To the uninitiated, Athens (www.visitathensga.com) is merely the town that put R.E.M. and the B-52s on the map, of "Shiny, Happy, People" and "Love Shack," of – oh forget it. That was nearly 30 years ago! The Athens of 2010 wears its legacy with honor, but by no means is the Classic City stuck in a time warp. Welcome to 21st-century Athens, just an hour and a half northeast of Atlanta via I-85 and Ga. 316.
Athenians love a good cup of Joe, day or night. The local standard bearer for the caffeinated cure-all is Jittery Joe's (multiple locations, www.jitteryjoes.com). Check out the Five Points cafe – a converted garage where Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel recorded his legendary solo performance Live at Jittery Joe's in 1997, although the recording wouldn't be released as an album until 2001. If you're downtown, visit Espresso Royale (297 E. Broad St., 706-613-7449, www.espressoroyale.com), or ERC to regulars (the "C" stands for cafe), which include professorial types, philosophy students and the like, most of whom have wandered in off of UGA's north campus (www.uga.edu).
If you're hungry, walk a couple doors up to Five Star Day Cafe (229 E. Broad St., 706-543-8552, www.fivestardaycafe.com). The intimate diner (and by intimate we mean teeny tiny and packed at peak hours) serves gourmet soul food. Do not miss the Hot Buttered Soul Chicken or mac 'n' cheese. It'd be a sin to bring up Athens soul food without mentioning Weaver D's (1016 E. Broad St., 706-353-7797), that famous purveyor of fried goodness that lent the catch phrase "Automatic for the People" to the band that shall not be named. The vegetarian menu at the Grit (199 Prince Ave., 706-543-6592, www.thegrit.com) is the stuff of legend; and the Taco Stand (multiple locations, www.thetacostand.com) is a crucial destination for the hungover. Hodgson's Pharmacy (1260 S. Milledge Ave., 706-543-7386) in Five Points slings delicious ice cream for $1 a scoop. Finally, star chef Hugh Acheson makes Athens look and taste good at his two local restaurants the National (232 W. Hancock Ave., 706-549-3450, www.thenationalrestaurant.com) and 5 & 10 (1653 S. Lumpkin St., 706-546-7300, www.fiveandten.com).
Downtown Athens is a shopper's (and drinker's, but we'll get to that in a minute) paradise. Helix (146 E. Clayton St., 706-354-8631) and Frontier (193 E. Clayton St., 706-369-8079) sell eclectic jewelry, accessories and decor, while Masada (238 E. Clayton St., 706-546-5014) has that pair of Frye's and custom leather belt you've been lusting after. Kum's Fashions (115 E. Clayton St., 706-546-6945) has everything from platform, knee-high Converse to sunglasses, stacked floor to ceiling. It wouldn't be a trip to Athens without spending too much money on records at Wuxtry (197 E. Clayton St., 706-369-9428, www.myspace.com/wuxtryrecords). For seekers of vintage goods, the stalls at Agora (260 W. Clayton St., 706-316-0130) are heaven, holding everything from retro baubles to Virgin Mary planters to old-school Schwinns.
For a break from downtown, head east to the university's intramural fields (River and College Station roads, www.recsports.uga.edu), which encompass two lakes and a secluded web of hiking trails. Same goes for the State Botanical Gardens (2450 S. Milledge Ave., 706-542-6159, www.uga.edu/botgarden) – minus the lakes – located along the Middle Oconee River. Take an hour or two to wander the University of Georgia – north campus is especially scenic, and perfect for a picnic with goodies from Daily Co-op (523 Prince Ave., 706-548-1732, www.dailygroceries.org) – or get lost in the gigantor structure that is the Tate Student Center (45 Baxter St., 706-542-7774, www.uga.edu). The big event every summer is AthFest (June 23-27, www.athfest.com), featuring tons of live music, movies and art.
No visit to Athens is complete without the requisite bar hopping. Pick up a Flagpole (www.flagpole.com), the town's alt-weekly, to find out about live music and drink specials. Townies (Athens' version of the hipster) tend to congregate around downtown's western edge, at the center of which sits iconic live music venue the 40 Watt (285 W. Washington St., 706-549-7871, www.40watt.com). Flicker Bar (263 W. Washington St., 706-546-0039, www.myspace.com/flickerbar), the Manhattan (337 N. Hull St., 706-369-9767), Little Kings (223 W. Hancock St., 706-369-3144, www.myspace.com/littlekingsshuffleclub), and Go Bar (195 Prince Ave., 706-546-5609, www.myspace.com/gobar) all have cheap drinks and outdoor seating. Serious beer drinkers will like Trapeze (269 N. Hull St., 706-543-8997, trappezepub.com), a craft-beer bar, and Copper Creek (140 E. Washington St., 706-546-1102), Athens' only brewpub. You can shoot pool at Nowhere Bar (240 N. Lumpkin St., 706-546-4742, www.nowherebar.com), enjoy a glass of wine and the jukebox at 283 Bar (283 E. Broad St., 706-208-1283, www.myspace.com/the283bar), and throw back a Guinness at the Globe (199 N. Lumpkin St., 706-353-4721, www.globeathens.com), located on the corner opposite the Georgia Theatre, which, sadly, burned down this time last year. The list goes on and on.
By the time you're done making the rounds, you'll probably need a slice from Little Italy (125 N. Lumpkin St., 706-613-7100) – open till 3 a.m. on the weekends – a cab, and maybe even a hotel. Bunk at Hotel Indigo (500 College Ave., 706-546-0430, www.indigoathens.com). Located just behind downtown, rates start at about $112 per night and the hotel bar features a complimentary happy hour for hotel guests Sun.-Thurs., 5-6:30 p.m. ... reason enough to stay another day.