Population estimated in 2000 to be 101, 489, the small town of Athens in Clarke County (northeast Georgia) is not a town easy to describe. I have resided here for over six years now, and even though I do not consider myself a small town gal, I find it hard to leave. Athens is a college town, home to The University of Georgia, which gives it a youthful vibrancy, yet on the outskirts of the college a calmer, older small town manages to be maintained. The downtown area is submerged in bars (over 60 exist near campus), yet further out from downtown, wheat-filled rurality prevails in that gentle, southern way. Perhaps I should stop sounding like a brochure, and get on with more facts?

Athens sits approximately one hour and twenty minutes away from downtown Atlanta. (Take 85 North to 316 from Atlanta and it spits you out directly onto Atlanta Hwy., the primary vein for travel in the quaint city.) Atlanta Hwy. will bring you to the Georgia Mall and a variety of urban sprawl shops on one end, and The University of Georgia and the downtown area on the other end, where numerous mom & pop shops amazingly stay afloat. While bigger chain stores such as Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Target are available, stores downtown such as Book Peddlers, The Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother and Helix are also terrific, unique shops to check out if possible. And yes a Starbucks managed to squeeze onto a corner downtown, but it sat its caffeinated ass next door to Blue Sky, a locally owned coffeeshop which has better tasting coffee at a better tasting price. If you come to Athens, give Blue Sky a try before the other. Just a recommendation.

Athens is also known for its musical residents. These include R.E.M., The B-52's, Jucifer, Widespread Panic, Pylon and numerous other lesser known talents. You can find an assortment of musical acts performing virtually every night in Athens. A variety of musical genres are available for viewing, not only those of the folky alternative ilk- but R.E.M.-wannabees do pepper the area somewhat heavily.

Popular club spots, musical and otherwise:

The 40 Watt Club: Here I have seen too many acts to list all of, but some include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Moe Tucker, Roni Size, Train, Tibeton Monks (singing, yes), Jucifer, Trinket, Miller’s Tale, Kevin Kenny, Jennifer Nettles, and Squirrel Nut Zippers.

The Georgia Theater: A dirty old movie theater. Once a week they run movies- usually edgier films and almost always great ones. The aged and gritty ambiance is made better by the fact that you can smoke and/or drink alcohol while viewing a flick. All movies are two dollars. Not bad at all. Musical acts also perform here- a few of the better ones I’ve seen at The Georgia Theater are the Cowboy Junkies and The Reverend Horton Heat. R.E.M. recently played a secret show here one night, but I missed out on that one.

The Classic Center: A very spacious and very beautiful building on the east end of downtown, where an assortment of entertainment is provided. Musicals, comedians and musicians can be seen here. I’ve enjoyed Paula Poundstone, Margaret Cho, The Wallflowers, Counting Crows, Fiona Apple, and the musical Jekyll & Hyde at The Classic Center.

Boneshakers: A gay dance club located near The Classic Center, off of Hawthorne Avenue. Not particularly large space-wise, but a fun place to go for late night dancing, regardless if you are gay or straight. Wednesdays are 70's night (they said goodbye to 80's night) and on Friday and Saturday they play current dance hits. Ages 19 and up. Drink I recommend here: the Starburst.

Insomnia : A new dance club located off of Broad Street downtown. Spacious and lit up with plenty of pretty lights, the place only recently began to sell alchocol. There's also a go-go cage for your viewing pleasure. Sunken dance floor. They usually play current dance hits- and the place gets absurdly packed by 1 a.m. or so.

The bar scene:

Something I love about downtown Athens is the variety of people “types” you can find. The college crowd offers up it’s own human sundries of hippies, goths, fraternity and sorority guys and gals, along with your obligatory townies and a street bum here and there. They all have their own bars. (Forgive my stereotyping here, please.)

Bars for college kids looking to be wild, loud and sloshed include Uptown, The Firehouse, The Armadillo, Flanagans, Washington Street Tavern, and well, several more. Looking for a popular bar playing D&B? Try Mean Mikes. (One of my favorites.) Looking for a grunge bar? Try Lunch Paper, The Engine Room or Velvet Elvis. A good place to chill and have pleasant conversation over drinks can be found at The Winery (another fave), The Globe or The Manhattan. Drinks naturally tend to be slightly higher in price at the quieter, generally older-in-age bars.

Are you hungry? And in Athens?

There are plenty of good spots for edibles in Athens. Inexpensive but good soul food is available downtown at Five Star Day. Vegeterians might want to visit The Grit off of Prince Avenue. Sushi lovers should check out Utage, which is next to Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, the sister, er um brother or whatever to The Junkman’s Daughter store located in Atlanta. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, try Compadres. A classy, New Orleansy-feel restaurant called Harry Bissett’s is downtown as well, and I recommend it for dining also.

Where specifically are all these places? What more is available? You can find most of the information you need in the Flagpole, a free weekly outing guide available at 1 out of every 2 stores in Athens. It will give you a comprehensive lowdown on musical events, art events, restaurants and more in the area. The daily newspaper here is The Athens Banner Herald, if one wishes to catch up on current events while in town.

Also, Athens is where I, O-Swirl, reside, and if you visit here don’t hesitate to msg me!

Other WUs I have done concerning people and places in Athens:

College town ghost stories
Small Town Taxi Tales
The Grit
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia

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