Atlanta – also know as Hotlanta, The ATL, the Dirty South – is perhaps one of the nation’s hottest spots for nightlife, high profile restaurants and nightclubs. But, you’d be surprised at the sheer history behind some of Atlanta’s nightlife. One nightclub, located off of Atlanta’s historical Auburn Avenue, brought about some of the most notable musical names in history, such as Gladys Knight and B.B. King.
The Royal Peacock, one of the few historical establishments still opened today, was first opened as a jazz club in 1938 as The Top Hat (“The Royal Peacock Atlanta). Now, a reggae/dancehall club, started 74 years ago as a Black owned, African American establishment that offered live music and dancing.
The Top Hat, also known as “Club Beautiful,” opened in 1938 with two storefronts and a nightclub. It was the first club to feature several major artists including B.B. King, the Four Tops, The Tams, and the Atlanta born Gladys Knight. It also hosted several top billed performers such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie. Advertising itself as “The Top Hat, Bringing Harlem to Atlanta Thursday and Friday nights,” it soon became the place to frequent if you were a successful African American in Atlanta (Prints collection). And, had it not been for The Top Hat, several musical acts that affected millions across the nation and even the world might never have been discovered.
In 1949, The Top Hat re-opened as The Royal Peacock by new owner Carrie B. Cunningham. At the time, Egyptian décor was extremely popular, which provided the inspiration behind the club’s new look. Peacock feathers lined the side of the building and could be seen from the street and the new club even catered to White’s on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s. Dressed in tuxedos, flowing gowns and fancy heels, successful, people would strut their stuff to the sounds of blues, R&B and rock (“Sweet Auburn Avenue”).
But, of course you’re wondering what kind of club experience you’d have at The Royal Peacock today! Currently, the website is down, which I’ll admit is disappointing. But, after perusing several review sites, I first chose to haunt the club on a Friday night, which is known as “Fever Fridays.” The club is predominantly devoted to reggae and dancehall music, so be prepared to dance! But, if you prefer other genres as well, such as hip-hop or top-40’s hits, I would suggest visiting the club on a Saturday night.
Don’t let the exterior, an unassuming red-bricked building that only offers street parking, fool you – just wait until you get inside. The club kept its vintage Broadway-style sign, which, on this night, featured the word “Peacock” in ornate, red letters followed by the word’s “Tonite crazy reggae vibes,” in bold black lettering on a white background.
Refurnished in August 2010, the club still holds elements of the original Top Hat,
with its large rickety staircase, which opens onto a gorgeous, large dance floor. The red and black dance floor is adorned with columns and VIP tables line the walls, which makes for an extremely appeasing look. You’ll be able to feel the history in the room and easily imagine the DJ booth having once been a small stage, just big enough to fit a full band.
The DJ was amazingly lively, very good at engaging the crowd, and played a great selection of reggae, dancehall, and African music. With every visit, I could literally feel the bass vibrating my body and have had no issues dancing all night, as the club doesn’t close until 4 a.m. And although no one was tuxedo clad, both the clientele and the staff looked impressive.
However, each time I visited, I looked around and couldn’t help see the contrast of today’s clientele to the original clientele– women in tightly fitting dresses and sky high glittering heels, men in slightly sagging pants and fitted button up – and it interested me, the change in this generation from the last . I couldn’t help but wonder that if those walls could talk, what would they have to say. So I asked a resource at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, Librarian Okezie Amalaha, what she thought about the contrast. She had an interesting response, saying “honey, if those walls would probably shutter to see today’s generation’s idea of a good time. But, it’s important that an establishment like The Royal Peacock is still around because it speaks to the fact that no matter how current the times are, there’s still a respect for history and where we’ve come from.”
With all of its history, The Royal Peacock offers more than a typical club experience. So, if you’re looking for more on your next nighttime outing, don’t be afraid to try The Royal Peacock.
Alvin, Andrew. Personal Interview. July 20 2012.
Amalaha, Okezie. Personal Interview. Jul 10 2012.
Ambrose, Andy and Darlene R. Roth. Metropolitan Frontiers – A Short History of Atlanta. Marietta GA: Longstreet Press Inc., 1996.
Dennis, Denise. Black History for Beginners. NY: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1984.
Harroway, Jim. Personal Interview. 13 Jun 2012.
Item, William L. Calloway papers, Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
Marszalek, John F. A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina’s George Washington Murray. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006.
Prints collection. Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
“Sweet Auburn Avenue: Triumph of the Spirit.” Sweet Auburn. Georgia Technology of School of Information Design and Technology , n.d. Web. 14 Jun 2012. <http://sweetauburn.us/intro.htm>.
“The Royal Peacock Atlanta.” Beforelastcall.com. Before Last Call, n.d. Web. 14 Jun 2012. <http://atlanta.beforelastcall.com/nightclubs-atlanta-1059-the_royal_peacock.html>.
Watts, Franklin. No Easy Victories: Black Americans and the Vote. New York, 1996.