Two-hundred Minutes In…Vinings and Cumberland

written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photos courtesy of CANOE; ATLANTA BRAVES; JEFF ROFFMAN PHOTOGRAPHY; YARD HOUSE | BRESLOW PARTNERS; CHARLIE MCCULLERS | ATLANTA BALLET; READ SHOP

Canoe Restaurant

One of my earliest memories of visiting Vinings is from an afternoon in early spring.

I was a high school freshman standing on the soccer field of The Lovett School with butterflies in my stomach. The private school sat like a royal estate on 100 acres along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. It was was not only large enough to have its own parking deck, but as I suspected, possibly the funds to offer scholarships to the swift kick of players running circles around my public school’s team.

After the game concluded early with a “mercy rule” call, we rationalized our loss with this logic and a round of milkshakes from the nearby OK Café. I don’t recall being upset at the final score; I only remember being in awe of this beautiful little nook of the Paces Ferry neighborhood, perhaps the same way children feel about Hogwarts the first time they watch a Harry Potter film. 

Through the pine trees on Lovett’s campus, I also got my first glimpse of Canoe, the illuminated letters of the restaurant’s sign analogous to matchboxes I’d seen in my parents’ kitchen. As a 15 year old, I knew instantly there was something one-of-a-kind about that place and that one spring day, I would go back to watch the sunset from Canoe’s inviting patio on the other side of the river.

BRAVES IN THE ‘BURBS

First, it’s worth noting a few facts about Vinings. It falls between the junction of metro Atlanta’s beating arteries (Interstates 75 and 285), suburban Smyrna, the adjacent edge of Cumberland Parkway’s sprawl and the affluent section of Buckhead along West Paces Ferry.

The road gets its name from entrepreneur Hardy Pace who settled along the banks of the Chattahoochee in the early 1800s, accumulating more than 10,000 acres in the verdant hills northwest of Atlanta. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, remnants of his 17-room antebellum home, which also functioned as General Sherman’s brief headquarters while planning the siege of Atlanta, remain today.

By 1936, when Mrs. Eva Edwards Lovett decided to move her school from a home in Midtown to the wooded campus off West Wesley Road — a mile away from the historic Pace Home — it was considered a true country day school. 

Fast-forward to the present day. Vinings now hosts corporate skyscrapers, a world-class arts venue, top shopping and its latest attraction, the Atlanta Braves. While construction and hype have both been building for years, this month marks Braves Country’s official change of address to the brand new SunTrust Park.

Like many metro Atlantans, I won’t soon forget watching the summer sun set on Turner Field, while names like Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were called up to bat, or when celebratory fireworks burst above the downtown skyline. The announcement of the franchise’s choice to abandon the “Ted” was met with mixed emotions from many, to say the least — as if we might lose our collective memories of being there, too. However, as I chatted with Jeremy Strife, vice president of Braves Development and general manager of The Battery Atlanta, with the clock ticking down toward first pitch, I stopped looking back and starting looking forward to the changes.

“The Battery Atlanta is the first master planned, mixed-use development that is anchored by a professional sports stadium,” Strife said. He cited examples of similar concepts such as Patriot Place, adjacent to Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, L.A. Live by Staples Center in California or Ballpark Village in Missouri, but explained how these assets were retrofitted to an existing venue.

Fox Sports Midwest Live! in St. Louis, Missouri’s Ballpark Village

“What that means is, from the ground up, we [were able] to determine angles of buildings, paths of egress, drive patterns, parking deck locations, pedestrian bridge locations and bike stations. We were able to create an experience unlike any other in the world. When we combine that with Comcast and the 15 miles of fiber and multi-terabit speed we have running throughout the ballpark and the mixed-use Battery Atlanta, you really have this new recipe out there. If you’re going to do something from the ground up that’s never been done, there’s no playbook for creating a legacy asset like this.”

How did Strife, the executive team, consultants and developers call their plays?

Chef Todd English opens Todd English Tavern at Live! at the Battery Atlanta in April 

“First, we want to provide the best, highly monetized, professional sports experience out there. That starts with SunTrust Park and all the great clubs, amenities and different venues within the ballpark to enjoy, but it also extends to outside the ballpark,” he said. 

There may be 81 home games on the Braves 2017 schedule, but The Battery Atlanta is designed to be a compelling and active destination 365 days a year. The 1.5-million-square-foot complex offers boutique shopping, a Mizuno Experience Center, a Harley Davidson Retail Center, a 264-key Omni Hotel, 500- plus residences, Comcast’s regional headquarters at One Ballpark Center and more. “Come early, stay late,” is the mantra, whether you have a ticket to one of SunTrust Park’s 41,000 seats or not.

For those that are claiming seats, Strife knows that approximately 55 percent will bring a child with them. Depending on the child’s age, fans might have to explain why the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing about peanuts and Cracker Jack popcorn. The culinary heavy hitters The Battery Atlanta has amassed will be serving modern bites with heightened sophistication.

Those aimed at April openings are: Yard HouseAntico Pizza, Hugh Acheson’s First & Third Hot Dog and Sausage Shack, Terrapin Taproom serving Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q and last but not least Live! at The Battery Atlanta (three concepts under one roof, including Todd English Tavern as well as Sport & Social). Next month’s roster includes Linton Hopkins’ steakhouse, C. Ellet’s, Marc Taft’s FEED — Fried Chicken & Such, Wahlburgers – and the list continues to lengthen. thepacehouse.com; batteryatl.com; atlanta.braves.mlb.com

Snacks from Yard House at The Battery Atlanta

THOUGHTFUL TRANSPORTATION

Let me guess what you’re thinking: it all sounds tempting, but will I have to sit in traffic?

Strife didn’t hesitate to answer. “Because this is a master-planned asset, we were able to determine the best ingress and egress patterns for the property,” he said. “There’s a ring road surrounding the property and a bifurcating road that takes you from [State Route] 41 all the way to Circle 75 [Parkway] called Battery Avenue.”

This equates to five ways to enter the property from those surrounding roads, creating a more efficient option depending on which direction you’re going or coming. “The big difference most people will notice on game day is that parking is spread 360-degrees around the property, rather than in one spot, like at Turner Field.” A partnership with Waze, the community-based traffic and navigation app that shares real-time updates on road conditions, will help direct people coming from, for instance, the Northside to the appropriate parking lot.

You may have also noticed construction on pedestrian bridges, one that crosses 285 and leads to the Cobb Galleria Centre and another that crosses 75, which both should be open by first pitch on April 14. These could be good options for those who live and work in the area. If you’re close enough to bike, Strife encourages that option as well, by using the same path across the bridges to connect to the Silver Comet Trail. His team is working on getting another green pathway to connect to the old Vinings area, too. At The Battery Atlanta, cyclists will find more than 100 bike locations onsite, including a 50-bike station which shelters bikes and provides lockers.

“People who want to stay fit and stay off the roads by biking to The Battery will have a safe and secure place to store their belongings while visiting,” Strife said. “Not only are we going to make it easier for you to get here, but once you get here, we’re going to accommodate you further. We want to make it an easy decision for our community members to access our site.”

Fans can also take Uber to designated drop-off locations, hop on a private Braves shuttle from key points of interest in the area and count on Cobb County Police to oversee 30 key intersections around the ballpark for smooth flow of vehicles and safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists. For those curious about all the ins and outs, The Braves official website offers a wealth of info and regular updates.

Will these combined efforts actually make a difference? We’ll have to wait and see. Then again, there’s plenty to do if you choose to “stay late” and let the traffic pass.

WORLD-CLASS ARTS

After you catch a fly ball, you could catch a show from up-and-coming acts thanks to the revival of The Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre.

Strife credited Live Nation Entertainment, which is owned by Liberty Media, the same parent company as the Braves, for helping to bring back the name of a late, great Atlanta stage for a newly constructed venue.

“The theater sits anchoring our north plaza on Battery Avenue [and measures] about 53,000 square feet with about 4,000 standing room capacity, second level mezzanine and custom bars,” Strife said. “They’ll be doing 40 shows a year in addition to being a venue for private events; [they’re] anticipating 20 to 30 private events per year.”

The English Indie rock band, Glass Animals, warms the stage with the first show on April 8, followed by Georgia’s own Corey Smith on April 22.

Atlanta Ballet’s “Firebird”

On the other side of Interstate 285, athletes who practice ballet more often than baseball might enjoy Atlanta Ballet’s “Firebird” at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, with performances running April 14 through 16. Amid so many changes occurring across our city’s professional sports teams, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that America’s oldest ballet company is also winding up for a home run.

Following John McFall’s retirement in 2016, Gennadi Nedvigin was named Atlanta Ballet’s fourth artistic director in the company’s 87-year history. Under Nedvigin’s leadership, the 2017 season presents fresh takes on some of the finest familiar works and new classics, while also bringing in some of the world’s most sought-after choreographers to elevate the ballet’s international profile. If you miss seeing it for yourself this month, keep an eye out for future surprises. cobbenergycentre.com

VININGS JUBILEE

Meanwhile, across Interstate 75, more legacy assets await in the historic heart of Vinings.

Read Shop at Vinings Jubilee

By the mid-1900s, much of Hardy Pace’s property had passed to his heirs, and in the late 1960s, Pace’s great-great-granddaughter, Earle Carter Smith, put one tract of land in the heart of the historic Vinings up for sale. The Vinings local who stepped in to buy the land envisioned a gathering place, created with turn-of-the-century architecture to celebrate the community’s colorful past.

According to their website, “To ensure a degree of historic continuity, local architects studied the style of the historic homes still standing in Vinings and designed the shops and restaurants in Vinings Jubilee in the same style and spirit.”

While the neighborhood’s exterior may retain the feel of a 19th-century genteel Southern outpost, inside the shops and restaurants, modern provisions and menus abound. Where to first? Pick the recently renovated Read Shop, a charming concept from entrepreneur Dan Collier who is known for The Merchant Atlanta, Collier Candy Company and Archer Paper Goods. When Read Shop reopens April 9, you will be able to enjoy a coffee while browsing their selection of greeting cards and bestselling titles as well as regionally and southeast-driven publications. 

A few steps away, Willow Green is another local shop worth a stop. This floral garden and home interiors boutique specializes in live florals, greenery and planted containers that can make your patio as eye-catching as say, Canoe’s. viningsjubilee.com

FLOAT AWAY AT CANOE

I’m far from the only one that has fallen in love at first sight with Canoe.

The restaurant has been included on lists such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Most Romantic Restaurants,” Eater Atlanta’s “20 Classic Restaurants Every Atlantan Must Try” and was inducted into Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame in 2005.

Will these recognitions be enough to keep a legacy alive if the next generation of diners doesn’t embrace the restaurant in the same way? It has taken more than a decade, but I’ve decided this will be the month to finally have the dinner I’ve dreamed about there. Now that the reservation is made, the only decision left is between their ever-popular slow braised rabbit, sunchoke and goat’s cheese ravioli with candied garlic jus, or Executive Chef’s Matthew Basford’s favorite of the moment: Kung Pao octopus with rice noodles, broccoli and peanut. Basford also hinted the spring menu is right around the corner and will definitely feature kangaroo as well as some lighter dishes for the changing season.

For a more casual evening, head to the colorful gardens and grab a seat at the picturesque River Bar. This year, Canoe is partnering with Terrapin Beer Co. (the official craft beer of the Braves), and the bar is exclusively serving their brews. The fun kicks off with a beer dinner and whole hog roast on April 6, and continues with the “Song of the South” series — live tunes each Wednesday, opening with Kate & Corey on April 19.

In anticipation of my visit, I skimmed a few restaurant reviews online. Their consensus? It’s classical or casual. Historic and happening. Full of choices, but collectively one of a kind. Perfect for a special occasion, or making an occasion special.

I suppose you could say the same about SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta, or the greater Vinings community as a whole. How will you spend your time here? Batter up. canoeatl.com