In Athens, Georgia, a downtown renaissance

Updated: 2013-09-01 08:13

By Alex Crevar (The New York Times)

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In Athens, Georgia, a downtown renaissance

Athens, Georgia has been called the birthplace of alternative rock and America's best college town.

That was yesterday.

Sure, the town that spawned R.E.M. and the B-52s is still an indie-songsmith hub. And University of Georgia Bulldogs fans are as passionate as ever.

But Athens' historic downtown has rerouted some of that hipster-meets-rah-rah history into a hyper-local entrepreneurial spirit that caters to the mature tastes of those who have moved in, come back or never left.

The result is a renaissance for the area, which feels like your favorite, secret neighborhood, where iconic locales dovetail with new and resurrected music spaces, boutiques, lounges and restaurants, as well as a brewery set to open this fall.

The World Famous: Open since February, this lounge is already a town fixture.

Customers enjoy "food-cart" fare, performances ranging from puppet shows to disc jockeys, old-school pinball machines, and drinks like the Earl Greyhound (organic vodka, grapefruit and Earl Grey-infused simple syrup) served on a bar built of old doors.

351 North Hull Street, 706-543-4002,

The Branded Butcher: The charcuterie-based bistro enhanced an already thriving scene when it opened last year. Patrons clamor for the slow-braised porchetta di testa and the raw-bar happy hour with oysters from across the country.

225 North Lumpkin Street, 706-850-5152,

Community: This high-ceilinged boutique overlooking Broad Street, downtown's main avenue, features some 30 artists, some of whom work onsite, and specializes in repurposed vintage clothing. The loft also carries locally made soap, chocolate and jewelry.

119 North Jackson Street, 706-316-2067,

Georgia Theater: When a 2009 fire gutted this 120-year-old structure, Athenians held their breath.

A 2011 modernization, which added a rooftop bar with an outdoor stage, re-established it as one of the South's premier midsize spots for live music without compromising its character.

215 North Lumpkin Street, 706-850-7670,

Jackson Street Books: In Georgia's oldest rare-and-used bookstore, 50,000 titles, some dating to the 18th century, crowd shelves framed by weathered wooden floors and a pressed-tin ceiling.

260 North Jackson Street, 706-546-0245,

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