The first time I went to Atlanta, there was only one place my friend who grew up there unequivocally insisted I visit — The Clermont Lounge. Located in the basement level of what has now become Hotel Clermont, the Lounge has been an institution in Atlanta’s strip club scene since it opened in 1968. Infamously seedy and delightfully raucous, the bar and club has one massive pole and stage right near the bar, a stage and dance floor in the back, and a less rambunctious area with tables and chairs. It’s cash only, you can smoke inside, and some of the strippers have been working there since the spot opened.
You can do the math there, but either way, this infamously beloved local spot is both connected to and revered by the boutique hotel that has tucked itself in on top, in the five story, unassuming brick building on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Bonaventure Avenue in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood. Before the club opened in the basement, the spot was initially an apartment building, Bonaventure Arms Apartments opened in 1924 before opening as the Hotel Clermont in 1939, quickly morphing into a seedy motel, the Clermont Motor Lodge in the ensuing decades. The building played host to a number of different basement clubs — the Gypsy Room, the Anchorage Club, and the Jungle Room, but after the lounge began to gain momentum, the building above wasn’t given the same TLC.
When the health department finally shut the Motor Lodge down in 2009, inspectors cited “cited mold, bugs, water problems, damaged floors and ceilings, and other health hazards,” even if the 22 evicted residents — they were living in the building full-time despite its hotel status — claimed convenience and price made it worthwhile to put up with these elements. A new company, Oliver Hospitality, quickly stepped in to take over management of the hotel, and in a not-so-quick renovation that took over six years, managed to wrangle the old motor inn into a boutique hotel that rivals places I’ve stayed in New York, LA, Palm Springs, or any other tourist destination.
Recently in town to cover Red Bull Music Festival’s Atlanta iteration — and graciously hosted in the hotel by their hospitality for a press trip — I was delighted to rediscover the Lounge as part of the ecosystem of my local lodging. Of course, it would be criminal to redo the Lounge in the chic velvet and dark wood that now define the new hotel’s lobby and bar, library, and sitting rooms, but despite the new elegance of the former, there is absolutely nothing but respect for the seediness of the latter.
On a tour of the property, the clerk spoke highly of the lounge’s history, and the stripper profession in general, and even proudly pointed to a collection of Danielle Steel novels in the library that had been donated by the dancers. The connection between a sleek, fancy new hotel above and the tattered strip club below is both surprising and admirable, and kudos to the new owners of the hotel for embracing the building’s history without trying to erase or distance themselves; it makes the hotel feel even more local, and it’s a kinship that links the two businesses even if they’re totally separate operations.
Within the hotel itself, Tiny Lou’s French restaurant in the basement is packed with decadent menu items and old standards — I went for steak and frites ($29), natch — and the rooftop boasts views of downtown and icy, sweet cocktails mixed just right. In another connection, the restaurant is named for one of the club’s first dancers, a subtle, respectful nod to the club below. Oliver Hospitality’s six year, multi-million dollar renovation shines in amenities like the rooftop and restaurant, but also in the renovation of the rooms themselves. I slept in one that fit a king sized bed, a desk, and a full wardrobe, and the bathroom was freshly tiled in white and included a shower so big I jokingly referred to it as a “Brooklyn apartment.” In-house soap and shampoo were on hand and adorable, even if I’m married to my Davines Minu conditioner at this point.
When the week was up, I realized I’d miss the marble detailing and ‘70s velvet, I’d miss the complimentary PBR offered up in the lobby for waiting guests, and the free coffee vouchers for the cafe there, too. I’d miss heading down to The Clermont Lounge early before the cover charge began, and stumbling in late when the night probably should’ve been over, to throw singles at the dancers who looked like real women and not hyper-fitness versions of one. I’d miss the views from the roof and the formal service at the fancy restaurant downstairs. Like always, when I left, I’d miss Atlanta, this time, even more because of how immersed in the city’s history this hotel is. Hotel Clermont is the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re at home even when you’re away, and if I wasn’t a frequent visitor of Atlanta already, this is the kind of place that makes you want to come back. Georgia, I’ll see you soon.