Legendary Atlanta restaurateur Dante Stephensen has died. Stephensen, 84 , was best known as the creator of eclectic nightspot Dante’s Down the Hatch. He passed away July 25 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Stephensen opened Dante’s Down the Hatch in 1970 in Underground Atlanta when that downtown strip was in its heyday. The restaurant was fashioned after an 18th Century sailing ship surrounded by a moat filled with live crocodiles. Inside, décor ranged from church pews and vintage clocks to wax figures and antique cars, collections from his travels around the world. Dante’s also offered some of the best live jazz in the region as well as fondue, which Stephensen became acquainted with while skiing the Alps and wanted to introduce to Atlantans. The quirky combination made it a celebrity hangout and a special occasion destination.
If Underground Atlanta was the draw for downtown nightlife, “Dante’s was its centerpiece,” wrote former AJC editor Bert Roughton in a 2013 story about Stephensen’s 43-year run as a restaurateur in Atlanta. “Longtime Atlantans carry memories of proposals and prom nights at Dante’s set to a Paul Mitchell Trio soundtrack.”
After business declined in 1981, Stephensen moved the restaurant to 3380 Peachtree Road in the heart of Buckhead. He opened a second branch in the renovated Underground in 1989, but it closed after a decade. Dante’s Down the Hatch shuttered for good in 2013, succumbing to a wrecking ball to make way for luxury apartment tower Cyan on Peachtree.