Atlanta is a perfect place for progressive lovebirds to bond over shared ideals and delicious food. Atlanta has often been called ‘the little blue island in the big red state’ for several good reasons. The city is reliably democratic and a large chuck of the city and adjacent suburbs are represented by civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. There are museums, historic sites and other monuments to civil and intellectual freedom to spark your interest all over the city. Couples can explore the Atlanta’s civil rights legacy then settle in to talk for hours at restaurants that celebrate tradition or herald the future.
Meet over coffee at the Refugee Coffee Company
A friendly place for a socially conscious first date is the Refuge Coffee Company located in the quiet Atlanta suburb of Clarkston. The city has been called the Ellis Island of the South for its welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees. Over the past 30 years the city has resettled about 60,000 refugees, mostly Muslim, and mostly from Africa and more recently, Syria. Shawarma and jerk chicken shops sit next to each other and around the corner from small Asian grocery stores and the local elementary school translates its website into 104 languages. Refugee Coffee is a bright red coffee truck parked in front of a remodeled gas station filled with chairs, couches, desks and tables for customers run and staffed by recently settled refugees. The company provides newcomers with jobs, a living wage, training and mentorship. It provides the rest of Atlanta with fantastic sustainable coffee and baked goods. The morning bun is an excellent selection at any time of day—it’s a fluffy sweet bun with a light touch of sugar glaze. Tip generously; not just to impress your date but also to help these newcomers get a foothold in their new country.
Bond over BBQ and a Commitment to Social Justice
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We live in difficult times. You and your sweetie can take inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an Atlanta native and passionate believer in grassroots organizing and nonviolent resistance to eliminate poverty, racism and violence. In a part of the city called Sweet Auburn, once one of the most vibrant and prosperous African American communities in the South is the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Beginning at the Visitor Center, you can pause at the World Peace Rose Garden, pass the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where generations of the King family were preachers, and visit the graves of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King along with an Eternal Flame and reflecting pool. At Freedom Hall you can learn about the life and work of Dr. King and reserve a ticket to tour his birth home.
A walk around the Historic Site will provide many opportunities to stop and reflect as well as work up an appetite. Head over to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, the oldest market and food hall in the city. Opened in 1924, the market has long been a gathering spot for vendors to sell meat and produce and is now home to 24 independently owned businesses ready to sell you everything you could ever want to eat. It's hard to go wrong with any of the dining choices here—these are some of the most popular eateries in the city. Vendors include Bell Street Burritos,, one of the city's favorites, that serves up gigantic burritos definitely big enough for two; Grindhouse Killer Burgers, a favorite local chain that got its start here in the market or Sweet Auburn BBQ, a relative newcomer serving up barbecue with an international twist in a nod to the Atlanta's many diverse cultures. Owner Howard Hsu brings Asian and Mexican touches to traditional dishes. You could go old school and order a traditional platter of brisket or maybe try the shrimp and grits with a side of jerk-spiced collards or the Auburn taco with Korean pear slaw and pickles.
Civil Rights, Human Rights and The Busy Bee Cafe
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One of the most significant shared experiences you both can have is a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Opened in 2014, the Center offers a contemporary, interactive and immersive experience for its visitors. Especially powerful is the vast Wall of Freedom Riders where viewers can listen to first hand accounts and the Sit-In Simulation that allows visitors to 'take part' in a sit-in to desegregate lunch counters in the 1960s. On the upper floors is an exhibit devoted to Human Rights around the world. Visitors can follow one of two paths: Oppressor or Victim to better understand the struggle for civil rights around the world. The Center is also home to Morehouse College's collection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers. This exhibit rotates to highlight certain themes, but it's a moving experience to see these documents, complete with cross outs and handwritten notes in person. Plan to spend some time here, it will be worth it.
When it's time for lunch, it's just a short drive to the iconic Busy Bee Cafe for a classic Southern meat plus three. Everyone from MLK to Barack Obama and a whole host of hip-hop stars including Sean Combs, Jay-Z and OutKast have eaten here. There will probably be a line if your arrive at lunchtime, but it's going to be worth the wait. Order the legendary fried chicken—many consider it the best in the city—with a side of macaroni and cheese, greens and homemade cornbread.
Celebrate Freedom of Expression at the Krog Street Tunnel
(and craft cocktails and seasonal fare at the Ticonderoga Club)
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The owners of the Krog Street Tunnel are fine with local street artists, graffiti stars and ordinary people painting and repainting works of art and resistance in and around the tunnel. Almost any time commuters pass by the tunnel new works of street art have popped up to replace what was there only a few days or maybe hours before. A few weeks ago, the phone numbers of Georgia's two GOP senators, were painted above the entrance reminding travellers to call early and often. The Tunnel was also the home of Tiny Door #1, a small art installation project of Tiny Doors Atlanta that has spread across the city to great acclaim. A walk through the tunnel and around the corner is an open air art gallery of some of the city's best artists and muralists. Picture taking or spray-painting is permitted—the choice is yours.
When you're ready for dinner, it's just a short walk to the Krog Street Market, one of Atlanta's bustling new food halls. Here you'll find food stalls manned by some of Atlanta's most original chefs serving up craft beer, hot chicken, award winning Chinese dumplings and bean to bar chocolate. Head toward the back and settle in at the Ticonderoga Club. Designed to look like a cabin in the Adirondacks, the warm and cozy vibe is perfect for a cozy dinner with award-winning cocktails. Try the Ticonderoga Cup, a refreshing combination of rum, cognac, sherry, pineapple and mint. The dinner menu (they don't open for lunch) varies by season, but the Ipswich clam roll is a tasty constant as is the rum chocolate mousse served with French sable cookies from the Little Tart Bakery right next door in the market hall.
Pick up a counterculture vibe in Little Five Points
(and stop for a craft beer fix at the Porter Beer Bar)
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The area of Atlanta known as Little Five Points has always rocked an East Village counterculture vibe of record stores, thrift shops and dive bars. Couples can spend an entire day or just an afternoon roaming from one funky shop to the next with incremental beverage breaks along the way. Start the day at Criminal Records, one of Atlanta’s favorite record shops that still stock all your favorite music as well as new releases that will soon become your favorites. They also have an impressive selection of comics, graphic novels and gifts. If they don’t have what you crave, ask at the counter—the friendly staff will be happy to order it for you. Around the corner is Junkman’s Daughter, which calls itself “Atlanta’s Alternative Superstore.” Here you can stock up on clothes, household items, Funko Pop collectibles, books and other things you won’t find at the mainstream corporate megamart. Rest your feet and review your purchases at the Porter Beer Bar. Lauded as one of the best craft beer bars in the country, there’s a seemingly endless selection of craft beers that could keep you busy well into the evening. Pair your selection with some Belgian Frites and charred onion mayo, a popular local treat.
Frances Katz is a writer and photographer originally from Boston now living in Atlanta. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Catapult, Roads & Kingdoms, Lonely Planet News and others.