atlanta Journal — All right, so we didn’t kill off the paper that covered Dixie like the dew. No, changing times, progressive thinking and CNN did the job for us.
Finale on Five — The downtown Rich’s top-floor bargain clothing melee was the next best thing to an aerobics class to keep your muscles toned, your reflexes quick and your survival instincts sharpened.
Oxford Books — There was a time when seemingly every newcomer to hit town got his first post-collegiate job shelving books for Rupert LeCraw. Open till 2 a.m. on weekends, Oxford was where genteel Atlanta went to wind down after the movies or a show. Once one of the nation’s largest independent booksellers, with two huge Buckhead retail stores, the discount Oxford Too and some short-lived satellites, the company lost out to the chains in 1997.
Peaches Records — This Midtown vinyl haven had its own walk of fame in the sidewalk on Peachtree Street, with footprints by Paul McCartney, the O’Jays, the Kinks, Willie and Waylon, and the Allmans. When the store closed in 1982, the cement landmark was, typically, destroyed.
Fruit Jungle — A counterculture version of the soda fountain, this little, independently owned convenience store near the corner of Piedmont and Monroe was an unlikely congregating point for young folks in the late ’70s. It helped that it was one of the few places then open late in Atlanta.
Royal Bagel — Now that bagel franchises blanket the city, it’s tough to imagine loyal customers driving halfway across town to line up at this small Ansley Mall bakery that was among the first to offer the breakfast staple when it opened in 1974. Hung on until 1997.
Coach & Six — At a time when Atlanta was best known for chitlins and grits, this Peachtree Street mainstay introduced the town to New York-style luxury dining — and prices. Served up surf-and-turf to the old-money crowd for three decades — through the early ’90s — until its clientele eventually died off or went to eat in Buckhead.
Turtle’s -- OK, so it was a big record-and-video-store chain, but it was our big record-and-video-store chain, founded in Atlanta in 1977 and contained to the Southeast. And, until it was consumed by the forces of darkness (dba Blockbuster) in late 1993, Atlantans could still rent movies for $1 and didn’t have to worry about what some self-appointed censor had cut out of them.
Plaza Drugs — The place was never the same after Treasury Drugs bought it in 1982 and closed down the 24-hour grill and soda fountain. But by then it had become a gathering spot for junkies and panhandlers. When it finally closed as a Big B drug store in 1997, it had 50 years of stories behind it as one of the oldest tenants of the auto-inspired Briarcliff Plaza, Atlanta’s first full-fledged strip shopping center. Now houses Market One grocery.
Can’t say we’ll miss ...
WCW — Ted Turner’s home version of the meat-headed WWF may have kept a crew of long-haired, over-the-hill, spandex-addicted pituitary cases off the dole and popularized chest-waxing, but it didn’t do much for Atlanta’s redneck image.
Atlanta School Board — In the pre-Jerry Springer late ’80s and early ’90s, we watched these clowns insult each other, spew racial invective, struggle to justify conflicts of interest and generally embarrass themselves on local TV. The rascals were weeded out by 1993’s “Erase the Board” election campaign, leaving us with the library board as a second-rate substitute.
Freaknik — The funky anaconda that strangled Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods every April was a citywide street party, wet-T-shirt contest and subwoofer competition that brought the city to a standstill, kept the police busy and scared the shit outta whitey.
Larry McDonald — An early version of Bob Barr — except more conservative — the Cobb County congressman and John Birch Society chairman was determined to drag his state back into the Stone Age when he boarded Korean Flight 007, which was shot down by MiGs when it strayed into Soviet air space in 1986. His supporters called it a conspiracy; we think it was karma.
AIDS peak — The mid-’90s was a devastating time for gay Atlanta, with the annual death toll averaging 2,300 over a three-year period. The war hasn’t been won, but with luck, the worst is behind us.
Sinkholes — Boy, are we glad those giant asphalt craters that plagued Midtown in the mid-’90s ... oh, wait, never mind.↵↵
Gone but not forgotten
Pink Pig — Years from now, many Atlantans will be tragically misdiagnosed with senile dementia when they recall the fun they had riding a giant, smiling sow across the roof of a downtown department store.
The Magnolia Room — The downtown Rich’s has been elevated to near-mythic status by natives who rode the Pig, shopped the famed book store, witnessed the lighting of the Great Tree and were dragged by their mothers to the Magnolia Room, the last bastion of white-gloved Southern gentility, for afternoon tea.
Pershing Point Apartments — Atlanta’s own version of the Chelsea Hotel, they were home to a spectrum of artistes, actors, musicians, gays, punks and freaks. When the landmark complex was hurriedly torn down in 1985 by its new owner, preservationists called it the city’s worst architectural loss in a decade. Now that he’s found New Urbanism religion, Post Properties chairman John Williams says he’s sorry he lowered the wrecking ball.
Whatizzit -- Was it a maggot? Was it a slug? Was it a happy blue herpes virus? No, it was hands-down the most reviled Olympic mascot since Fritz, the Nazi Buzzard. Tweaked by designers into the marginally less odious Izzy, the creature appealed to the same folks who thought Jar Jar Binks was a hoot.
“Tush” -- Atlanta’s homegrown “Saturday Night Live.” Too weird for Ted Turner, the variety show launched the careers of CNN’s Bill Tush, “SNL” alum Jan Hooks, and Bonnie and Terry Turner, who grew up to become the creators of “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
The Omni -- Compared to the Georgia Dome, the Omni seemed like a cozy club space, hosting the Hawks, the NHL’s Flames, tennis tournaments and a variety of concerts, such as an early ’70s show by Bob Dylan and the Band with then-Gov. Jimmy Carter in the audience.
The Bug — Throw a brick in certain Atlanta neighborhoods and you’ll probably hit someone who used to play — or run — numbers, the daily, small-stakes gambling institution that operated underground in most large cities. When the Georgia Lottery debuted in 1991, it squashed the Bug flat.
It happened here
Cuban prison riots — The longest prison takeover in U.S. history lasted 11 days in late 1987 after 1,100 Cuban “detainees” took nearly 100 prison employees hostage at the federal pen in Atlanta when threatened with deportation back to Cuba. Many of them had taken part in a two-day riot that trashed the prison in 1984. You just can’t please some (boat) people.
Eastern Airlines folds — Metro Atlanta was the hub for two of the nation’s largest airlines until 1991, when Eastern — and its huge reservation center at Cumberland — evaporated into bankruptcy, done in by an extended strike, indictments for maintenance fraud and the implacable ego of Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo.
News held hostage — In 1973, a guy named William Williams kidnapped obscure Constitution editor Reg Murphy, demanding $700,000 in cash that the paper’s managing editor delivered in two large suitcases to a remote spot up Ga. 400. Williams, who ended up serving nine years in prison, should have waited: Murphy later became a multi-millionaire in a Baltimore newspaper stock deal.
Big-ass blizzard — “You’re not going to believe this ...” was how incredulous weathercasters began their reports the evening of March 12, 1993. They were right: We didn’t. But, by the next morning, the snow was a foot deep in Atlanta, 3 feet deep in the mountains. Georgia’s Storm of the Century will be remembered by most as the best excuse they ever had to stay home and party for three days straight.
Porn czar paralyzed — Hustler publisher Larry Flynt made a special trip to Atlanta in 1977 to challenge local decency laws by personally selling his stroke mag out of a Peachtree Street newstand. Busted by both Fulton and Gwinnett counties, Flynt became a paraplegic the next year when a white-supremacist sniper shot him as he walked out of the Lawrenceville courthouse.