How Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward’s Wylie Hotel was reborn

The Old Fourth Ward is fast becoming a stylish boutique hotel zone in the city. With the Hotel Clermont’s revitalization in 2018, New City’s forthcoming development on Dallas Street, and last year’s relaunch of the Wylie Hotel, the Ponce de Leon Avenue corridor now boasts several slick hotel offerings, with more on the way.

Liz Young, currently the Director of Sales at Wylie Hotel, had a front-row seat for both the Hotel Clermont and Wylie Hotel projects.

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“I was the opening sales director for both hotels. So, I’m very familiar with revitalization projects, and these two were probably the hardest I’ve ever done. The notoriety of Hotel Clermont, and Wylie Hotel having one of the first gay bars in Atlanta, there was a lot of expectation to honor the history involved,” Young said.

The Clermont and Wylie projects share a similar ethos: to take a condemned and mostly forgotten property and breathe new life into it, creating something better than before. The Wylie Hotel project was born from this vision by Kim King Associates, an Atlanta-based real estate group that purchased the property — formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel — in 2019.

The hotel had fallen into disrepair over the years, and so Kim King Associates enlisted a team that included Ross Hotel Partners, Mainsail Lodging & Development, architectural firm Stevens & Wilkinson and interior designers Pixel Design Collaborative. Together, these teams worked for two years to redevelop the property while paying homage to its past lives by incorporating thoughtful touches that would bring the building’s century-long history to the forefront of an exciting new era.

Following a similar playbook to Oliver Hospitality’s success at Hotel Clermont, the old building at 551 Ponce de Leon was reborn with a new identity and a nod to the old as the Wylie Hotel in May 2021, a 111-room boutique hotel steeped in its own history.

“It’s thoughtful, it’s quaint, it’s cute. Little touches that make it. The rooms are very residential, with all the creature comforts of home. You can turn on the lights, thermostat and TV with your phone. The goal, in the beginning, was to create something more like home,” Young said.

In an earlier life, Wylie was the short-lived original location for the iconic MJQ nightclub, as well as the longtime home to Atlanta’s first drag show at Mrs. P’s, which served as one of the city’s first LGBTQ+ friendly establishments from the restaurant’s opening in 1956 until a police raid forced its doors closed in the 1980s.

In a detailed history of the bar for Atlanta Magazine, Richard Eldridge wrote, “By the 1960s and 1970s, the space had been largely taken over by gay men and transformed into a leather-and-Levi’s bar that featured some of the city’s first drag shows.”

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Among performers, none were more famous than Diamond Lil; a sort of drag precursor to the Clermont Lounge’s famous Blondie. Her giant blonde beehive hairdo and willingness to perform original music during drag shows were influential to a generation of drag queens, including RuPaul.

All of that history is clearly reflected in subtle ways at the Wylie Hotel. The hotel relaunched boogie brunch at the new Mrs. P’s Kitchen and Bar; a weekend daytime event with roots in New York and Atlanta history, where community members meet up for dancing and brunch. And the two largest suites in the hotel are P and Q, paying homage to both the history of both MJQ and Mrs. P’s in the building. The hotel even looked to history as it crafted its restaurant menu.

“One thing we’re doing this fall is adding a filet mignon to the menu. Now, that doesn’t seem like anything groundbreaking, but in the 1970′s, Mrs. P’s famously sold filet mignon for $1.99 as the Tuesday special. So, we’re finding little ways to honor things like that from our history.”

For Young, the latitude to build authenticity comes from the hotel’s unique position as an unbranded boutique hotel in the era of Mariotts and Hiltons.

“Many of our guests don’t want the branded, cookie-cutter feel. Wylie Hotel is for corporate travelers, leisure travelers, wedding parties, and even local residents who don’t want to drive back to the suburbs at night. There’s effectively 100 percent turnover from the Monday through Friday crowd compared to the weekend crowd, and that gives us room to be ourselves,” she said.

For the Wylie Hotel, being itself means being a part of the Atlanta and Fourth Ward communities, not just a destination for out-of-towners.

“Since all of these new buildings are going up and changing what it means to be in the Old Fourth Ward, I think it’s part of our job to connect with the neighborhood and with the locals; not just to rent rooms to travelers, but to create authentic experiences. Anything but cookie-cutter,” Young said.

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If you’re looking for a good excuse to check out the Wylie Hotel for yourself, a great place to start might be Comedy Night, which the hotel hosts on the third Thursday of every month in the intimate 33-seat Sunroom. Tickets are limited, so get yours today and spend time getting to know Atlanta’s newest old historic place for yourself.

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