I've been camping on N. Hull St for two days, next to a predominantly black affordable housing complex, on what some would consider the edge of Downtown Athens. It looks more like an old folks home, with retirees buzzing around on Rascal scooters. There's been some odd looks, but more "howdys". One resident even inquired about buying my camper, telling me to come back when I was ready to sell it. I said alright.
Two blocks down Hull, it's clear this block isn't like the rest. Above an old awning I spot the Manhattan Cafe....the Schlitz logo draws me in. You can see it from Dawg Gone Good BBQ, a corner up. Then there's Wilson's Styling Shop, The Players Corner, and Brown's Barber Shop. The odd ball on the block is the understated, The World Famous, a funky new bar/restaurant cum art gallery cum music venue. It's been on the Food Network the bartender humble bragged, I also saw it featured in The New York Times.
This was the heart of the black community locals called the "Hot Corner". I could picture it 10 years ago, bustling with Georgia fans before the big game, or on warm Sunday afternoons with the smell of BBQ in the air. World Famous used to be a soul food restaurant, owned by the folks next door at Wilson's. Health complications put the owner in a position to sell. She did. Manhattan Cafe, the oldest bar in Athens, looks next, if it hasn't already been bought. I didn't ask, but their crowd was sparse every night in town.
The Hot Corner's fate has been sealed. It's flanked on all sides by a new brewery, a corporate pizza spot, a tattoo shop, and the kiss of death....a gastropub. It reminds of that scene in The Last Samurai when Tom Cruise's character, wounded and surrounded by Samurai, recklessly and desperately tries to fight them off.
In the movie, the leader of the Samurai arrives just before Cruise meets his death. He had a vision in his sleep the night before, and heeded the sign by showing mercy to his adversary. He took him in, learned from him, and eventually welcomed him into his family.
Here's to Athens showing the same wisdom. I'd like to grab a beer at the Manhattan Cafe next time I'm back.