You can see it in the sunken bricks revealing worn concrete walls. Not that this place is old, but this place has a story. In fact, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes Ponce City Market (PCM) as “history in the making,” but it’s also the perfect antidote to any cases of cabin fever this winter. Far from comprehensive, this guide suggests some places to start on your first visit, while still leaving some surprises yet to be discovered.
Even before construction of the once Sears, Roebuck and Co. building on Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue first made headlines in 1926, the site was a destination. Across the street sat Spiller Park, the former home of the Atlanta Crackers baseball team, predecessors to the Atlanta Braves. The street’s history, however and its crowds began much earlier. Natural springs on a beech grove there in 1860 inspired the name, alluding to the famous Spanish explorer on the search for the Fountain of Youth, and in 1903, became the site of an amusement park.
Flash forward to 2010. The crumbling building, then owned by the City of Atlanta, was closed to the public before the private equity group Jamestown –same folks behind the revitalization of Midtown’s Westside neighborhood –took over the 10-story, 2.1-million squarefoot structure. The result is a sustainable mixed-use development housing best-in-class office, retail and residential space in an urban and transit-friendly location.
The anticipation built like the upward ride on a Ferris wheel as shop doors opened one by one. Already full of amusements and drawing crowds, the once-completed PCM will get back to its mythical roots with a fun-filled rooftop to include miniature golf and a ride to bring out your inner kid.
Currently, the directory includes something for everyone: local names such as Onward Reserve and Dancing Goats Coffee as well as cult favorites Michael Stars, Lululemon, Corepower Yoga and Anthropologie mix among newcomers like Lily Rain, Goorin Bros. Hat Shop, the optical boutique Karoo, Mountain High Outfitters, the Frye Company and more. We lit up when Rejuvenation, the classic American salvage store supplying antique lighting and unique hardware for homes, chose to open their first East Coast store here. Guys who tag along “shopping” are no longer relegated to waiting on a couch — send them to Q Clothier or Rye 51 for luxury dry goods, apparel and in-store whiskey bar.
FOOD HALL OF FAME
The vision for the heart of PCM is its Central Food Hall, intended to rank alongside culinary destinations like Pike Place in Washington, the Ferry Building in California and Jamestown’s own Chelsea Market in New York. Zigzagging through the smells and sites of 20-plus stalls and sit-down restaurants, you’ll almost feel transported to another place entirely –except some of Atlanta’s top chefs came along for the ride. Hugh Acheson is behind the cleverly dubbed Spiller Park Coffee, Anne Quatrano opened seafood concept W. H. Stiles Fish Camp, Linton Hopkins brought his famous burgers and fries at H&F as well as debuted Hop’s Chicken, Hector Santiago offers a permanent solution to the longtime pop-up El Super Pan and the star-studded list continues. It’s a flexible space to gather, shop and eat whether morning, noon or night –grab a bite here or there, then polish it o with King of Pops or Honeysuckle Gelato.
Anchoring one end of the hall is Bellina Alimentari, a gourmet Italian market offering slow-cooked foods, imported goods and fresh ingredients. Inside, their “food as a way of life” philosophy is detailed on a column with kitchen staff hard at work below. Even without a James Beard award-winning chef at the helm (although Chef David Berry and General Manager Jim Monast are no strangers to an Atlanta kitchen or awards), the beautiful Bellina still scored one of the biggest spaces including a market, bar for dining in and private room for special dinners and pasta-making seminars. After a taste of their curated charcuterie and cheese boards followed by egg pasta, made fresh right in front of us, we quickly bought into the philosophy too.
Even better than reading the writing on the wall is meeting the woman behind the message. Owner and cookbook author Tal Postelnik Baum built her vision upon the idea that the hectic nature of modern life should not compromise the quality of the food we eat. Formerly an architect and designer, Baum developed an eclectic taste from traveling the globe, studying in Italy and experiencing firsthand some of the best hospitality the industry has to offer. Here, that translates to a haven of respite within a bustling city. Bellina, in the spirit of PCM, makes “the best” more accessible to Atlantans while preserving more than a century of culture. No passport, airplane or time machine required.
[A version of this story originally appeared in Points North Atlanta | photography courtesy of SARAH DORIO; GENERAL ASSEMBLY; ANDREW THOMAS LEE; CHRIS WATKINS]