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How Atlanta’s hotel restaurants fare

Posh interior of Paces 88 at the St. Regis, photo: Becky Stein/special

Posh interior of Paces 88 at the St. Regis, photo: Becky Stein/special

In late September, Art Smith, a Chicago restaurateur who made his name as the personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, will open Southern Art restaurant in Buckhead’s Intercontinental Hotel. It will replace the elaborately decorated but underperforming Au Pied de Cochon, a spinoff of a famed Parisian brasserie. Smith, a native Southerner, plans to ply customers with plenty of country ham, bourbon and updated takes on down-home cooking in a dining room filled with original artwork.

It sounds quite cool, but will regular Atlantans treat this restaurant as a new hot spot, worthy of a night on the town? Or will they leave it to hotel guests, too complacent to go anywhere else?

Only time will tell. In recent years this town has had a much better track record of building hotel restaurants than actually supporting them.

Go back to 2008 and early 2009, when the city was supposedly embarking on a new age of hotel dining. During those anxious days, when we were already mired in recession but didn’t quite realize it, luxurious new hotels were opening all over the city. The Mansion on Peachtree, the St. Regis and the Palomar swanned about as the swankiest of this new vanguard, but then the venerable Georgian Terrace decided to renovate, W Hotels arrived en masse and the Loews Atlanta broke ground in the heart of the so-called “Midtown mile.”

All of these hotels promised a lot more than high thread-count linens and swimsuit spin-dryers in the gym. They had restaurants — real restaurants, not sad commissaries carved from a corner of the lobby. Many of these hotels appealed to famous New York chefs, such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Tom Colicchio, with franchise agreements, and Atlanta became a magnet for the most exclusive mini-chains.

To prove just how destination-worthy these new eateries were — and to overcome the inherent stigma of hotel dining — the management did what they could to physically distance the restaurants. Many, like Pacci Ristorante at the Palomar, opened with separate street entrances.

One of Vongerichten’s two Atlanta ventures, Market, hit the scene like a space-age pod attached to the side of the W Hotel Buckhead. Its

Pigs feet prepared at Au Pied De Cochon,  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

Pigs feet prepared at Au Pied de Cochon, (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

wacky, color-saturated, undulating interior (like a ride on the S.S. Amoeba spaceship) looked wholly unrelated to the design of the hotel itself. The building that housed Colicchio’s Craft and Craftbar abutted the street and was set so far away from the high-rise Mansion on Peachtree that diners needed not even know they were dining on hotel property.

The intervening years have not been kind to many of these restaurants. Some, such as Pacci and Craft, have closed because of changes in hotel ownership. Vongerichten’s Spice Market in the W Hotel Midtown has cut back its service hours and no longer offers lunch.

I’ve noticed — and this is quite subjective — that people just don’t talk about these newer hotel eateries much. From my vantage point at the intersection of Yumsville Pike and I-285, I hear people talk about hundreds of restaurants. Readers often ask about our dining team’s impressions of everywhere from the most expensive destination joints to the newest fried chicken stands. But no one asks about, say, the gorgeously appointed Paces 88 at the St. Regis. On my last visit a few months ago, our party had the only occupied table in the dining room.

There are exceptions. Robert Gerstenecker has toiled through many changes and promotions at Park 75 at the Four Seasons, and he keeps his name out there with demonstrations and events. He helps maintain this dining room’s relevance. Livingston, the jazzed-up bar and restaurant that now fronts the Georgian Terrace, spills life onto the street across from the Fox Theatre. BLT Steak in the W Hotel downtown has proven itself a reliable (if expensive) choice in the downtown dining desert, and the management has smartly hired local chefs who’ve proven their mettle elsewhere. Current chef Cyrille Holota, formerly of Joel Brasserie, has been getting great reviews.

Not only can hotel restaurants keep fine dining from totally vaporizing, they can be vital players that add to the dining capital trust. With their prime real estate and upscale appointments, they inject a dose of glamour into the metro area’s dining options.

Or they fail to catch on with the public and, like hotel restaurants of yore, live only to service those overnight guests who don’t want to venture far. It will be interesting to see how Atlantans take to Southern Art. I’ll tell you this: Bourbon and ham can’t hurt.

14 comments Add your comment


August 29th, 2011
12:11 pm

You know what’s a great local hotel/restaurant? Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker!

Mary Allen

August 29th, 2011
12:22 pm

Art Smith also has a restaurant in the Liason Hotel(Affinity chain) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
We held my daughter’s wedding reception at this hotel and all my guests just raved about how delicious the food was–I was told it was “the best food that they had ever eaten at a wedding.” My family ate several times at this restaurant “Art and Soul” in the Liason. Atlanta is very lucky to have this wonderful chef come to the area. I highly recommend it. Try it out-you will love it! I can’t wait for my next visit to Atlanta so that I can check it out.


August 29th, 2011
1:26 pm

Talk about coincidence … just yesterday I was leaving Phillip’s Arena and I drove by The Glenn Hotel and noticed “Glenn’s Kitchen” and thought to myself – I need to see if Kessler and Co. have anything to say about it.

So – what say you? I’ve never stayed at The Glenn, nor dined there – I’ve had drinks a few times at the SkyLounge but that’s about it.

As for Southern Art – I’m there. I was a fan of APdC and sad to see it empty. And I agree, ham and bourbon is the life for me!

Bob from Accounttemps

August 29th, 2011
2:02 pm

And how with Southern Art distinguish itself from other “new southern” establishments like South City Kitchen (2 locations), Horseradish Grill and Miller Union, to name a few? What this city needs more of is simple, neighborhood eateries with good food at good value. No more burger stops, artisnal pizza spots or taquerias. Pasta Vino type places (until Pasta Vino moved “upscale” in price).


August 29th, 2011
3:04 pm

I think the fact that these are hotel restaurants is what dooms many of them. Hotel restaurants have a reputation for being expensive and not that great. Think of the last room service meal you got; was it overpriced and underwhelming? Probably.


August 29th, 2011
3:28 pm

I want to like hotel dining…..

Here’s the deal, it is a total PITA to get in and out of the restaurant. You usually have to pay a hefty valet fee to park, then go through a lobby, down a hall around a corner and down another hall to get to the entrance or use the alternate entrance half a block down the street. No one is in the restaurant. The wine list is so over priced I want to cry. On most occasions I have found the in hotel restaurant to be understaffed and aloof.

Maybe I should stop being such a crab and try it again.


August 29th, 2011
3:52 pm

It seems hotel restaurants cater too much to business people on expense accounts. I used to work downtown and when the Marriott Marquis renovated, they opened several new restaurants. The food was fine, but so overpriced. The restaurants were always empty. Had they had reasonable prices, they’d get a much better lunch crowd. There are way too many restaurant choices for me to eat at a hotel that is overpriced just because it’s located in a hotel. As other commenters have noted, it’s usually inconvenient and there are similar options. I want to try Southern Art, but if Fried Chicken costs $30, when I can get the same at South City for $20, I’m not going to go to the hotel restaurant. Price your food comparably to non-hotel restaurants and I’ll be happy to dine there, but I’m not paying a premium just because you chose to put your restaurant in a pricey hotel. Art Smith could put his restaurant anywhere. I hope he doesn’t expect to be able to charge 1.5x more because he’s in a high end hotel. And I’m definitely not paying $10-$20 to park!

bribe the concierge to bring you krystal...

August 29th, 2011
5:38 pm

The author is being too kind. Recently, I had breakfast at BLT Steak. The $45 soul-less breakfast for 2 could have been surpassed by a toqueless preparation at a Howard Johnson, and I’ve had better service from a homeless window-washer on Spring Street. The Atlanta hotel concepts classically oversell with marketing and underwhelm with performance. It’s a shame, really, on the part of the operators who have built little brand trust in metro. However, it seems you can almost always get your picture taken for the poop pages with a D-List celebrity at these venues. I suppose the public relations outfits never tire of lipsticking pigs…


August 29th, 2011
5:46 pm

@Bob: IMHO, what this city needs is NOT just more “simple, neighborhood eateries.” In most neighborhoods in ATL there are plenty of casual, simple, unpretentious restaurants. My gripe is more esoteric. I am constantly reminded that Atlanta fails the “sophisticated big city” test, particularly when it comes to restaurants. For a city of this size, to have virtually nothing that qualifies as fine dining is an embarrassment. As much as I love some of them, aren’t you guys getting tired of the “farm to table, local, seasonal, new age Southern” Miller Union/Abbatoir/Empire State/Local Three thing, not to mention burger joints and pizza places? Would you not kill to have a chance to eat at someplace like Azul at the Mandarin in Miami, or NoMI at the Park Hyatt in Chicago? Sure, it costs an arm and a leg, but for the special occasion, more than worth it. And so much more fun than dinner at Pasta Vino.

In many towns, hotel restaurants can be some of the best restaurants, in part because


August 29th, 2011
5:47 pm

(continued) of the expense account clientele. And I’m all for it if it offers more dining options.


August 29th, 2011
6:28 pm

The only hotel restaurant I have ever loved is Raffles.

Bob from Accounttemps

August 29th, 2011
8:57 pm

@Mark – point taken, but sometimes we want a decent place to eat out with the kids. Being from Philly, there is an abundance of great, reasonably priced Italian resturants. Not Pricci or Antico, not Ippolitos or Scalinis, but great, neighborhood “holes in the wall” that serve simple, but outstanding food. You have it in Boston, Philly, NYC and Chicago, but just not here. As for sophisticated eats, we don’t typically have an issue finding something, but there is a sameness to much of it.


August 30th, 2011
7:41 am

@Bob: I’m a Philly boy too, so I know of what you speak, and agree that another gripe about ATL is the lack of honest ethnic cuisine outside of the Latin and Asian choices on Buford etc. Southern cities don’t have that European ethnic heritage–the North Ends, the Little Italy’s, etc.


August 30th, 2011
4:15 pm

No restaurant in Atlanta came even close to the Pickrick for good food!!