This is Spilling the Beans, where plugged-in baristas give us the lowdown on where to go, what to do, and what to eat (and drink) in their hometown.
Hiking, biking, rock climbing, founding a startup—it’s all par for the course if you hang around Chattanooga, Tennessee long enough, according to Peri McIntosh. She’s a barista at Velo Coffee, the coffee linchpin in the mid-sized city in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. “Everyone’s quirky and weird here—but everyone takes pride in what they do,” she said of residents making Chattanooga an unlikely boomtown. She grew up in the creative, outdoorsy city—and now shows people around its most stunning watering holes, Old Fashioneds on tap, and life-affirming fried chicken. Let her be your guide.
Where should we stay?
A hostel called The Crash Pad. Most of the people who stay there are outdoorsy, but it’s for anyone. It’s really pretty, and the staff is friendly. It’s also right next to Flying Squirrel, a popular bar for locals and travelers. Stay in an Airbnb downtown for a real city experience or in the Northshore if you want older houses and an emphasis on local businesses and food. The most beautiful hotel in town is The Stone Fort Inn, which I think has been renamed to The Dwell Hotel. It’s in an older building that’s both ornate and cozy—really beautiful.
Where to grab a great breakfast?
Bluegrass Grill is very popular. It’s smaller and family-run, packed every day, with killer potato hash and make-your-own omelets. Easy Bistro is one of the nicer restaurants here in town and it has great upscale brunch on the weekends. Food Works is another favorite; I get the crab cake Benedict every time. And The Flying Squirrel on Sundays. Get the roasted pork belly with grits, greens, and egg—plus the mimosa deal.
Where to get a good cup of coffee?
Even though we’re a mid-sized/small city, we have so many high-quality coffee shops. Velo, of course, is where you can get the behind-the-scenes look at the roasting equipment in the same room as the coffee bar. Then there’s Brash Coffee, which is the place that taught me that coffee is more than just dark roast versus light roast. One of the owners sources directly from farmers and farms he’s visited. The Camp House is another one. They have several pour-over options, so I go there when I want to try something new. It’s also a good place to do work or have a meeting.
Hutton and Smith Brewing. The couple that opened it moved from Las Vegas so they could open this brewery and rock climb. Not only is their beer really unique, but also they host cartography classes and James Bond movie screenings—fun, random stuff like that.
Best market to eat your way around?
During the spring and summer, Chattanooga has a citywide farmers’ market downtown every Sunday. It’s in a huge pavilion downtown and has vendors for everything from produce to photography and fine art. But it can be hot and there are always a lot of people. If you want a smaller, more low-key setting, there’s a Wednesday market just called the Main St. Farmers’ Market; it’s where I get my produce and soap. I really like Sequatchie Cove Creamery for cheese and Crabtree Farms for produce.
Place to see great art?
The Hunter Museum of American Art is our big one—with exhibitions with work from Eudora Welty, for instance—and it’s in a beautiful building. For something more local, Art ‘til Dark is a market on the north side of town with artists selling paintings, photography, wooden carvings, and jewelry in the summertime.
Hottest new restaurant in town?
Main Street Meats. It used to just be a butcher shop and deli, but they just opened a restaurant component that now serves the best burger in town. Even the cocktails there, like Old Fashioneds on tap, are awesome. Another one is a ramen house called Two Ten Jack that’s in a basement with excellent food and a cool feel to it.
Old-school Chattanooga institution?
St. John’s is a local, high-end restaurant that’s been around forever. It’s so classy. The other one is this amazing fried chicken place Champy’s.
Best cocktail bar in town?
Flying Squirrel is the perfect balance of high-quality at an accessible price point. It feels fancy inside but you’re next door to the hostel, so the clientele is really diverse. The bartenders know their stuff and will make you bespoke drinks, plus they have one of the largest beer menus I’ve ever seen. Two Ten Jack has awesome cocktails on draught. And then Main Street Meats will serve your tequila drink in a Jarritos grapefruit soda bottle and salt the rim of the bottle; it’s a lot of fun.
Best place to see live music?
For a local grunge or jam band in a smaller venue, try JJ’s Bohemia. If you want something more acoustic, or singer-songwriter, there’s The Camp House, which is the coffee shop I mentioned earlier that also happens to be a small concert venue and a church. Larger name acts go to Track 29. It’s an old warehouse that’s been repurposed.
Where to get into trouble for the night?
After dinner, I’d go to a new, modern bar called Matilda Midnight at the Dwell Hotel. But after that, it’s a sure bet I’d be at The Bitter Alibi. All of my nights seem to end there, either in the pub-like basement or in the cocktail lounge on the third floor.
Best place to eat when the party’s over?
City Café Diner. It’s open 24 hours and you can get greasy burgers and fries at a low price when you’re hungry and drunk at 2 or 3 in the morning.
You can be in the middle of the city at one moment and then in the middle of the mountains a 15-minute drive later. Signal Mountain has great hiking trails and lookout spots. Lookout Mountain on the other side is where the famous Rock City is; you can look out and see all of Chattanooga. Snoopers Rock is the spot to sit and look out at the river down below; it winds around the hills, and it’s beautiful. Then Cloudland Canyon is another good hiking spot, and The Blue Hole is a great watering hole in the summer.
Written by: Elyssa Goldberg
Published on: May 5, 2016