The intersection that has long nourished the spirit of LGBT Atlanta is now feeding the Midtown gayborhood a different kind of flavor.
The corner of 10th and Piedmont — formerly home to the iconic gay Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, and still the most staked-out spot during every Gay Pride parade – is now the namesake for one of the upscale restaurants that is transforming the scene of Atlanta's most prominent LGBT neighborhood.
“When planning 10th & Piedmont, we really gave it our all,” says Gilbert Yeremian, owner of 10th & Piedmont, which celebrates its one-year anniversary next month. “We took the great history of the previous space and built upon it, remaining true to the community while always focused on being inclusive of everyone.
“[We are] proud to be serving a community which embraces diversity like no other area in Atlanta does,” Yeremian says. “We want you to be proud of your neighborhood’s restaurants and bars, enjoy it as often as you like and bring your out of town guests with pride.”
Along with new restaurants like Ten Atlanta and Henry's — as well as Midtown standards like The Flying Biscuit and Zocalo – Yeremian believes that 10th & Piedmont is helping create an entertainment strip that is as tasty as other hot spots across the city, like Crescent Avenue or Virginia-Highland.
“It is a great pleasure to see that our corner is becoming one of the quality and fun destinations in town much like Virginia-Highland,” he says. “We have invested in the corner since 2000 knowing how rich and diverse the neighborhood is.”
The newest addition to the 10th Street runway is Henry's, which opened in June on the corner of 10th and Juniper streets, and also considers itself part of the eatery/nightlife symbiosis taking place in the heart of gay Atlanta.
“We feel like in this little area, we all want to support each other,” says Henry's manager Lucas Carter, who is gay. “Before we were here, there was a Thai restaurant that never could be successful, and now we've put something there where we're trying to raise the bar, and that's put some fire under some of the other restaurants.
“I think it's great that we can all be held to a certain standard,” Carter says. “We can all compete, but compete friendly. Everyone tries to support each other.”
Gay Atlanta grows up
Max Evans was among the LGBT Midtown residents who feared that the closing of Outwrite in early 2012 would further erode the neighborhood's queer identity, which pre-dates the condos, skyscrapers and high-end retailers that now define Midtown.
“I moved to Midtown specifically because it was considered a haven for gay people, and nothing seemed to capture that more than Outwrite,” says Evans, a 26-year-old who moved from Snellville, Ga., to Midtown two years ago.
But instead of turning into a gay ghost town, Evans says she believes the corner of 10th & Piedmont has matured alongside Atlanta's gay population.
“It's still bustling, it's still at the center of everything, and it still feels pretty gay,” she says with a thankful laugh. “I guess it just feels more grown-up.”
The three new restaurants near the corner of 10th and Piedmont have certainly refined the aesthetic of Atlanta's gayborhood, blending cosmopolitan chic into what was a somewhat homey intersection. Ten Atlanta, 10th & Piedmont and Henry's all have fabulous interiors that infuse the strip with the mood of fine-dining, in some cases, unintentionally.
“Everybody says it looks really nice in here, but we want people to feel comfortable coming in just after working out, getting something to eat,” Carter says of Henry's. “We're trying not to be pretentious by any means.
“We're bar food, but we're chef-driven bar food,” Carter adds. “It's good old home-cooked sandwiches and burgers, but we cook our pork overnight, and that's after we braise it for three days. We want to attract people with a quality product, and not take for granted that since we're in a great location, we'll do good no matter what.”
The great location has aided Henry's in becoming a part of the new nightlife experience created by the culinary renaissance along 10th Street in the last year.
“I really don't think the area is losing its gay touch, or style, I think it's building it,” Carter says. “For a while, it was just Blake's in terms of the one venue that's really a club, but now I feel like everything is building the neighborhood where you can jump around.”
The tapas menu at 10th & Piedmont is also billed as chef-driven, but that hasn't made the venue too high-brow for a drop-in cocktail throughout an evening of clubbing.
“Folks are hopping from one restaurant to the other with great convenience, safety and fun,” Yeremian says. “We think our role is to provide lively environments for our guests to enjoy during lunch, brunch, dinner and late night. We love observing that the 10th & Piedmont corner is becoming livelier every day.”
Yeremian, who is heterosexual and also owns the gay-popular restaurants Hobnob and Gilbert's (which is transforming into G's gastropub this weekend), says that he feels it is important for 10th & Piedmont to continue support the people and places that make Midtown one of Atlanta's most vibrant neighborhoods.
“We have sponsored Pride Atlanta and the Piedmont Park Conservancy, both organizations important to those who live and work nearby,” Yeremian says. “We serve a true rainbow from all walks of life.”
The ‘mixed’ mantra
The three youngest restaurants along 10th Street share more than upscale décor. They've steered away from the camp and novelty that is often the hallmark of a “gay restaurant,” featuring few Bingo, karaoke or trivia nights.
“We're trying to decide where we stand on [theme nights],” Carter says. “Sometimes it's fun to go to restaurants when it's loud and a theme-night is going on, but some nights you just want to go to dinner. It sucks to go somewhere when you're expecting one thing, and it turns out to be something totally different, so those are the things we're figuring out.”
Henry's, Ten Atlanta and 10th & Piedmont would all also rate about a four on Kinsey's six-point scale of sexuality: each having strong LGBT tendencies among its staff and clientele, while committed to not turning into an exclusively gay venue.
“Our gay clientele have always preferred a mixed crowd, and we have just that,” Yeremian says. “Today, 10th & Piedmont attracts a vibrant mixed crowd. For example, our Friday happy hour attracts the young professionals, single females and gay folks from the neighboring business buildings.
“Our flagship concept, Gilbert’s, has been supported by the LGBT community from day one,” Yeremian adds. “Our concepts are truly neighborhood joints, and our clientele for the last 14 years has been the Midtown neighborhood.”
Some of the offerings intended to draw LGBT crowds to 10th & Piedmont have been the Paparazzi parties for gay men and the Flashback Showgirls drag show every Sunday evening.
The balancing act between mainstream eatery and gay hot spot is probably best embodied in the motto for Ten Atlanta: Upscale Restaurant by Day/Atlanta's Hottest Bar After Ten.
“This is actually my first time eating here, it's just been a bar for me most of the time,” Mark Wilson says after finishing a recent Saturday brunch with friends at Ten Atlanta.
“If I lived in Midtown, I might eat here more regularly, but I've only come when I'm going out,” says Wilson, who works and lives outside the perimeter. “I think it's a good addition to the nightlife. It's nice to be able to park in Midtown and have options throughout the night.”
Ten Atlanta, which like Henry's is LGBT-owned, has experimented with drag shows, but has established itself as a weekend nightlife contender with DJs and dance parties Thursday-Sunday (as well as requisite gay dates like Halloween, Thanksgiving Eve and post-Toy Party).
A block away from gay Ground Zero, Henry's is contemplating adding a DJ to its weekly offering, but for now is comfortable in the subtlety of its gay identity.
“We're in between two hotels, but we definitely get most of our customers from the neighborhood, and this a predominantly gay area,” Carter says. “We definitely build off of that. That's our clientele, but we definitely want everyone to feel welcome.
“We're a sports bar as well, but we don't want that to be overwhelming,” he adds. “We don't want jerseys hanging down or Miller Lite signs flashing in your face.”