Nestled between the Eastside BeltLine, Druid Hills, and Little Five Points lies a district named for a simple intersection. But while it may sound quaint, Poncey-Highland punches above its weight in impact and entertainment. It served as a vantage point during the Civil War, a meeting place for the city’s political leaders, and the site of neighbors banding together against developers. (It’s no surprise that the district is home to multiple buildings on the National Register of Historic Places).
First settled in the 1840s, one of the area’s many plantations would become a base for the Union during the Battle of Atlanta. After the war, as the city’s population grew, the discovery of spring water near modern-day Ponce City Market and the ensuing streetcar extension down Ponce de Leon Avenue allowed the neighborhood to grow through the late 1800s and early decades of the 1900s. A schoolhouse, factories, and bungalows sprang to life along Ponce and North Avenue, many of which still exist today as converted residences. In 1939, the Briarcliff Plaza shopping center opens at the corner of Ponce and Highland, with Art Deco-inspired Plaza Theatre and the Majestic Diner as two major tenants. But as with many other Intown neighborhoods, suburbanization took its toll and the area fell into disrepair.
By the 1960s and 1970s, the state was planning on building a new interstate highway through several Atlanta neighborhoods, including Poncey-Highland. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, including historic Copenhill — one of the many neighborhoods that made up Poncey-Highland at this time. After years of pushback and environmental studies, development was halted. Famed architect John Portman submitted plans for a park to be designed in its place, a version of which is now Freedom Park and the Carter Center complex.
Today, many iconic Atlanta landmarks lie within the boundaries of Poncey-Highland. The Presidential Library of Georgia’s only home-grown commander-in-chief? That’s here. So are the Plaza Theatre, Clermont Lounge, Manuel’s Tavern, the Kroger formerly known as “Murder Kroger,” and a section of the BeltLine. Whether you’re a fan of the indoors, the outdoors, or the oddball, there’s something for you here.
What can I do for fun in Poncey-Highland?
Become a movie buff on the big screen or at home. Step inside under the iconic retro signage and enter Atlanta’s oldest independent cinema, the Plaza Theatre. With their mix of current films, rare classics, and curated event screenings with local partner organizations, there’s something here for every kind of film fan. The Plaza is also home to the long-running Rocky Horror Picture Show live show every Friday at 11 p.m.
Continue the movie binge after the show just a few blocks away. It’s time to be kind and rewind at Videodrome, the only home video rental store left in Atlanta, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. There are no blue and yellow Blockbuster shelves here, just a small store jam-packed with thousands of movies from the classics to the exotic — and some recent hits, of course. Whether you’re looking for Barbie or Bogart, Videodrome has you covered.
Get classy (or trashy) at the Hotel Clermont. The Hotel Clermont on Ponce is iconic in numerous ways. Its historic 1920s-era halls were renovated a few years ago into a classy modern hotel straight out of an interior design magazine. The restaurant on the bottom floor, Tiny Lou’s has won numerous awards for its French-American dishes. The rooftop bar is a popular hangout with great views of the Atlanta skyline. But many may also know the address for the eponymous Clermont Lounge down below. Featured on numerous TV shows, this dive bar is one of a kind, just like its most notable performers.
Pay tribute to Jimmy Carter at the Carter Presidential Library & Museum. Our nation’s oldest living President may be in poor health, but his legacy is forever immortalized at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Open to the public, this museum is an exhaustive look back at his and Rosalynn’s early life, his political career, and extensive work in public health and service post-presidency. Tours and the research library are available by appointment only.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in Poncey-Highland?
Start your day off with a cup of coffee at this neighborhood staple. Sourced directly from Nicaragua, Java Vino’s coffee offerings hit the spot. They have caffeine options across the spectrum: classic lattes, the bee sting (a honey vanilla latte), Vietnamese coffee, chais, and more. Grab a grilled breakfast burrito for a protein boost or chill in the cozy café with a hot drink and a croissant. Coffee bean delivery is also available.
Location: 579 North Highland Avenue; Hours: Monday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Website: javavino.com
If an old-school diner is more your brunch speed, find the bright neon sign and grab a table at the Majestic Diner, operating since 1929 on Ponce. They’ve got classic breakfast plates, waffles, pancakes, omelets, and more. Complete the retro meal with a hand-spun milkshake or warm apple pie. Even if the vibe attracts more people than the food, you’ll be comforted no matter what.
Location: 1031 Ponce de Leon Avenue; Hours: Daily, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Website: majesticdiner.com
Sweet Auburn Barbeque
Blending their Asian and Southern backgrounds, Sweet Auburn Barbeque has been serving up classic Southern BBQ with an Asian twist for years on this corner of Highland Avenue. Grab a seat at the bar and dig into a basket of crispy Szechuan lemon pepper wings and a pint of local beer. Or sit down and dig into their perfectly smoked barbeque meats — preferably in sandwich form or a platter with sides like mac and cheese, cheddar grits, or jerk spiced collards.
Location: 656 North Highland Avenue; Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Website: sweetauburnbbq.com
Manuel’s isn’t just a pub, it’s an Atlanta institution. Manuel Maloof, who would later serve on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, established the tavern in 1956, and it’s still run by the family today. The meeting place for many local and state Democratic political figures, Manuel’s is also just a good old-fashioned bar for locals of all backgrounds to chill at. Share a basket of fries or mozzarella sticks while you chat up with friends, come for a drink after work, or dig into a juicy burger while you watch the latest sporting event with a hundred of your neighbors.
Location: 602 North Highland Avenue; Hours: Monday: 11 a.m. to midnight; Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to midnight; Website: manuelstavern.com
Elemental Spirits Co. and The Zero Co.
This boutique bottle shop serves up a robust collection of small-batch spirits and natural wines, from your standard reds to blueberry wine, ciders, mixers, sake, and so much more. It’s the perfect place to pick up that date night booze, holiday party gift, or just try something new. Teetotalers should check out their sister shop, The Zero Co., a block away for an equally extensive collection of alcohol-free spirits, wine alternatives, and mocktails.
Location: 602 North Highland Avenue; Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday: 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Website: elementalspirits.co & thezeroco.co
While many of the Southern diners found in Poncey-Highland lean more casual, if you want a high-end option that is Michelin-approved, reserve a table at Southern Belle. Enjoy locally sourced dishes built around the distinct blend of Southern and global cultures in Atlanta. Start the meal with a Brussels sprout salad topped with toasted pecans before digging into the main dishes. Try a roasted Carolina trout with an unagi glaze, Kewpie mayo, and tempura sweet potatoes or the mushroom fundido for a Latin kick. Then bring it back down South with a classic hummingbird cake for dessert.
Location: 1043 Ponce De Leon Avenue; Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Website: southernbelleatl.com