The Atlanta restaurant community sparkles with incredible options, many of them exploding onto the scene just in the last few years. One of the most lauded, Southern Art & Bourbon Bar, gleams from inside the Intercontinental Hotel, turning any dining occasion into a celebratory event.

Chef Art Smith turns Southern-style comfort food into gourmet cuisine. (Image: Southern Art)

Art Smith, well known for his other successful restaurants in Chicago, DC, and California, burst onto the culinary radar in 1997 as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef. His knack for elevating Southern-style comfort food into gourmet dishes with a healthier spin, brings hungry fans clamoring for a seat at any one of his tables. The Southern Art and Bourbon Bar venerates the fine art of cuisine as one of the South’s most treasured aesthetics.

No question, this is a full-on sensory experience.

Whiskey, Swine, and Sweets

Start with a drink at Bourbon Bar featuring more than 70 select bourbon offerings from American distillers, focusing on small-batch producers served exclusively here. The bar also revives pre-Prohibition era cocktails for a cheeky nod to that glamorous age.

Bourbon reigns supreme at the bar, accompanied by a sophisticated crew of specialty cocktails. (Image: Southern Art)

Wander over to the artisan ham bar to select a custom charcuterie, perhaps to accompany cocktails or for the whole table. Honoring the tradition of Southern smokehouses and regional county hams, Southern Art manages to display swinging hams in a manner that’s both intriguing and, well, artful. Selected hams rotate and chalkboards describe the origins of those presented for a full education on this hearty staple.

The artisan ham bar features the pride of smokehouses around the South. (Image: Southern Art)

Order a custom charcuterie from selections at the ham bar. (Image: Southern Art)

Turn from ham heaven to find a vintage pie table laden with decadent desserts teasing the possibilities for dinner’s close. It may not be realistic to actually “share” any of these creations, not with caramel chocolate pretzel pie, 12-layer red velvet cake, banana pudding pie, and coconut cake parading about. Best to plan for everyone to order something different and pass around with coffee … or more bourbon, instead.

All spread out like blue-ribbon winners at the county fair. These desserts are worth saving a little bit of room after your meal. (Image: Southern Art)

Main Attraction

Once seated in the main dining room, lean back in your chair to look upward for a dazzling kaleidoscope of paintings suspended in a floating collage, interspersed among colorful chandeliers. The gorgeous imagery in that artwork reflects down onto the plates of traditional classics prepared with a modern approach. The master, Chef Smith, dips into his own family traditions to swirl a palette of unforgettable farm-to-table dishes. Try starters of Addie Mae’s chicken and dumpling soup or a salad of hydroponic greens with sorghum dressing, a Southern flatbread with BBQ pork and fried green tomato or chicken and tasso roll. Move on to entrees such as wild-caught Georgia shrimp and grits, buttermilk fried chicken, bourbon-glazed pork, cornmeal-dusted catfish. Sample side items that hold top billing for flavor — Brussels sprouts with house-cured bacon, baby beets and apples, braised collards, or hominy field pea succotash. Ebullient servers delight in the opportunity to further discuss menu items, guiding the perfectly-balanced order.

Paintings suspend from the ceiling and chandeliers enhance the colors, creating a collage above the dining room. (Image: Southern Art)

Warm up with a bowl of Addie Mae’s Chicken & Dumpling Soup, a much-loved recipe from Art Smith’s mother. (Image: Southern Art)

Side items await their turn at the table. (Image: Southern Art)

Can’t ever go wrong with Art’s gorgeous shrimp & grits. (Image: Southern Art)

After a few luscious dinners, we recently tried the Southern Art Jazz Brunch for an absolutely decadent weekend indulgence. Glory, glory, hallelujah, what a treat! Talented musicians accompany the brunch menu combining favorites from the dinner menu with omelets, eggs benedict, and chicken and waffles. The party really swings with the rolling Bloody Mary cart, parking at each table to stir up whatever personal blend is desired. (I wonder how many impromptu check-ins the Intercontinental accommodates after this brunch, with diners in need of an immediate, post-gluttony nap.)

The Southern Art Jazz Brunch spices things up with a rolling Bloody Mary cart, mixing up cocktails right at the table.

Whether dinner, drinks, brunch or even a weekday lunch, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar charms with an atmosphere of joyful hospitality and captivatingly creative cuisine.

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