Downtown Orlando 

Culture and cocktails – lots of cocktails

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The mythic echoes of small-town department stores and apothecaries may haunt the vaguely historic architecture of downtown’s Orange Avenue stretch, but there’s just enough of an exhaust stench and thumping urban din to kick the city’s central thoroughfare into what passes for city life by night. Sure, there are some scraps of retail existence for the daytime denizens of local government and the legal profession – in fact, you can buy a rather expensive tie at Siegel’s Clothing Co. (130 S. Orange Ave., 407-481-2155, siegelsonline.com) if you happen to dribble your midday Wall Street Cantina salsa (19 N. Orange Ave., 407-420-1515, wallstplaza.net) or Gringos Locos guacamole (20 E. Washington St., 407-841-5626, eatgringos.com) on the one you wore to work this morning – but mostly what downtown offers is arts, entertainment, food and drink.

On the cultural side, Mad Cow Theatre recently hopped into the old brick complex on Church Street (54 W. Church Street, 407-297-8788, madcowtheatre.com), where it stages some of the best professional theater to be found in town. Before you catch a show, you’ll need sustenance, though – and Kres Chophouse (17 W. Church Street, 407-447-7950, kresrestaurant.com), located in the cool old Kress department store building, is a solid traditional red-meat choice.

But if it’s a bad boy you’re after (or girl), try the balls-to-the-wall thrust of Bullitt Bar (33 E. Pine Street, 407-841-1071, facebook.com/bullittbar), a bar wrapped around the namesake ghost of Steve McQueen, but soundtracked by stripper metal. Contemplate the custom-glass bar riddled with bullet holes as you sip your Bushmills and fancy yourself a badass.

The new trend in downtown Orlando these days seems to be that of “mixology” hangouts with retro flair. The Speakeasy at Hanson’s Shoe Repair (3 E. Pine Street, 407-476-9446), re-creates the Depression-era secret-stiff-cocktail culture (no cellphones allegedly allowed in here) and offers you a chance to enjoy a (sorta pricey) Negroni or French 75 out on a lovely balcony. You’ll have to call in advance, though, as you need a password for entry. A similar aesthetic – designed by the same people – is definitely worth taking in over at the Courtesy (114 N. Orange Ave., 407-450-2041, thecourtesybar.com), another craft-cocktail hotspot without the exclusivity. The drinks may take a while to mix – everything’s made to order, and sometimes there is the crushing of ice cubes in sacks with a mallet to contend with; also, interesting spices and garnishes – but the experience is worth the time.

For less heady bar fare, check out Elixir Bar Room & Hash House (9 W. Washington St., 407-985-3507, elixirorlando.net) just around the corner from the Courtesy. This lovely and cavernous tap room was carved out of the stained wood of the former Scruffy Murphy’s space.

For more active amusement, the resurgence of live music stalwart the Beacham (46 N. Orange Ave., 407-246-1419, thebeacham.com) continues to bring authentic indie and local noise to the big stage (with a smaller stage right next door at the Social). But, if you’re really going to party like a local, you’ll eventually find yourself slapping the Siouxsie floor at Independent Bar (70 N. Orange Ave., 407-839-0457, independentbar.net) as you make just enough of an ass of yourself to carry some regret with your hangover smile. Some things never change. Some things never should.

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