200 Minutes in Marietta

CONSIDER THE SHOTGUN BUNGALOWS LINING CHURCH STREET. At one time, these homes surrounding Marietta Square housed workers from Lockheed-Martin, Bell Aircraft and the Brumby Chair Factory, which is now home to stylish loft apartments. Strolling toward the square, you’ll pass the mansions of war generals and businessmen who laid the groundwork for the Marietta we know today.

As you continue your stroll, you’ll see long-standing religious institutions like Zion Baptist Church, once a congregation of 88 former slaves that successfully organized in 1866. A few blocks farther, when you reach the square, the 183-year-old hub of Marietta has become a bustling confluence of fine arts, eclectic cuisine and quality entertainment.

Silent Films and Square Dancing

After the Great Depression, Art Deco swept the country. In 1935 Marietta, that culminated in the state-of-the-art Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre. The Strand was a movie house, and its first screening was a picture called “Top Hat,” featuring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Even more extraordinary than its modern marble facade was the acoustic sound system, not to mention its fireproof projection room and air conditioning.

The Strand operated as a movie theater until the mid-1970s. Its drop in popularity is attributed to the rise of modern multiplex theaters. Today, it is a renovated version of the original 1935 structure, but the theatre may have only lived on in history books if it weren’t for a handful of dedicated locals. Friends of The Strand first met in 2003, determined to revive the vacant building, according to general manager Cassi Costoulas. These passionate community members assembled and eventually raised enough money to renovate the theatre, and it reopened in January 2009.

“We’re more affordable than a movie theater, and we have a full bar,” said Costoulas, who claimed that you’ll find a much more engaged audience at The Strand, thanks, in part, to a roster of longtime silver screen favorites. The Strand screens Casablanca and The Princess Bride annually, while silent movies, complete with an in-house organist, are on rotation year-round. In the latter category, moviegoers are encouraged to react to onscreen moments, egged on by lively scores and film jumps worn in over time.

Movies aren’t the only thing The Strand has to offer. Each summer brings a Motown Musical Revue, and each winter a Christmas-themed revue is offered. The Strand Ole Opry is a variety show put on several times a year, each time with different acts. Don’t want to wait until the next big production? Every Wednesday is Open Mic Comedy Night, and two bars are open Friday through Saturday. For those who just want to relax with an adult beverage, there are two options. Climb the historic staircase all the way to the fourth floor and enjoy the open-air deck, dubbed Brew with a View. From the terrace, visitors can enjoy local brews from Red Hare along with live music and views of Kennesaw Mountain. If you’d prefer to stay inside, walk down a floor to the Lumiere Lounge, a cinephile-themed piano bar with a laid back vibe.

For the Birds

After catching a movie at one of the oldest establishments on the square, head to one of the newest. Two Birds Taphouse opened in July 2016, but it has the air of a neighborhood watering hole that’s been around forever.

“Our idea was to build a bar that we’d like to go to,” said Jeff Byrd. He and his wife Rachel have lived in Marietta since 1987, but it was his son Dan Byrd’s idea to open a gastropub in their hometown. To Jeff and Rachel, “gastropub” means serving local and regional craft beer and “elevated bar food.”

A rotating group of 20 craft beers, with a concentrated focus on Georgia brewers, is one of Two Birds’ biggest selling points. Not only do they stock well-established local names like Sweetwater, Red Brick and Terrapin but also brews from closer to home like Reformation out of Woodstock and Burnt Hickory from Kennesaw.

There’s plenty on hand to wash down, though, thanks to chef Justin Balmes, a beloved local talent who appeared on season seven of Food Network Star. His menu is seasonally driven, with lighter fare in the summer and heartier options as the weather cools down. Wildly popular are staples like Mexican Street Corn, an otherwise traditional appetizer brought to life with fresh cheese, manchego, cilantro and lime. Richer and heartier still is the pastured pork loin schnitzel topped with gouda, a “quickled” mix of strawberries, peaches and fennel, jalapeño, charred vidalia, herbs and peanut. Balmes said many ingredients are sourced from local vendors.

Rachel Byrd helped find the property and now helps plan events for the restaurant. The brick structure has served a variety of different purposes since its construction in the late 1800s.

“It was nondescript, an office building with dropped ceilings,” Byrd said. When they purchased the property, building inspectors believed it was one snowstorm away from being condemned, she added. Now, roll-up doors flank the street-facing side, and warm light from Edison bulbs whisks meanderers in. Inside, exposed brick and beams tell of the building’s history, while light fixtures made of chicken feeders and tables hand-crafted by local carpenters tease its exciting future. twobirdstaphouse.com

Squarely Focused on Food

You’ll need more than 200 minutes to take in everything Marietta has to offer, especially if you take breaks to eat. For international fare, try some flaky pastries at the Australian Bakery and Cafe. This unique eatery opened in 2001, when lifelong friends Mark Allen and Neville Steel decided to bring Australian meat pies to the United States. Now, they ship their pies across the country, offering more than a dozen varieties on the traditional pie — homemade flaky crust stuffed with beef sirloin and gravy.

Piastra is a quaint Italian bistro created by Greg Lipman and his mother Betty. Greg did a great job at Dal Cuore in Johns Creek and Alon’s in Dunwoody prior to opening Piastra. The menu offers classics like Fettucine Carbonara, Brodetto (a seafood stew perfect for cooler nights), Tagliatelle Vongole (white clam sauce) and rich desserts like Cioccolato Croccante (chocolate cake topped with a hazelnut meringue, blackberries, warm caramel sauce and a chocolate shell). Dine intimately in the upstairs dining room that overlooks the square.

For dishes from Seoul and San Juan on the same plate, hop on over to Taqueria Tsunami. Mix-and-match Asada Zing tacos (made with Korean Bulgogi beef and shitake mushrooms) with tempura fried fish Baja tacos for a truly international meal.

For a sweet treat, check out Sweetreats Ice Cream and Coffee House or head over to Miss Mamie’s, a Cupcake Wars award-winner.

If you’re in need of a caffeine fix instead of a sugar rush, Cool Beans Coffee Roasters roasts small batch coffees in house. You can watch and smell from miles away as the bright red roaster sitting across from the counter churns beans from far corners of the globe.

Marietta’s southeast border creeps near the Perimeter, and while technically boasting an Atlanta address, Sage Woodfire Tavern’s newest location recently opened at the busy intersection of Powers Ferry and Windy Hill roads. Sage is known for its hickory and oak grill preparations of fresh fish, seafood, hand-cut steaks, chops and chicken. Sage also features a wide variety of gourmet salads and unique pastas. Guests can expect a similar ambiance and nightly entertainment they may have enjoyed at Sage’s Dunwoody and Alpharetta locations.

“Our priority is to ensure that our guests feel like an honored visitor in my family’s home,” said James Liakakos, president of Sage Woodfire Tavern Restaurant Group. Liakakos has a great eye for restaurant design and has put his personal touch and more than 35 years experience into the design of the new Marietta location. sagewoodfiretavern.com

Fresh and Local Favorites

Any day in Marietta is well spent at the farmer’s market, considering this area hosts some of the best local products in one impressive space. This one-stop-shop on Marietta Square has nearly everything you need to thoughtfully stock your pantry from more than 65 vendors.

Buying local is not only a smart move — it’s often the tastiest. Capra Gia makes some noteworthy goat cheese in Carrollton, and they bring it fresh to the public every weekend at the market. Authentic sausages are available at Sausage World. They combine local meats with imported herbs and spices to make everything from Jamaican Jerk to English Bangers. Hometown Honey, conceived by Brian Higgins and his son, Branden, in response to the dwindling wild honeybee population, offers truly natural local honey.

Another option is Burger’s Farmer’s Market on Canton Road, which has been providing the area with fresh produce for 44 years, from year-round staples to seasonal vegetables and fruits. They also offer a selection of flowers and plants to add to your garden. Mr. Burger travels all around the neighboring southern states to gather the freshest, highest quality produce and other treats like artisan jams and jellies, breads and farm fresh eggs. He takes care of the daily deliveries to the market, which is now run by his two daughters, Sharilyn and Tina. Burger’s refrigerated section carries popular favorites like Amish butter and local hoop cheese.

Explore Outdoors

Marietta also possesses an entire outdoor oasis waiting to deliver a good sweat in cool fall temps. The variety this area offers in the way of family-specific adventure satisfies interests that sit on two wheels, traverse on two feet or prefer a vantage point from the picnic blanket with a pair of binoculars or a good book.

My favorite place to accomplish all three is Sope Creek. Not as bike-heavy as the famous Silver Comet Trail, or as grueling as the popular Kennesaw Mountain hike, a mile-long route winds around Sope Creek for a way to mystify the nature-loving minds of both young children and seasoned adults. With minimal gear required, you’ll start your short trek along the sun speckled pathways, stopping often to engage young, curious minds distracted by the sightings of bugs, birds and other skittish wildlife. As the trail meanders on, weave around (and through) the old Marietta Paper Mill’s ruins, descending stacked stone stairs before seeing the small wondrous waterfall that eventually leads you back to the banks of serene Sope Creek. Here, there are ample spots to set up afternoon camp – whether it’s for a picnic packed from your leftovers on the square or a space to discuss both nature and history’s wonders from the trail.

McFarlane Nature Park is about 20 minutes from the busy square, but feels like you’ve entered another county. An expanse of land protected in the will of its former owners, its establishment was the first project of The Cobb Land Trust in 1992. Now, its 11 acres of sprawling fields and wooded areas find families and children of all ages deep in giddy concentration trying to complete the park’s nature scavenger hunt or simply enjoying their day.

“The park attracts families who like to come and play in the wide open fields,” said Tina Engberg, a member of the park’s Task Force. “Teenagers come fly drones. Younger kids come to ride bikes. We have fields of buttercups in the spring and play host to neighborhood gatherings from Halloween parties to Scouting campouts and everything in between.

“We’re a private park,” Engberg added. “While open to the public, we tend to be more peaceful than some other parks in the area. We do not have playground equipment, so families are free to use their imagination.” facebook.com/mcfarlanenaturepark

A Dose of History

History lovers will relish in Marietta’s important role in the early settlement outside of Atlanta and its place in Civil War history. The Marietta Museum of History contains everything from Native American artifacts to a Homelife gallery, which shows visitors what everyday life looked like in the 19th and 20th centuries. Fans of author Margaret Mitchell won’t want to miss Marietta’s Gone with the Wind Museum. This space, formerly the Old Thomas Warehouse Building, houses artifacts like the honeymoon gown worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film adaptation of the novel.

One of the best values of all museums in greater Atlanta is The Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art (MCMA), which occupies a renovated historic classical revival building that opened as the Cobb County United States Post Office in March 1910. The museum in its current form opened in April 1990 and continues to acquire works for its permanent collections. Showcasing American art, the museum features ambitious special exhibitions throughout the year.

Executive director Sally Macaulay said the current special exhibition, which ends Dec. 17 and features portraits by Martin Pate, is extraordinary. Macaulay also suggested circling the calendar for April 14 next year, when Dylan Pierce’s Legacy of Hope exhibition begins. Pierce, who is a 31-year-old artist born in Marietta, spent the past several years painting the people of southern Africa, developing an intimate, personal connection to them. Admission to MCMA is just $8 for adults, and $6 for seniors and students under 18.

For a tactile experience with history, head a few miles north to Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park. This 2,800-acre national battlefield park contains the sites of several Civil War battles, including the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, fought between Tennessee General Joseph E. Johnston and Major General William T. Sherman. The park contains 17.4 miles of hiking trails, which will take you past countless earthworks, cannons and monuments.

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