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Street smarts: Ponce de Leon Avenue 

Hot spots on Ponce every college student should know about

There's more to do in Atlanta than drink Coke and wonder at beluga whales. So now that you're living here (for four years at least), you need to know where the locals really hang out. Ponce de Leon Avenue is like Peachtree Street's scruffy little brother, filled with gritty Atlanta ephemera such as dive bars, a strip club and soul food joints. It's as cultured as it is edgy, however, and is also home to a smarty-pants museum and historical landmarks. Navigate Ponce by foot, bike, scooter, Segway, skateboard or MARTA from the North Avenue station via bus route 2.

Before spending all your money at bars and clubs, you'll want to fill up on something more than the McDonald's dollar menu. EATS (600 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-888-9149) has super cheap jerk chicken, pasta and veggies for around $7. A few blocks east sits the Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-873-1939), Atlanta's last indie movie theater. At the Plaza you can catch everything from quirky art-house fare to a vintage film series to cinema-themed exhibits. The Plaza screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show weekly and features old-school horror flicks at the monthly Silver Scream Spook Show.

The Clermont Lounge (789 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-874-4783) is pretty much a given when talking about Ponce. Atlanta's oldest strip club (and perhaps oldest strippers ...) has a near-mythic reputation. Want to see some nipples set on fire? Or beer cans crushed between boobs? Then don't forget your dollar bills.

Across the street, the Local's (758 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-873-5002) always crammed with a younger crowd ready to get its drink on. The neighborhood bar has a limited menu, which includes barbecue sandwiches and pints of tater tots, and a $1 photo booth in the back for the flash happy. Cool kids converge on the parking lot behind the Local for concerts at the Drunken Unicorn and late-night dance parties at its sister venue, MJQ.

At the end of a late night, or the start of an early morning, Krispy Kreme's (295 Ponce De Leon Ave., 404-876-7307) "Hot Now" sign blazes like a neon beacon of sugary hope. Stop in for a single or a dozen. You might regret it later, but that's always a possibility when you're hanging out on Ponce.

Sure Ponce has the booze, babes and grub you ditched the dorms for, but it also boasts one of Atlanta's coolest attractions. The Fernbank Museum of Natural History (767 Clifton Road, 404-929-6300) has dinosaurs, an IMAX theater and interactive exhibits. Check Fernbank out for a few hours before you start to party, you know, since you're in college to get an education and all.

Darren Benda contributed to this article.

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