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When I’m out at a restaurant or shop in Atlanta, I’ll often see a sign hanging in the window, boasting that the place has been named “Best of Atlanta” by one of the countless (it seems) websites or publications that claim to be the arbiters of taste in the city. The skeptical consumer in me always takes a closer look. How do they compile their list, I wonder? Is it objectively and independently determined by experts? Who are their experts, anyway?
We live in a time when not only is everyone a critic, but every opinion seems to get equal airtime. Just look at Yelp. Or at Twitter. The Internet might have allowed a thousand flowers to bloom, but the smell has become overpowering. How do you know whom to trust? How can you tell who is writing from experience and expertise, and who is writing because they’re trying simply to drum up advertising or get a free meal?
This issue you’re holding (or reading online) represents, by my count, the thirty-second year we’ve been compiling a “Best” list. The other day, I pulled out the 1980 edition to examine my predecessors’ approach from a generation ago. Heavy on snark, the collection included not just the best of everything, but the worst as well. For example, best owner was given to Ted Turner as owner of the Hawks. Worst owner went to . . . Ted Turner, this time as owner of the Braves. (If only he would buy them again.) Mary Mac’s Tea Room won best meal under $5. Not surprisingly, best neighborhood bar went to Manuel’s. Worst? A place on Collier Road called Honey for the Bears. I can only imagine the crowd that place drew.
Three decades ago, the concept of doing a “Best” list was pretty novel. This might explain the slapdash nature of our inaugural list, which feels like it came together over many pitchers of beer (at Manuel’s, no doubt). Today, planning for our annual Best of Atlanta issue starts six months out, as our team of editors, reporters, and contributing writers fans out across the city to determine the best. We go anonymously and we pay our own way. (I know, as I have to approve the expense reports from all these spas and restaurants.) It’s an expensive and time-consuming process, but the end result is as objective and comprehensive a listing as you’ll find. Which means when you see a bunch of “Best of Atlanta” signs in a restaurant’s window, there’s really only one you need to look for.