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Why it’s time for us to resurrect what’s Underground

Underground Atlanta.

There’s a world lying dormant beneath our very heels. It slumbers below the bustling concrete slabs of the Five Point neighborhood. The drunken, musical spirit that deemed Underground Atlanta the “Bourbon Street of Atlanta” has since seeped from beneath, leaving behind a quasi corpse, comprised of mimmicky shopping stores and stale historical tours.

With Atlanta being considered a “world city,” raking in a GDP of $270 billion, why have we stood by and watched the demolition of the “city beneath the city?”

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We have not always stood by, however. Since the birth of the Underground in 1969, there have been several attempts at reviving the buried city. What once began as a storage cellar during the Reconstruction Era, or rather dustpan following Sherman’s sweep, became the very breath of the Southern city.

Obscured from the city, nestled between bridges and railroads, the basement-like area became ideal for speakeasies and juke joints during the 1920s Prohibition era. Rebellious patrons could raise their glasses in the company of freshly brewed Blues.

The then unorthodox comradery of different races over moonshine and guitar strums was no doubt a foreshadowing of the melting pot that Atlanta has become today.

By the end of the 1920s, however, Underground found itself abandoned with the newly raised street levels. After a few decades, we took up the shovel once again and revived the buried city.

While Prohibition had since been a conversational piece of the past, alcohol restrictions remained and it’s because of those restrictions that Underground thrived once more. At the time, Fulton county was the only county in Georgia that permitted the serving of mixed alcoholic beverages. So once again, patrons had a place to raise their glasses. By 1972, Underground had seen its most profitable year with $17 million in sales.

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It was only a matter of time before neighboring counties would cash in and relax their restrictions. By 1980, Underground’s doors were shut again.

In the spirit of those 1920s juke-boxers, we hit the old shed out back and grabbed the shovel once more to revive our old friend, this time investing $142 million in renovations. It was this time around, however, that failed in how we pieced the city back together.

The once-vibrant niche was now more of a modern shopping mall than entertainment district. Wet, wooden bars were replaced with windows and signage. The smell of Bourbon was replaced with the smell of cotton candy.

In 1996, the Olympics were held here, and in what seemed to be a warranted move, city officials began to reevaluate the city’s appearance. In an effort to reduce local crime and “sanitize” the city, Underground was “cleansed.” Since the Olympics, the Underground has seen a steady decrease in sales.

It’s been eighteen years since the world came to visit Atlanta and no one has gripped the shovel that resurrected our buried city time after time before.

Underground Atlanta.
Underground Atlanta.

Now is a better time than ever.

Metro Atlanta has seen a surge of film and television productions in the past year, welcoming heavy hitter films such as “Fast and Furious,” and popular TV series like “The Walking Dead.” The city has also become one of the music industries’ unofficial cities with the BET Hip-Hop Awards held here annually at the Fox Theater.

With our city standing in the very center of the film and music worlds, there is no plausible reason for the presence of the dead weight that is Underground. The annual Peach Drop, held at Underground, should not be the only time that people from all walks of life come together and celebrate Atlanta. Tourist and locals alike should not be subjected to a few bars and clubs, hidden off in “Keenny’s Alley,” Underground’s nightlife corner.

If we took a look at our brother over in New Orleans, La., we’d see the perfect blueprints of a profitable nightlife mecca. Like Underground, Bourbon Street has seen its share of destruction and rehabilitation, notably with Hurricane Katrina. Unlike our city, though, the home to Mardi Gras made a praiseworthy comeback following its demise to Hurricane Katrina.

While we should consider that, unlike ourselves, tourism is the premiere source of income for the city. Their ability to conduct such a resurrection should be both admired and noted. What should be highlighted in our notes is the key to Bourbon Street’s longevity: sticking to the original formula.

Throughout the years and even today, the old French Quarters have seen their share of criticism for their “alcohol flooded streets” and “lustful loons.” Yet the city remains loyal to its residents, savoring the flavor over decades and continuing to bring in millions each year from all over the world.

We don’t have to leave the Georgia state line or even the metro area to see an example of a thriving nightlife in our city. Edgewood, just blocks from the Five Points neighborhood, is home to several nightlife favorites including Joystick, Corner Tavern and the beautifully unorthodox Church. All have been keeping students, locals, and out-of-towners entertained for years now.

Like Little Five Points, Midtown and East Atlanta, Edgewood is simply another “bar strip,” and while it does fine in quenching our thirst for entertainment, it cannot revive the drunken, musical spirit that christened Underground “the city beneath the city.”

While our city rakes in revenue from several sources, including those mentioned beforehand, we should not be comfortable with a red wine stain in the middle of our white persian rug. Underground Atlanta sits in the midst of the bustling city like a turtle in the middle of I-85.

Underground Atlanta has made unsuccessful attempts at attracting tourists and locals by adding a Waffle House and a few boutiques in recent years, but this only adds to its now mimmicky presence. The official site for Underground Atlanta hopes to gain tourist in the future with its coming “PACMAN Arcade.” All of these steps are steps in the wrong direction. We are pushing for the “Disneyfication” of a place that lies in the middle of a very young, fertile and lively city.

Like our Boot State brothers, we need to recall the formula that created the young, profitable, hidden city. Alcohol and music are lovers that have withstood the test of time. If carefully provoked, they can prove fruitful. We shouldn’t shy away from these two lovers like adolescents, but embrace them for what they’ve done and can do for our city. We’ve got to conjure up the drunken, musical spirit of the 1920’s, break the locks on the old shed out back and grasp the rusty shovel.