A college-themed lodging in Georgia’s ultimate college town.

The 100-year-old brick from the Graduate Athens' origins as a metal foundry are still evident in the lobby and other public areas.

The 100-year-old brick from the Graduate Athens’ origins as a metal foundry are still evident in the lobby and other public areas.

Despite its vast charms, and the fact it’s only about an hour east of Atlanta, I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Athens until recently. So when I had my 9-year-old nephew for the weekend a few months back, I decided we should check it out. We explored the lush grounds of the State Botanical Garden, admired the masterpieces at the Georgia Museum of Art, ogled the animals at the Bear Hollow Zoo and got $1 scoops of ice cream at the soda fountain inside Hodgson’s Pharmacy. But, strangely enough, some of the best times we had were at our hotel.

The rooms at the Graduate Athens are anything but cookie cutter.

The rooms at the Graduate Athens are anything but cookie cutter.

The Graduate Athens has a fun and funky vibe that someone both his age and mine can appreciate. It’s part of the budding Graduate Hotels group that boasts properties in some of the most prominent university towns in the country, including Ann Arbor, Michigan; Berkeley, California; Oxford, Mississippi; and Madison, Wisconsin. From the Graduate name right down to the decor of the rooms, its hotels ooze school spirit.

Obviously, my nephew is a long ways off from deciding on his alma mater, but the whole collegiate theme still tickled him. He pretended to try and work the Good Will Huntingesque math problem scribbled on a chalkboard on the back wall of our room, stared at the rows of tiny student caricatures on the wallpaper in the bathroom, insisted on posing for a handful of pics with the lamp shaped like a Georgia bulldog and got the biggest kick out of the fact that the room key was designed to look like a student ID bearing a photo of a fictitious undergrad named Ernie Johnson Jr., whose name he still remembers to this day. (Sometimes out of the blue he’ll yell at me in a slow, lilting voice, “Ernie. Johnson. Juuunnniorrr!”)

Vintage touches throughout the hotel add a sense of nostalgia and fun.

Vintage touches throughout the hotel add a sense of nostalgia and fun.

Our first night at the hotel, we had dinner and caught a performance by a folk group from Virginia called The Steel Wheels at The Foundry, the on-site restaurant and music venue. The space used to be a metal forge, where the University of Georgia’s famed arch and double-barreled cannon were constructed more than 100 years ago, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The following morning, we were going to grab some breakfast treats and OJ at the kitschy Iron Works coffee shop next to the lobby, but opted instead to stroll downtown for omelets and pancakes at the Mayflower Restaurant, a Broad Street mainstay for more than 60 years. Before we left, though, my nephew couldn’t resist playing around on the old-fashioned typewriter next to the reception desk. That afternoon, we eked out the final days of summer by splashing around in the hotel pool. We didn’t get around to taking a spin on the free bikes for loan, and never made it to the spa, although I’m not gonna lie and say that after hanging out with an energetic preteen for two days straight, a nice, quiet massage didn’t sound pretty sweet.

I already have plans for a return visit to Athens, to take both my nephews—and fellow sports fans—to a UGA football game when the new season starts up in September. And I know exactly where we’ll be staying, as we can walk to the stadium right from the hotel. Go Dawgs!

GRADUATE ATHENS
graduatehotels.com/athens

STORY: Jill Becker