I drove passed the Clermont Hotel yesterday, its state of rehabilitation apparent from the open windows (not removed, note) and the late afternoon sunlight highlighting the emptiness of the northwest corner rooms with a brilliant golden glow. I sat there in traffic admiring the effect and itching to get back to this post i’d put on hold months ago!
May 2, 2013.
It was a typical, low-key bachelorette party. Begun in Garden Hills we moved to a non-descript midtown eatery for dinner and margaritas. The sisters-in-law pushed food and drink in equal measure on the bride-to-be, wanting to see her happily toasted but still within the parameters of Uncle D’s no-vomitting request, understandably. They were doing a good job.
But we needed to liven up the evening, we had the limo for a few more hours and the cool Atlanta night was our oyster. We were flummoxed until V mentioned the Clermont Lounge and the party really began to take shape. Keeping secretive we got our bill and out of midtown, cruising down Ponce toward one of its most identifying buildings and a true Atlanta landmark.
Now, Ponce de Leon Avenue is one of the few places where Atlanta still feels gritty, and real. The sidewalks of Ponce espouse the ragged truths of a city that is so good at embellishment and reinvention, the seedy underside of a shiny Southern gem. The Clermont Lounge, opening in 1965 is the longest running strip club in Atlanta’s history and one of the city’s most iconic and irreverent establishments. Going to the Clermont is a rite of passage for any 20-something who finds themselves living in Atlanta but it also has its share of regulars and is a valid haunt for locals needing to reconnect with an oft forgotten side of Atlanta. But others are far better at summarizing the Clermont Lounge than I.
Most notably though to me, it is a place that accepts folks from any walk of life. The bouncer, the bartender, the patrons, are most un-judgmental. Customers are expected to follow the rules (no photos, cash only) but patrons range from coats and ties, leather jackets and heavy beards, forlorn sci-fi t-shirts, floosy H&M blouses, pink tucked-in button-ups, or jeans, converse and a cardigan (that’s me). My first visit had been unnecessarily late in life, and, sipping a vodka cranberry from a cheap plastic cup, I was uncomfortable and trying not to be. Newbies, you see, are an acceptable part of the Clermont’s clientele, and so the motley crew of our bachelorette party last May fit right into that basement dive.
The Clermont Lounge, however, is only a part of the building whose presence on Ponce since 1924 has a story in its own right. In 2002 intrepid reporter Scott Henry went undercover to reveal the mysteries of that landmark to the rest of us. His piece in Creative Loafing serves now as a memorial to a place and time the remainders of which are fast disappearing.
Early last year it was announced that Clermont Hotel had a buyer and the rumors started flying. Nearly everyone took a defensive offensive that the basement strip club better not be touched, even despite assurances. A 2009 competition held by Sidewalk Radio persona and developer Gene Kansas resurfaced as the winner of that design competition—G+G architects—was announced as the architects chosen for the new Clermont to be a boutique hotel. All the plans I have seen have been from the 2009 design competition indicate it was more of an exercise in conceptual re-imaginings and a stretching of architectural hubris than reality (i hope!). The City of Atlanta approved the rezoning to move the project along in August and in the process set forth a number of conditions that should make preservationists happy:
The design for the parking structure must be compatible with the original architectural character of the Clermont Hotel building …The most interesting condition is number eight, which stipulates that following the redevelopment of this property, the owner will be responsible for nominating the Clermont Hotel building as a local Landmark. (ragandbones)
This caveat that the Clermont be established as a local Landmark, and thus eligible for the National Register, should curtail any overly designed plans of ambitious architects/developers.