Atlanta’s Historic Highland Inn
A New Year At An Old Haunt
By James Calemine
"They got the boogie band blowin' that's bound for hell/
And when they get to movin' they never stop..."
We were in town for the Widespread Panic show on New Year’s Eve. For that evening, we stayed at the upscale Ellis hotel, which was a strategic location not far from The Phillips Arena where Panic’s show took place.
The next day Robin Lynn and I checked into the historic Highland Inn. The old edifice was built in 1927 when the establishment opened as the Wynne Hotel and Tea Room. In the years following the Great Depression, it became a ladies boarding house.
A former opulence returned when it became the Druid Hills Hotel, which sported Atlanta’s first indoor swimming pool and later a bowling alley. In 1996—around the time of the Olympics—the establishment enjoyed a new resurgence. They refer to the Highland Inn’s charm and décor as “European Style boutique”.
In fact, the desk clerk, Luke, told me the Highland Inn attracted many Europeans because of its proximity to the Carter Center. The second and third floors house residents. The traffic, steam-heated pipes and artsy décor conjure a bohemian vibe. Jack, the Inn’s resident black cat, sat on the counter upon our arrival and then disappeared before we checked in. Jack allowed me to rub his throat and ears, but he tried to scratch Robin when she wanted to pet him.
The rooms are small and the walls thin, but a desk, TV, bathroom and comfortable bed are all one can really ask. The temperature hovered around 18 degrees in Atlanta, and the room was warm. Patterson Hood wrote a couple songs from his Murdering Oscar CD here at the Highland Inn.
For the past three years, the basement of the Highland Inn served as The Highland Ballroom. My friend, Dust To Digital president Lance Ledbetter, hosted a Grammy celebration party here last year. That evening also served as a release party for Take Me To The Water, which is up for a Grammy this year.
I wrote the Panic New Year’s Dispatch in room 240 of the Highland Inn. We discovered the hard way that when it’s 18 degrees outside, you have to give those steam-heated pipes 20 minutes to warm up before you hop in, or it’s a cold shower. Paintings line the walls and you can only wonder at the ghost who've wandered these halls. Luke the Clerk took me into an anteroom to show me where they keep kitsch knick-knacks and strange items folks left behind. He let me take an old ceramic Highland Inn coaster as well as a pack of Black Crow magic cards.
The Highland Inn is surrounded by a plethora of eateries, diversions and old haunts. Manuel’s Tavern is only a block away, but the last time I was in there was the last time I saw my friend Paul Hemphill and I couldn’t bring myself to go in. You can enjoy some San Francisco Coffee, Café Del Sol, Fellini’s, the Righteous Room, The Majestic Diner or where we ate at Soul Vegetarian.
Saturday we rested. I pieced together my interview with Todd Nance. We watched a little TV and later walked downstairs to the Ballroom where they had a DJ and such a diverse crowd we even danced for a bit. It was 2010 two days ago and a new year already dawned. Tomorrow we were leaving. Robin Lynn gave me one of her dimpled-smiles, grabbed my hand to walk back upstairs to room 240 and said, “We’re staying here again when we come back for The North Mississippi Allstars in February…”