Live Active Cultures

Just last week I was carping about the creep of early holiday celebrations. This week, I've made another exception to my anti-Xmas-overload stance for a seasonal event I've come to look forward to: Jingle Eve on Ivanhoe Row, held last Friday (Nov. 20). This is the North Orange Avenue neighborhood's annual gathering with merchants (between Princeton and Virginia) throwing open their doors for snack, songs and (they hope) shopping.

My jingle journey began and ended (just as it did the year before) at funky Nora's Lake Ivanhoe Wine & Cigars that shares a parking lot with the glorious greasy-spoon Brian's Restaurant. In her small shop, Nora stocks Nat Sherman cigarettes and pours chewy reds by the giant glass for cheap, so she's aces in my book; the fact that she's always got an adorable dog or two around doesn't hurt either. On Friday, the blacktop in front of her tiny temple was blanketed by a dozen or so lawn chairs, where lounging smokers listened to a MacBook-packing DJ spin non-seasonal techno tunes from atop a glowing blue table.

The heart of the evening's action began around the 1618 vintage furniture store, whose snazzy showroom could be mistaken for a Mad Men set. They offered a spread of food and a circular bar (topped with a lava lamp, natch), but the real attraction was the energetic salesman evangelizing for Northstar Appliances faux-vintage refrigerators and ranges. (Now I need a microwave that looks just like the one grandma never had.) Neighboring A&T Antiques had an enormous seven-piece band on its front step, kicking out classic rock covers (with plenty of cowbell, of course). And a solid showing was also made by Living Morocco Home Décor importants, which earned a mention for serving not only a trio of belly dancers, but also the best homemade hummus I had in months.

The biggest hotspot was at Washburn Imports, which rolled out a generous gratis full bar and had the RedCoats running through more-than-serviceable R&B standards in the back room. I'd never before explored the building, which is bigger inside than it appears from the street. You'll get your chance to see for yourself in January when the Bamboo Room Wine Bar and Beer Garden opens inside this location. It's billed as "the Hottest Spot for the Coolest Crowd"; that's an annoyingly bold claim, but based on the space's potential could possibly come true.

The activity extended to the upper end of the avenue as well, beginning with the beer garden (featuring yet another live musical act) adjoining White Wolf Café. It looked fun, but it was the first and only place all evening where I was told to move along if I wasn't buying a drink from them. I got a much warmer reception at Oldies But Goodies, my northernmost stop of the night. Shopkeeper Barbara Solomon, the self-styled "Mayor of Orange Avenue" and entertainment organizer for the event, had the Holly Sisters singing a swinging a capella "Jingle Bells" in front of her door, and my favorite red-and-green peanut M&M's on the counter. If you desire vintage Christmas tchotchkes with a healthy side of Jewish mothering (or need furniture for a community theater) give Barb a call.

It was apparent that though most on the north entered into the spirit of the affair, not all the southern merchants had gotten the memo about sprucing up and staying open. While the employees behind the counter at Gelato & Such eagerly beckoned at us to enter, Ski World of Orlando was shuttered with unsightly cardboard boxes strewn on their sidewalk.

The problem stems from poor street design: When walking north, you are forced to make a suicide sprint across Orange Avenue at the Greek Corner restaurant for want of a nearby sidewalk or stoplight. The east side of Orange in this area becomes a no-mans-land of elevated train tracks sans solid walkways, and without the temporarily erected light poles there are large pools of pedestrian-unfriendly pitch blackness. It's almost like the city doesn't want you to securely walk from one end of the neighborhood to another.

Jingle Eve and like happenings are part of efforts to secure development dollars, like the Mayor's Neighborhood Matching Grants, for unifying signage to hang along the block. Banners are beautiful and all, but if they want unity they really need to install some permanent solar-powered streetlights and a crosswalk. Either that or abandon the idea of synergizing pedestrian events with the southern end of the block, before someone gets run over.

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