Go back 25 years and this was often the heart of tourist Party Central, with Church Street Station providing an absolute guaranteed array of opportunities to eat, drink and be entertained. Sadly, the ‘Station’ closed down almost 15 years ago, but the area it occupies has made a fighting comeback in recent times and Church Street and its surrounds can once again claim to offer a great night out, especially for couples and those of a more grown-up disposition.
First off, for dining there is now a massive range of choice, while there is an equally impressive collection of bars and pubs. And, while Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium may be a thing of the past, visitors and locals alike now flock to the likes of Hamburger Mary’s (not quite the restaurant it sounds!), Ceviche (with its flamenco dancers), the Mad Cow Theatre and Sak’s Comedy Lab, all of which are within a short walking distance.
Simon in particular is a big fan of a night out on Church Street, so let him walk you through the options for a grown-up evening, Downtown style…
OK, listen up, folks, this here’s the wildest ride in the wilder….er, oops, I mean this is where the fun starts when you want to experience something of the real heart of Orlando, where the locals head most nights, and especially on Fridays or Saturdays.
The actual building of Church Street Station still remains but is now a collection of individual restaurants and bars. So instead of Rosie O’Grady’s there is now Harry Buffalo, a lively sports bar and diner that is also downtown’s home for Orlando City Soccer Club. It serves a mean Bison Burger, as well as daily specials and Happy Hour from 4-7pm Monday to Friday.
Next door (where Apple Annie’s Courtyard and Lili Marlene’s used to be), Ceviche features some excellent Spanish-style tapas and other small-plate fare, as well as two atmospheric bars, live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Son Flamenco dance displays every Friday and Saturday (9.30pm-1am). The food here is some of the best in town, and you can definitely make a night of this with pre-dinner drinks, a meal and the flamenco show.
Across the road (under the iconic steel bridge linking the two sides of the street), The Church Street Tavern is another excellent sports bar run by Pittsburgh Steelers fans – with Poker Night each Wednesday – while Chicago’s Stuffed Pizza, with traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza, can be found through the doors and at the back of the arcade (next to the former live music joint of The Orchid Garden).
The highlight here, though, especially for those who enjoy their entertainment on the bawdy side, is unique Hamburger Mary’s. A bar and grille during the day (with great burgers and cocktails), their evening entertainment is well worth taking note of – and making a reservation for if you enjoy the risqué cabaret style of drag shows, with their own ribald humour (definitely not for kids!).
The Twisted Sisters Bingo show runs each Tuesday (6.30-9.30pm), followed by Trivia with Doug Ba’a on Wednesdays (7-9.30pm), the outrageous Facebook Friday Show, where the audience sets the agenda (8-9.30pm), Leigh Shannon’s Cabaret each Saturday (7.30-10.30pm), with all manner of comedy and celebrity look-alikes, and then the Broadway Brunch on Sundays, featuring the Ginger Minx and friends (11am-12.30pm).
For more mainstream offerings, the Mad Cow Theatre is one of Orlando’s most respected theatrical companies, staging big-name performances of both well-known musicals and dramas year-round. Their small-scale, intimate style is ideal for engaging the audience and appreciating the acting artistry, while there is also an excellent annual Cabaret Festival each April and May.
In a similar entertainment vein, Sak Comedy Lab (on nearby Orange Avenue) is a must-try for fans of the TV show Who’s Line Is It Anyway, with a great array of improv comedy each Tuesday to Saturday (with multiple shows Fri and Sat). They have been entertaining locals and tourists alike since 1991 and remain one of Orlando’s secret gems.
When it comes to dining choice, the Church Street area has more to offer, too. Kres Chophouse is a wonderful supper-club style restaurant, serving a delicious array of steaks and seafood with a Mediterranean accent and an upscale vibe that is ideal for that special occasion. Just stopping in for a drink is highly advisable, while their array of desserts is truly decadent.
And then there’s the award-winning The Rusty Spoon, with its fabulous gastro-pub style, based on locally-sourced, organic produce and a contemporary vibe that sits well in the heart of increasingly sophisticated Downtown.
Want music with your dinner? Then definitely check out Schumann’s Jager Haus, a German beer-garden-style restaurant and bar with an authentic Bavarian touch to its décor and menu (try the Sampler Platter for some great tastes!). There are daily specials and a great choice of German beers, plus typical live music most Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
There is also an excellent quick-dining choice in Church Street if you just want to grab a snack or meal as you bar-hop. Take your pick from the likes of Graffiti Junktion (great for burgers, salads and sandwiches) Jersey Mike’s (excellent subs), Flame Broiler (a health-conscious approach to fast-food with chicken, beef and rice) and Amura for Japanese cuisine.
Did I mention bars? Well, this is definitely the place for a fun grown-up night out, with an amazing range of drinking choice. As well as the likes of Ceviche, Kres, Church Street Tavern, Harry Buffalo and Schumann’s, you can take your pick from the lively trio of Big Belly (a fab brew-pub), Latitudes (the rooftop Tiki bar) and the cocktail-orientated Chillers at ground level.
Then there’s The Dubliner Irish Social House and the more clubby style of Native Social Lounge, One80 Lounge and 23 Lounge, while there is even more as you head out from Church Street to Orange Avenue, including the non-stop party zone of Wall Street Plaza, where no fewer than seven different venues feature drinks, music and special events, and the modern beerhouse vibe of Frank & Steins (at the junction with Church Street on Magnolia Avenue).
Finally, for an evening with a difference, head to the gorgeous Grand Bohemian Hotel, where the Bosendorfer Lounge is a haven of contemporary chic and there is live jazz and classic soul to go with their signature cocktails every Friday and Saturday nights.
All in all, it is a fabulous array of adult nightlife choice, and it highlights – yet again – just how much Orlando has to offer. We’ll see you there…!