Pssst! Check out that table over there--Elton John is having dinner with Janet Jackson, her tapper--producer boyfriend, Jermaine Dupri, and Collective Soul lead singer Ed Roland. And isn't that Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown sitting two booths away, munching on roast chicken and truffle mashed potatoes? Oh, don't look now, but music and fashion uber-mogul P. Diddy just rolled in with 30 of his closest friends.
If you think this scene is taking place in New York or Los Angeles, then think again. This is an average night in Atlanta--affectionately referred to as "the ATL"--where celebrity sightings have become as common as dogwood blossoms and streets named Peachtree (there are more than 100 of these).
In the past decade or so, Atlanta has become home to a surprising number of high-profile names. As well as the aforementioned celebs, other well-known residents include Jimmy Carter, R&B singers Usher, Faith Evans and Toni Braxton, actress Jane Fonda, media boss Ted Turner, boxer Evander Holyfield, country great Kenny Rogers, American music moguls Antonio "LA" Reid and Kenny "babyface" Edmonds, and all manner of athletes, including basketball star Shaquille O'Neal and PGA golf pro Jeanne Dooley. (The city is home to five professional sports teams: the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Silverbacks and Thrashers.)
Of these, Reid and Edmonds are largely responsible for Atlanta's current celebrity boom. In 1989, they started LaFace Records in partnership with Arista. LaFace defined the urban sound of the 90s with chart-topping releases by Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, TLC,
Usher, OutKast and Pink--not to mention Babyface's own hit records and solo songwriting and production work with the likes of Madonna, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin and Celine Dion--all of which landed Atlanta squarely on the showbiz map.
LaFace relocated to Los Angeles in 2000, but not before alumni Jermaine Dupri and Dallas Austin founded their own successful offshoots (SoSoDef and Rowdy Records), which have kept the local music industry hopping. This has attracted an ever-growing mix of celebrities, and Atlanta now has a thriving cultural scene.
"Atlanta used to be a quiet little town, but now the nightlife is great," says David Abes, director of operations at Twist, one of the city's hottest restaurants. "I think people see what is going on in New York and Miami and say, 'Hey, we can do that in Atlanta too.'"
In the past few years the city has witnessed the opening of countless new restaurants, shops and megaclubs catering to the young, hip, moneyed crowd in the Buckhead and Midtown neighbourhoods. And there are still plenty of arty eateries, bars and indie rock venues in East Atlanta, Virginia-Highlands and Little Five Points (aka "LSP") to keep Atlanta's edgier types happy.
"People like Atlanta because it's such a diverse city," says Michael …