By Chuck Stanley
Sunday morning is less than an hour old and on Cains Hill Place, the tiny street that links Irby Avenue and East Andrews Drive a block west of Roswell Road, the revelry of Saturday night is far from over.
Silver-and-blue Atlanta Lenox taxicabs clog the street while crowds of mostly millennial-aged men and women scuffle and straggle down the sidewalk. The pace of the rain is picking up and it seems that everyone is looking to duck into the nearest available open door.
Buckhead resident Ted Vir is meeting up with friends at Andrews Upstairs, one of eight different concepts housed in the building called Andrews Entertainment District. He says he likes this area because of the number of bars within walking distance.
“Everything is really close, so we can kind of club hop and bar hop. You’ve got Hangovers down the street and a bunch of others nearby,” he says. “There’s just a lot around here.”
It’s not quite the Mardi Gras atmosphere that dominated Buckhead Village in the late 1990s, but a quick look around is all it takes to see that the occasional pronouncements of the death of Buckhead nightlife were premature.
It wasn’t long ago that the groundbreaking on the Streets of Buckhead project [now renamed Buckhead Atlanta] on the site where bars like Tongue and Groove once stood signified the end of a tumultuous era that saw Buckhead Village transition from an iconic center of Atlanta’s nightlife scene to a magnet for controversy and high-profile crime.
Almost six years later, construction on the project is far from complete, Buckhead Village has not become Rodeo Drive East, and young people still crowd the streets on Friday and Saturday nights into the early hours of the morning.
Stephen de Haan, president of Andrews Entertainment District, says things have indeed changed since the wild days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. “Across the street was the center of Buckhead nightlife,” remembers de Haan, adding that some of that nightlife had a less than positive effect on the community. “You saw a number of bad operators trying to make a quick buck. There were some really great ones as well, but also some people who were just out to make a quick buck.”
De Haan opened East Andrews Café in 2002, at a time when residents and business owners were trying to reign in the anything-goes atmosphere that abounded near the intersection of Roswell Road and Peachtree Street. As other bars shut down, though, de Haan expanded, eventually taking over the entire 30,000 square feet of space in the complex now called Andrews Entertainment District.
The secret to his success, de Haan says, has been broadening his focus beyond the early-20s crowd that frequents late-night favorites like Andrews Upstairs, and Stout on Friday and Saturday nights. Prohibition, a cigar bar specializing in craft cocktails, tends to draw a more mature crowd, says de Haan. Improv, on the other hand, showcases live comedy acts that appeal to a broad ranging clientele.
Unlike the “bad operators” of the past, de Haan says he has tried to build a business that serves as a positive part of the community. He says he gets input from local residents, in the form of focus groups, each time he opens a new concept at Andrews. “We’ve approached our business as, ‘What would the Buckhead Community want for its nightlife?’”
Despite de Haan’s assessment that the Wild West atmosphere of the old days is long gone, not everybody is happy about the resurgence of after-hours activity in Buckhead.
“The area around Roswell Road and East Andrews has seen an increase in bars opening,” Kim Kahwach, president of the Buckhead Forest Civic Association, told Reporter Newspapers recently by email. “Of course we have received complaints and tried to deal with them.”
Kahwach says that special events permitting by the city of Atlanta allow Buckhead bars to sidestep parking and noise ordinances, despite complaints from residents.
Jim Barnes, president of nearby Mathieson Exchange Lofts, described communication between bar owners and residents as “nonexistent.”
“To the best of my knowledge, there has never been any communication between any bar owner,” he added, “other than, ‘We have special event permits that exempt us from noise ordinances in response to noise complaints.’”
So, for better or worse, the party seems destined to continue in Buckhead.