MOVING MOUNTAINS

Clayton is the gateway to popular spots like Lake Burton.

Clayton has the best of both old-school appeal and new-school allure.

Clayton is the gateway to popular spots like Lake Burton.
Clayton is the gateway to popular spots like Lake Burton. Photo: Explore Georgia
Downtown Clayton is enjoying a revitalization.
Downtown Clayton is enjoying a revitalization.

Often seen as the gateway to popular lake destinations Lake Rabun and Lake Burton because of its location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Clayton stands on its own as a destination. I found this out on a recent overnight trip to the mountain town. Incorporated about 100 years ago, it’s a tiny town of only a few thousand people, but it holds a lot of appeal.

A cozy, artfilled room at the Bridge Creek Inn. photo: M Harris
A cozy, artfilled room at the Bridge Creek Inn. photo: M Harris

I checked into the Bridge Creek Inn, new this year and now anchoring one end of Clayton’s growing downtown. It’s owned by Ridgeline Investment Partners, an Atlanta- based development group. The 45-room boutique hotel is managed by Indigo Road Hospitality Group, the Charleston-based firm responsible for Atlanta restaurants Indaco and O-Ku and hotels including Skyline Lodge in Highlands, North Carolina, and The George in Georgetown, South Carolina.

The charming lodging offers more than I expected from a small mountain town hotel: good design, modern amenities (including a perfectly made cappuccino) and most important, access to a thriving downtown. This summer, the property’s restaurant will debut. The Vandiver will focus on new American cuisine with locally sourced ingredients.

The city’s short Main Street contains prime examples of the town’s juxtaposition: Clayton Cafe, where I had a satisfying fried chicken platter; Butler Galleries, crammed with 15 antique dealers; and Reeves Hardware, a quintessential hardware-cum-general store, are sandwiched between newer businesses such as Rabun Social, a newly opened Asian-inspired restaurant, and Treehouse, an upscale fashion and home decor boutique. I enjoyed myself as I windowshopped for paper goods, Oushak rugs and pretty floral dresses.

Oldknow Beverage Company specializes in locally distilled spirits and craft cocktails.
Oldknow Beverage Company specializes in locally distilled spirits and craft cocktails.

A creative class has settled in Clayton, helming establishments you might think are only available in more cosmopolitan locales. For example, Ghost Apothecary provides the town with tarot cards, tea leaf readings and a well-stocked bookstore. Cage-free Boutique sells bohemian-chic apparel. Oldknow Beverage Company, a newly opened distillery and cocktail lounge owned and run by two former Atlantans, sits at the other end of Main Street. The space has become a gathering spot for those who love the lounge’s inventive cocktails and sophisticated environs. Drinks, which heavily feature house-made tinctures in unique flavors such as calendula, cinchona bark and ambrette, are made with local mountain water. The Holy Smokes mocktail I sipped, made with iribancha smoked green tea, lime, orange, tamarind and jalapeño, was in perfect balance.

The evolution of Clayton proves it’s finally time to make the town the destination, not the afternoon pit stop.

BRIDGE CREEK INN
706.960.4300
bridgecreekclayton.com
@bridgecreekinn

EASY EXCURSIONS

Clayton is the perfect jumping-off point to explore the surrounding North Georgia mountains by day. Popular hiking spots include the Warwoman Dell and Bull Sluice trails, both of which have stunning waterfalls and vistas. Tallulah Gorge, 15 minutes from downtown Clayton, is a challenging 2-mile hike that features an 80-foot suspension bridge. Advanced cyclists can tackle a 10-mile challenging biking trail. Black Rock Mountain State Park has more family-friendly terrain and a short hike around its small but popular lake.

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