Lens on Atlanta: Where the Hollywood Crew Hangs Out
From stand-up comedy to sit-down brunch, discover the favorite spots of film and entertainment pros in Georgia’s capital city.
Words by Kelundra Smith
Photographs by Brad Ogbonna
Illustrations by Ryan Johnson
Miles from Hollywood is another industry star—Atlanta—the set for many big-budget blockbusters including Black Panther and Stranger Things. When the crew calls cut, they head out to dig into the city’s vibrant culture and cuisine. Here they share their favorite local spots to laugh, dance, and prepare for the next day of shooting with a breakfast of Southern-fried chicken and waffles.
Laugh out loud
Most people don’t think of the capital of Georgia as a comedic epicenter, but you’ll find plenty of improv, sketch, and stand-up talent there. Comedian, stand-up instructor, and Hot Breath! podcast host Joel Byars believes that Atlanta is set to have the same impact on comedy as it has had on hip-hop.
“Uptown Comedy Corner is the oldest urban comedy venue in the country. If you want to see the best of the best, that’s where to go. Chris Rock and Katt Williams have both come through here.”
Retrace the steps of civil rights leaders
As artistic director, Deidre McDonald ensures that the programming for Atlanta’s BronzeLens Film Festival — recently named as an Academy Awards–qualifying festival for short films, and one of the first festivals to screen work by Ava DuVernay — promotes the voices of the African American experience, as well as the city that’s the birthplace of the civil rights movement.
“The Sweet Auburn Historic District is something to see. There’s such activism going on at the King Center, where you can view Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s resting place. I remember when Mrs. King brought Crips and Bloods there to make peace. Just down the street is Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
Go on a global epicurean adventure
As a set dresser, Jessica Sanchez finds herself running all over town picking up items for movies, and she spends many a lunch break on the Buford Highway corridor — “BuHi,” an eight-mile stretch famous for its ethnically diverse cuisine. She started her Instagram account @5tonfood_atl (5 ton refers to the kind of trucks they use) to help set dressers find great eats around the city.
“Food Terminal offers many options for Asian street snacks. I would suggest getting a bunch of small dishes and sharing. I like their ramen, and they have good BBQ pork rice dishes. They also serve chicken feet, which are tasty if you’re bold.”
Get lit after dark
With clubs in Midtown, bars in Buckhead, music venues on Edgewood Avenue, and a speakeasy hidden behind a restaurant freezer, there’s never a reason to stay in. For choreographer Victor Jackson, who teaches at Broadway Dreams, a nonprofit that offers performance training and mentoring, and has worked with Jennifer Hudson and Iggy Azalea, the city’s energy is all about that bass — from EDM to hip-hop.
“Whether it’s DJ sets or live music, you can always count on The Music Room [located next door to Bone Lick BBQ] to live up to its name. The Werc Crew, which produces events and parties in Atlanta, runs an event there once a month, and host Hourglass does a Wednesday night party called Smothered + Covered.”
Check out local talent up close
Atlanta’s not just the set for Black Panther and Stranger Things: It’s also home to more than two dozen theaters. “The original works crafted here honor the storytelling tradition of the South,” says screenwriter and playwright Topher Payne, whose plays, including Angry Fags, have garnered national attention.
“Atlanta University Center is the largest consortium of historically black colleges in the world. The campus served as the backdrop for Spike Lee’s School Daze. Hidden Figures was filmed there, too.” — Deidre McDonald, artistic director of BronzeLens Film Festival
“True Colors Theatre Company prioritizes telling stories to the African American community while inviting all audiences to share in the story. As a white dude from Mississippi, to have an exceptional experience every time — it illuminates how universal these narratives are.”
Do #sundayfunday right
Brunch is a huge part of the culture — it’s considered as sacred as Sunday service. The area’s glut of Southern-fried deliciousness fueled stunt actor and film auto mechanic Ronny Mathew for his chase scenes in Baby Driver, building speedsters for Furious 7, and even getting hit by a car in Office Christmas Party.
“At Buttermilk Kitchen, I’m always caught between the pimento cheese omelet and the chicken and waffles. Their biscuits are through-the-roof huge — fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside.”
About the author: Kelundra Smith is a freelance arts & culture journalist based in Atlanta. Her work has been published in The New York Times, ArtsATL, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, American Theatre, and other publications. She is the co-chair of the American Theatre Critics Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee and facilitates writing workshops for students across the country. She also co-hosts Unbasic, a podcast for millennials, with spoken word artist Ashlee Haze. She enjoys nothing more than a good story and a slice of chocolate cake.