The recent filming of scenes for the movie musical adaption of The Color Purple (to be released Christmas Day) is a feather in the cap for Macon, Georgia. But the city, currently celebrating its bicentennial, has plenty more to crow about. As the hometown of both Little Richard and Otis Redding and the adopted home of the Allman Brothers, Macon boasts a rich music legacy, and no one is a bigger booster than Redding’s daughter, Karla Redding, especially when it comes to a downtown revitalization that balances progress with preservation. She offers some highlights here.
Macon got on top of the Airbnb game early, and has some great ones. But I always put people at the new Hotel Forty Five, which has that boutique feel and great views of downtown. Everything is within walking distance. If you prefer less hustle bustle, there’s the Woodward Hotel, which has just nine rooms, and you don’t even have to deal with a front desk to check in unless you want. The rooms are beautiful.
My number one restaurant is Dovetail. It feels Southern and also kind of New Yorkish. My favorite there is the fried chicken thighs, and the sweet potato hash is amazing. You have to get the put-ups appetizer, bread with little jars of pimento cheese, bacon marmalade, hummus, and crab salad—you can make a meal right there. And Downtown Grill is special to me because my mother worked there in the late 1950s when it was the Saratoga, cooking lobsters upstairs and sending them to the dining room in a dumb waiter. She and my dad were dating then, and he’d be in the street yelling at the window for her to toss him down two dollars.
Beyond downtown, my husband and I go to Brasserie Circa every Friday night—they have our table ready for us. It’s really quaint and has the best food. I always get the chicken picatta, and he gets whatever is the fish of the day. When my West Coast friends come to town and want soul food, I take them straight on up to H&H, which has been around since my dad’s day. The fried chicken is perfect, and it has all those good vegetables like collards and fried okra. If I didn’t already eat dessert at those places, I go to Sweet Eleanor’s for ice cream or fresh pastries made with local honey.
Dovetail and Downtown Grill both serve beautiful cocktails. Another amazing place that just opened is a cigar lounge called Churchills on Cherry. I don’t go all the time because I have asthma, but it’s perfect for cigar people. It has a long bar, dark wood, plush seating, and crystal lighting—you feel like you’ve entered another world.
Grant’s Lounge is the best place in the world. It’s been around since 1971 and calls itself a hole in the wall but has all kinds of musicians and music and dancing. It does a regular Macon Music Review where the house band performs music all by Georgia musicians. And if it’s late, like past midnight, and you’re hungry, you’ve got to get a fried pork chop sandwich. The Douglass Theatre hosts great shows and plays and has amazing acoustics. My dad got his start doing talent shows on that stage. He won fifteen times and they told him not to come back. My family’s Otis Redding Foundation now puts on the annual King of Soul Music Festival, with a big concert at the historic Macon City Auditorium and a more down-home concert at the smaller Capitol Theatre. By next fall, we’ll open the brand new Otis Redding Center for the Arts, a community center where people can come and enjoy live music in our outdoor amphitheater and watch movies projected on the side of the building, in addition to having two stories of classroom and studio space for students. In the meantime, there’s the Otis Redding Museum, where people can get a real feel for the man even beyond the music.
My mom and I had a shoe shop, Karla’s Shoe Boutique, downtown in the 1980s and 1990s. Shoes have always been our passion. Now I shop at Head Over Heels if I want good shoes. And for the cutest clothes for people of all ages, there’s Rumor. It has the best-fitting jeans you can find, which is important. And I can’t forget Sorella, another stylish boutique. I hit Rumor and Sorella all the time—both are good for casual or dress-up.
The Tubman Museum is so educational and right now has a special exhibit on the life and work of Tyler Perry. More people need to know about the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. That area in East Macon is so beautiful, with miles of trails around the mounds. Honestly, just walking around downtown Macon and up College Street to see the beautiful homes is fun. Parts of The Color Purple were filmed right in front of city hall. Everything has been well preserved here, and filmmakers are looking to come to our community when they need that historic feel.