You don't realize how hilly Atlanta can be until you hop on a bicycle. The same rule applies to Grant Park. To a novice like myself, who bikes occasionally on weekends, climbing some of the historic neighborhood's inclines on a rusty 1992 two-wheeler can be grueling. To the many experienced cyclists who call Grant Park home, including Chris Tavel, who's been pedaling since he was 2 and a half years old, it's not bad. He rides the streets every day from his house to Loose Nuts Cycles, the business he owns, just a few blocks away.
"I wanted to be in a neighborhood," says the Decatur native about why he chose the leafy community with a tight civic bond and strong ties to history.
To tour the neighborhood, you could go to the usual haunts. Those include Zoo Atlanta and the Cyclorama, the 15,000-square-foot panoramic painting reliving the Battle of Atlanta, and Oakland Cemetery on the neighborhood's northern edge. But on a recent Monday, Tavel wanted to visit the overlooked and off-the-beaten path stops — including a quick peek in the cavernous Masonic auditorium above his shop where the Black Crowes rehearse.
After leaving Loose Nuts' outpost on Cherokee Avenue and dropping off his dog at his home nearby, Tavel and I head west toward neighboring Summerhill, past Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and south to Freewheel Farm, a small urban farm where friends tend rows of kale, lettuce, basil, and other treats being grown on leased land. The farm's owners aren't home so Tavel decides to check on a new business.
On the way, we head to Grant Street to view the Burns Mansion, a circa 1868 Queen Anne-style beauty built by a Union captain who was tasked with overseeing the rebuilding of the railroad after the Civil War. Now a private residence, the house's lawn serves as a community playground for some neighborhoods kids and even movie nights. It also includes the Union captain's headstone (pictured top right), which was purportedly pulled from Westview Cemetery by the Ku Klux Klan and later recovered. We weave our way north toward Memorial Drive. Part of what makes Grant Park so fun to bike is an easy grid system that helps you get everywhere you need to go in an absurdly short amount of time.
In the commercial strip next to Tin Lizzy's Cantina, Six Feet Under, and Ria's Bluebird, My Friend's Growler Shop (pictured bottom left) provides a rotating selection of 40 beers on tap. The recently opened store ensures at least a few local beers are always available, including two selections from new Grant Park brewery Eventide. There's also root beer on hand for kids. Tavel fills up a growler, bids farewell to the owners, and delivers the jug to the farm.
He agrees to let the duo borrow a bike trailer so they can pedal their crops to the Grant Park Farmers Market when it opens in April. We say goodbye to Patrick Swayze, the resident farm cat. From there we pass the occasional cobblestone alleyways you'd never notice driving through the community and exchange pleasantries with neighbors sitting on porches and enjoying the sunshine before zipping through the neighborhood's eponymous park. We end our trip with the ultimate hill — a slow, sharp incline to reach Fort Walker (pictured top left), one of Atlanta's last remaining Civil War fortifications and the greenspace's highest point, where you see a clear vista of Downtown. My legs are destroyed.
Octane and Little Tart Bakeshop
The Grant Park outpost of the Westside coffee compound provides caffeine for the bleary-eyed and Wi-Fi connections for keyboard commandos. Be sure to check out the cinnamon sugar morning bun on weekends or, later at night, a cocktail. 437 Memorial Drive. 404-348-4797. www.octanecoffee.com, www.littletartatl.com.
Grant Park Farmers Market
Greens, Popsicles, cooking classes - this market's got it. Held Sundays from late April through mid-December, the market makes its sellers undergo a strict application process to ensure their goods are up to par and worthy of inclusion at one of the city's most popular and bustling farmers markets. Cherokee and Milledge avenues. www.grantparkmarket.org.
The Memorial Drive haunt is a neighborhood favorite for its vast beer selection, laid-back atmosphere, and oh-so-sweet short rib grilled cheese and pimento cheese BLT sandwich. 327 Memorial Drive. 404-681-3344. www.augustinesatlanta.com.
Located next to Loose Nuts in one of Grant Park's few commercial strips, this affordable restaurant offers a tasty, simple brunch menu. Also: sidewalk dining. 454 Cherokee Ave. 404-589-8002. www.dakotabluegrantpark.com.
Stone Soup Kitchen
Named after the folktale about community members coming together to help travelers make the tastiest soup imaginable out of simple rocks, the quaint breakfast and lunch joint north of I-20 offers scrambles, biscuits, and every other tasty combination you can imagine. 584 Woodward Ave. 404-524-1222. www.stonesoupkitchen.net.
Intown Healthy Hound
Yes, you and your pet can live an all-natural lifestyle together. The corner store on Grant Park's southside offers all the fancy fixins for your canine and feline. Life is too short to feed your Chihuahua and tabby canned horse meat! 891 Cherokee Ave. 404-228-3898. www.intownhealthyhound.com.