Barfly - Hobnobbing on the Reserve at Café Circa

Old Fourth Ward's urban hang suite right on thyme

Forget what you may think you know about the Old Fourth Ward, because you're wrong. The area may still be "in transition," but nothing about the scene on the rooftop of the Reserve at Café Circa last Saturday needed transforming.

There's a man in a fedora taking a drag from a cigar. A woman with a platinum blonde Afro flirts with her date. A man in a bow tie and skullcap talks politics with his buddy. A group of fashionistas are giggling over champagne.

The crowd on this Indian summer evening is so stylish that it seriously looks as though Central Casting was hired to stage a hip Atlanta party in the urban district.

But looks aren't everything; even the conversation is on point.

A group of women to my left are discussing how the Beltline will benefit Atlanta neighborhoods before launching into a discussion about music. The guy to my right is regaling his friends with stories from a bachelor party last weekend in Kiev, Ukraine (where, he explains, people go for two reasons: to take a pilgrimage to the biblical Odessa and to get bombed partying with beautiful people).

Needless to say, the down-tempo lounge on Edgewood Avenue, that was originally built as a grocery store in 1903, hits the mark in 2010.

By 11.30 p.m., it's standing-room only and so a cocktail waitress — effortlessly stylish, even in uniform — escorts a group to a table in the corner. Within minutes there is another round of drinks and dessert. Five minutes later and a blueberry and strawberry hookah is brought to the table. The waitress asks, "Do you need a mouth condom?" (Translation: "Do you want a bright yellow plastic tip to cover the end of the hookah pipe so you can smoke out of it without having to share germs with that guy?") Service is exemplary; operations manager Michael Faye — who spent eight years building bombs in the Navy — clearly runs a tight ship.

At the bar, Gilbert Marquez — a good-looking, tatted-up bartender originally from Orange County, Calif. — brags that he was trained in the old-school, speakeasy style. As if on cue, a pretty girl orders a French 75. Resident mixologist Ava Kopieczek has created a menu of straight-forward cocktails, and with names like "Thyme for a Change," the message of the Café Circa team comes across loud and clear. Because, as edgy and open-minded as the O4W is, the fact remains that the area is still socially segregated. (In fact, this author's arrival was — for the first few minutes — the obvious elephant in the room until everyone realized that white people ordering cocktails was not even remotely interesting.)

There is no dancing on the roof and, oddly enough, no DJ, even though one gentleman — who steadfastly wore his Gucci sunglasses throughout the entire evening — would no doubt be happy to get on the ones and twos.

By 1.30 a.m., the crowd is thinning out and the only love bugs left are snuggled up on couches, devouring late-night dessert (get the pound cake, it's unbelievably tasty). The rest of the crowd heads downstairs to Café Circa proper where a band has the dance floor in full dance-party mode until closing time.

Good people and good booze and good times. Let's hope Café Circa is right and the thymes are a changin' in Old Fourth Ward.

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