Among The Banjos, Bikes and Chili Peppers – Chattanooga, Tennessee

If we know anything about Chattanooga, it’s possibly due to that song, the one about the choo-choo train. Something classic and a little out of date is the image, but it could hardly be less accurate. This booming city on the banks of the Tennessee River has become one of the most energetic and fun cities of the South. So whether you are taking a ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, or taking a cruise on the Southern Beller riverboat, we strongly suggest you follow the command of one of Chattanooga’s leading citizens, Samuel L, Jackson, who said in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts,” You don’t know the half of it.

WHERE TO STAY

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Dwell Hotel

Take a look at The Dwell Hotel, which twists Southern hospitality into a brand new shape. Until last year, this was the Stone Fort Inn, a venerable 100-year-old brick-and-stone building that was a bastion of Appalachian charm. Then new owners cam e along, rebooting the room sand stocking them with anti ques and kitschy delights, night, features an ambitious drink menu that uses esoteric ingredients like smoked paprika rye, anchor eyes, cardamom bitters, and oleo saccharum.

They don’t serve your daddy’s Mint Julep Dwell’s restaurant Terra Mae looks past the re­gion for a melange of global tastes, and the Mid-Century Moderntiki bar, Matilda Mid­ night, features an ambitious drink menu that uses esoteric ingredients like smoked paprika rye, anchoreyes, cardamom bitters, and oleo saccharum. They don’t serve your daddy’s Mint Julep.

WHERE TO EAT

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The Blue Plate


Ross’s Landing is the 19th century river spot downtown where the city was founded. Right next to this historical point is The Blue Plate, a restaurant that straps a jet pack on the idea of comfort food and blasts it into the 21st century. Blue Plate features Southern staples like fried chicken, pulled pork, and the Hot Brown, but reimagines them as farm -to- table discoveries worth fresh attention. That’s one vision of the South, but Chattanooga is cosmopolitan enough to sup­port a booming subculture of tastes.

Like Taconooga, a low-key explosion of Mexican street cuisine with heartfelt aguas frescas and sauces made fresh daily. Then there’s Opa, a quirky Greek restaurant run by a slightly imperious and staggeringly gifted owner. And across the river and up a steep hill is a small, slightly disreputable bar called Areth a Frankensteins: the music is loud and soulful and so is brunch, Chattanooga is the old South and the next-South, too: welcoming and celebratory of what it has.

WHAT TO DO

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Downtown Chattanooga is in motion thanks to an imagina­tive local nonprofit called River City Company that has fund-raised and forged creative development agree­ments. There are hotels and restaurants and museums and tons of places to eat and walk on both sides of the river front. And there is a top-notch network of bike trails and a robust bicycle transit system that makes it easy to pick up-and drop off – a two ­wheeler around town.

One place to ride to is Wayne-O-Rama, a gallery and performance space, a testimony to both the city and to the Chattanooga artist, Wayne White, who made it. White is an illustrator, sculptor, painter, and maker of puppets, and his work-spilling off the walls, filling several rooms from floor to ceiling-is a whimsi­cal history of Chattanooga, (Hurry, it closes at the end of this month!) There is the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, chugging steeply up the mountain, and there is a miniature Rock City, a road side attraction just out of town populated by gnomes.

The art is fun and startling and references everything from half-forgotten local TV celebrities to Bessie Smith. And filling one whole area is a larger-than-life puppet of Samuel L, Jackson, in his suave, not snarling mode, so benevolen the almost seems to be handing out keys to the city to those who find their way here.

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