published Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

LaFayette, Ga., area reinvigorated

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    The marquee on the Mars Theater advertises a tree lighting ceremony to be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday for the 25-foot-tall Christmas tree atop the old building in LaFayette, Ga.
    Photo by Tim Omarzu.
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LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- When Jared Thompson learned he was going to have to wear a kilt for his new bartender job, he not only took it in stride -- Thompson offered to bring his bagpipes to work.

That surprised Michael Lovelady, the restaurateur who opened the Chattanooga Street Tavern on Nov. 9 in what Lovelady dubbed the Mars Theater District -- a strip of commercial buildings on Chattanooga and Villanow streets.

"He didn't think I was serious," said Thompson, who explained his bagpipe playing "was just a coincidence."

The bartender, who plays the pipes when he's not too busy, is one of 10 kilt-wearing employees at the British-style pub.

It's the anchor business in the once-blighted commercial strip that's having new life breathed into it.

The theater, which burned in 2011, will be home to the local art guild.

Heirloom, a boutique vintage furniture store that rents antiques for special occasions, is due to open Saturday next door to the Chattanooga Street Tavern.

Then on Saturday, people will gather to sing Christmas songs at 5 p.m., Santa and Mrs. Claus will appear at 6 p.m., and the 25-foot-tall live Christmas tree that recently was placed atop the theater will be lit.

"That was a feat," Lovelady said of raising the tree. After the city hoisted the tree on the roof, "it took eight men to get it erected," he said.

Lovelady still is looking for tenants to fill three storefronts and an old gas station building next to the pub.

He first made his mark in historic preservation in LaFayette by renovating an old hardware store on the square into One Eleven, an upscale restaurant that opened in January.

Lovelady's executive chef, Nick Theirs, runs both kitchens.

The biggest hits at the pub are raw oysters and fish and chips, Lovelady said.

"I can't believe how many oysters go through this place," he said.

Detroit native Frank Ciavone moved to LaFayette six years ago for an auto industry job, and on Tuesday night was enjoying a beer at the bar.

"I'm used to it not being a drinking area," he said, referring to Walker County's lack of bars. "From that perspective ... it's nice."

Rex and Iris Knight, a couple who've been married 25 years and live nearby, had dinner in a booth.

"This area of town's needed this," Rex Knight said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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