When it made its debut in 1967, the Polaris lounge’s futuristic flying-saucer shape and prominence atop what was the city’s tallest hotel made it instantly recognizable in postcards. Its blue bubble-shaped top lit up the night sky, and it drew visitors from miles around.
“It was really a symbol of Atlanta for the whole country, and we want that to be the case again,” said Walter Woods, marketing manager at Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
The Polaris has been vacant since 2004. Now, the hotel is refurbishing the structure and adding a bar that rotates for a panoramic view. The plan is to reopen the Polaris sometime in March, said Peter McMahon, general manager of the hotel.
“It was the place of special occasions,” McMahon said, adding that he often hears from people who remember riding the Hyatt’s glass elevators to reach the Polaris, perched on top of the hotel’s main building.
Rock star Jim Morrison described the “strange sensation” of riding the elevators to the Polaris during a 1970 interview, before he died the following year.
“The elevators are, like, kind of Victorian rocket ships,” Morrison — in Atlanta at the time for a film festival with The Doors’ documentary “Feast of Friends” — said in an audiotaped interview.
The elevators to Polaris are a key part of the overall experience, the designers renovating the space said.
“It’s a transporter room. You get in there and you leave the building and you arrive in this spaceship,” Brian Finkel of the architectural and design firm the Johnson Studio said in a hotel video update on the renovation.
Finkel’s colleague, Bill Johnson, said aspects of the Polaris’ history will be apparent when it reopens.
“We weren’t trying to make a museum, but at the same time we were trying to preserve some of the retro parts that really are still cool today,” Johnson said in the video.
The 22-story Hyatt Regency was Atlanta’s first major hotel built downtown since the 1920s, according to the exhibition “Rendering Atlanta” at the city’s History Center. It was Atlanta architect John Portman’s first significant hotel project featuring the open-atrium design he came to be known for, the exhibit notes. That expansive atrium was the first of its kind worldwide, Woods said.
The Atlanta History Center also has in its collection fragments of the original blue plastic material used when the dome opened in 1967, said Donald Rooney, director of exhibitions at the Atlanta History Center. In 2012, the material was replaced with glass, still with the deep blue color.
Longtime Hyatt Regency employee David Faulkner recalls seating guests in the Polaris during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Faulkner, who now plans meetings and conventions, remembers how women would sometimes leave their purses on the ledge next to their table — but the structure rotated, and purses would slowly disappear, leading to a bit of panic.
Over the years, taller buildings were constructed nearby, but the space still offers dramatic views of metro Atlanta and the mountains in the distance.
Inside, a full kitchen is planned for the renovated lounge. Drinks will include cocktails popular when the Polaris opened, McMahon said. Among them: A peach daiquiri, once the Polaris’ most popular.
The Polaris work comes after a $65 million renovation of the overall hotel began in 2011, McMahon said.
It’s also taking place as tourist attractions such as the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame are under construction in downtown Atlanta.
“It’s really tying into the resurgence of what’s going on downtown,” McMahon said.