November 22, 2010
Think Orlando, and you’d be forgiven if its vibrant bar scene, highly acclaimed restaurants and thriving nightlife were not the first things to come to mind. Yet this central Florida city – better known as the ultimate family destination and home of a very famous mouse – has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years.
Continual rejuvenation of this one-time farming town’s urban heart has led to an alluring mix of nighttime venues, from hip cocktail lounges and stylish wine bars to unpretentious taverns and grungy dive-bars. Outside of Miami, the city’s historic downtown and neighbouring districts can now justifiably lay claim to the best after-dark scene in all of Florida.
Wherever you are in downtown, you won’t need to look far for a thirst-quencher. We’ve plumped for some of the most popular places to enjoy a sophisticated cocktail, great bottle of wine or simply a cold refreshing beer – so check out our selection below and imbibe at your leisure…
Much of the action here centres around Orange Avenue and Church Street. The CBD has the largest concentration of bars in all of the downtown area, and everything’s within walking distance too so here’s a few suggestions to start you off:
Located inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel, this elegant bar is named after the grand piano given pride of place in the seating area adjoining the bar. It’s renowned for its martinis, relaxed black and red interior, contemporary art and live jazz sets.
Blink and you’ll miss it – this well-kept secret sits at the end of a little alley behind the Antigua nightclub. A favourite hotspot for locals, the sleek all-white bar is a new addition to the Orlando nightlife scene, with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system.
A cosy cocktail lounge with a subtly tropical interior, the Monkey Bar specialises in martinis made using a muddle rather than the traditional shaking or stirring method. Enjoy them on the outside terrace and gaze at the streetlife below.
The burgeoning district of South Eola connects downtown Orlando’s historic core to the trendy neighbourhood of Thornton Park. Many of its up-and-coming bars and restaurants border beautiful Lake Eola Park and its nightly-illuminated fountain.
Intimate and contemporary with over 70 wines available by the glass, this is the perfect place to sit back and sip with friends. Grab a table outside for a great view of Lake Eola.
With a 50-ft bar, oversized sofas, plenty of red velvet and even a ‘zebra room’, this Las Vegas-inspired lounge has a retro, underground feel. Order a caipirinha and try your luck at the billiards table.
Just to the east of South Eola, buzzy Thornton Park’s brick-lined streets have been described as Orlando’s “most stylish district” by the Washington Post, and this artist- and gay-friendly neighbourhood is teeming with high quality dining options, independent stores and boutiques.
Dexter’s is a hip restaurant and wine bar, adorned with cutting-edge works by local artists. There’s a speciality drinks menu too, so chill out on the patio with a White Cranberry Cosmo or cinnamon-topped Double Espresso Martini.
As laid-back as it gets, this divey but well-loved neighbourhood bar is the perfect spot for a cold bottle of beer in a friendly setting. Find your favourite tune on the jukebox and challenge the locals to a game of pool.
The recipient of a staggering amount of best-restaurant awards, swanky eatery Hue’s atmospheric outdoor terrace is the place to go for a super-swish post-dinner cocktail.
Got any other suggestions to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Thanks to Nan Palermo for the great shot of downtown Orlando above.
If we’ve whetted your appetite for a trip Stateside, Virgin Atlantic flies twice-daily from London Gatwick to Orlando, and daily from London Heathrow to Miami, and don’t forget to explore the extensive range of hotels, villas and fly-drive options available across the whole of Florida with Virgin Holidays.