Ghosts of hotspots past 

Reliving legendary times at Atlanta's long gone nightspots

It makes sense that in our city "too busy to hate," filled with transients and few who stay put, we've largely forgotten our history.

Take our nightlife. These days you'd better not blink or you'll miss the current It Bar, that one watering hole that'll flourish for a few months then suddenly dry up. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but Atlanta's club crowd isn't known for nesting.

It wasn't always this way. Stories of the city's bygone venues still get passed down, tales of clock-stopping musical performances and ultra-hip cultural scenes. Unfortunately, most of these clubs have fallen by the wayside.

The big question is this: As Atlantans, what did we actually miss? A great deal, it turns out. And for the remaining few who were able to experience these establishments, the memories provide a colorful illustration of the variety of nightlife our city hosted through the years. CL could devote a whole issue to now-defunct nightspots, but here are a few too consequential to be forgotten.

THE ROYAL PEACOCK

Backstory

In its heyday, The Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue stood firm as the crown jewel of Atlanta's rhythm and blues scene. The club originally opened in 1937 as The Top Hat, which hosted the major black acts of the day, including Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.

The club was purchased in 1949 by former circus performer Carrie Cunningham, a local hotel and restaurant operator whose love for peacocks inspired her to rename the venue.

It's difficult to find a legendary blues or soul artist who didn't grace the Peacock's stage at one time or another: Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Etta James.

"It had so much prestige," says Atlanta blues great Louis "Lotsa Poppa" High, who played there regularly in the '50s. "It was the place where every entertainer wanted to be."

In late 1960, promoter Henry Wynne, owner of the Supersonic Attractions booking agency, bought the club and brought in headliners such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Supremes and Ike and Tina Turner, among others.

"If you were an R&B performer and you hadn't played The Apollo or The Peacock, then you hadn't made it yet," says High.

The Crowd

The audience was primarily African-Americans in their mid-30s. In the '60s, a younger white audience rediscovered the blues and was eventually drawn to the club. Before making his own mark on the Atlanta music scene with The Hampton Grease Band, an underage Col. Bruce Hampton recalls sneaking into The Peacock after sound check and hiding under the stage where the sounds of B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland and others would seep down through the floorboards.

"The quality and tonality of the music was unbelievable," Hampton says. "It was an amazing time."

Celebrity Sightings

Although the stars on stage often outshone those in the audience, The Peacock attracted many African-American celebrities visiting Atlanta. Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali were known to stop by.Memorable Night

On Feb. 24, 1964, the night before he defeated Sonny Liston in Miami for the World Heavyweight Title, Muhammad Ali celebrated a day early at The Peacock during a Lotsa Poppa performance.

The Demise

In the '70s, the Sweet Auburn district went into economic decline, which put a damper on business at The Peacock. It closed for a while, then passed through the hands of several different operators, including a social club of local cab drivers known as The Men of Style in the late '70s and Willie Virden in the early '80s. Local musician/restaurant owner Clay Harper attempted a short-lived, mid-'80s revival and brought in old-school Peacock acts including Hank Ballard & The Midnighters and Bo Diddley backed by The Georgia Satellites. Although it had a promising start, it failed to catch on, closing in 1987 after it was damaged by fire. The Peacock is now managed by Moongate Inc. and features reggae and hip-hop performers.

THE PLAYBOY CLUB

Backstory

Atlanta's Playboy Club opened in March 1965, becoming the 15th location of the international chain. It was located in the Dinkler Hotel on Luckie Street, now the site of a Quality Inn. The club was drenched in suave '60s chic and served as a living, breathing version of all things hailed by the notorious men's magazine.

Membership was required for entry, and each member had his own key, which was shown to gain entrance. A winding staircase led from the lobby of the hotel up to the club's main floor. At the top of the stairs, keyholders were greeted by a woman dressed in the trademark Bunny suit -- bunny ears, stockings, four-inch heels, white cuff links and a form-fitting corset uniform.

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