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Cafe Intermezzo opens at 9 a.m. but its real draw seems to be as a late-night bistro for coffee, desserts and aperitifs.
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Dunwoody: No longer just a suburb in a city full of suburbs

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"Dunwoody," the person on the phone said.

"Dunwoody?" I asked. "Dunwoody, Ga.?"

Yes, despite my bewilderment, a PR person was pushing Dunwoody as a travel destination.

See, I grew up in Doraville, Ga., which sits shoulder to shoulder with Dunwoody. This was back in the 1970s and, at that time, Dunwoody was, well, Dunwoody. It wasn't even a town, just another neighborhood in suburbs filled with just-another neighborhoods. Oh, it had Perimeter Mall, but Tucker had Northlake Mall; Southwest Atlanta had Greenbrier; Marietta had Cumberland; Buckhead had Lenox Square and the high-end Phipps Plaza (but I had no need to ever enter its Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor's). So malls weren't that big a deal.

At the time, Perimeter's main claim to fame for me was Airport, a clothing store with rubber floors that were kind of bouncy and felt weird. Sometimes we'd go to the mall just to cavort on those floors (we were easily amused).

But what the PR person was saying is true; things have changed. I guess after 33 years away from Atlanta, I should've expected some differences.

Sitting next to the interchange of Interstate 285 and Georgia 400, Dunwoody incorporated as a city in 2008 and now is a shopping/eating destination or, more accurately, a shopping-until-you-need-to-eat-then-get-back-to-shopping destination. You'll find tons of stores and restaurants in close proximity to each other in the surprisingly green city where trees are everywhere and sometimes obscure signs you may be trying to see.

According to locals, the growth in Dunwoody followed the growth of apartment complexes, which spill into nearby Sandy Springs, Roswell and Peachtree Corners. Filled with young professionals and office-working millennials, the apartments supply a constant feed to restaurants and stores in Dunwoody.

Along with day shoppers and diners, Dunwoody draws a lot of couples and girlfriends on weekend getaways, says Kim Franz, marketing director for the Dunwoody Convention and Visitors Bureau. "You can park your car at a hotel and walk," she says.

The city is also about 13 miles from all the amenities of downtown Atlanta, she adds. "Location is one of our main pushes," Franz says. "It's easy to get from Dunwoody to downtown in a snap."

"Snap" may be a matter of perspective. As anyone who's ever driven in Atlanta knows, getting anywhere is rarely a "snap," so prepare your timing accordingly if you're headed downtown. But there's a Dunwoody station for MARTA, the city's light-rail system, and it's a straight shot to downtown, so that's another, easier option.

But you can stay in Dunwoody proper and have plenty to do.

Be warned, though. Even on a Saturday in early November, well before the holiday craze-a-thon, Perimeter Mall is packed. As in packed. Did I mention it was packed? Parking spaces close to the mall are truly at a premium.

Once you get inside, though, Perimeter offers stores that aren't in Chattanooga. Not being a clothing horse (or even particularly fashionable at all), there were a lot of stores with names totally unfamiliar to me — Von Maur (upscale department store), bebe and Altar'd State (women's clothing), True Religion Jeans (uh, jeans and stuff) The Art of Shaving (apparently a 10-pack of Gillette disposables and Barbasol is a Cro-Magnon concept), Essentia (mattresses), Stuart Weitzman (shoes). On and on.

But there also are the usual suspects: Banana Republic, Anthropologie, The Limited, Macy's and the ubiquitous Starbucks for that mid-shopping kick of caffeine.

And if you aren't a mall-type person, several smaller shopping centers with many locally owned businesses dot the area around Perimeter.

Alon's Bakery and Market is one place to spend some time. Funky and hip, it's a draw for millennials, baby boomers and families. You could spend an hour or more just walking through the tightly packed aisles, looking at exotic oils, candies, breads, cheeses, pasta, desserts, jams and jellies, sampling the samples well, you get the idea. It also has a deli and kitchen for brunch and lunch.

Tucked away in the court of the same shopping center is Cafe Intermezzo, a coffee and dessert bistro with classical-looking art and sculpture. While it opens at 9 a.m. and has a lunch menu, it seems more of a late-night place with a moody, secluded atmosphere where patrons can sip espressos or aperitifs and talk — or gaze at their cellphones and not talk, in some cases.

The Cowfish — burgers and sushi and burger-sushi; yes, really — is a large, high-ceilinged, red-walled, conversation-buzzy space in the mall that is geared mainly to millennials, In comparison, D'Vine Wine Bar and Shop is very adult, a small, intimate place with dozens and dozens of wines on the menu as well as cheeses, salads and pizzas. Conversation is muted and the atmosphere is very pre- and apres-dinner. D'Vine has won several Best of and Excellence awards from such judges as Wine Spectator and Atlanta magazine.

If you're worn out from a long day of shopping, walking and eating, Woodhouse Day Spa offers massages and makeovers. My wife was a licensed massage therapist for 15 years, so she instantly knows her spas. Woodhouse is swank, she says, and has a host of finely-tuned offerings including normal massages, but also four-handed massages with two therapists at the same time, as well as treatments for the face, hands and feet. Just walking in will make your clothes smell like whatever flavor of essential oil is in the air that day. There's a Woodhouse Day Spa here in Chattanooga on Market Street

Oh and, if you can, make sure to hit the first Sunday of the month when Caffeine and Octane fill Perimeter's parking lots. The car show features hundreds of cars, everything from restored '57 Chevys and '63 Corvettes to '29 Packards to brand-new Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Blasting mufflers and revving engines are everywhere and the lots are packed with people (packed at Perimeter is a theme) and "cool cats" cruising around and around the mall.

In fact, I apparently discovered my retirement at Caffeine and Octane. This guy found a 1972 VW Microbus in a junkyard and restored it, complete with new engine and transmission, a solar panel on the roof to power the fridge and other interior accoutrements, a foldout bed, a small eating booth, shag carpet and lots of stickers from the places it had visited. My wife informed me that traveling the country in a Microbus has always been her dream and that we're going to sell all our stuff and ride into the sunset when we quit working.

Anyone know where I can buy a surfboard?

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