Best Of 2014

Thirsty Topher’s big, thick plank
1609 Alden Road, 407-491-4342,

The Thirsty Topher’s gimmick is simple: a clean, well-lit bar with plenty of seating and a good selection of beer and wine. The ostentation-free setting serves to highlight the beauty of the real centerpiece of the bar: the actual bar. Made from three huge, solid pieces of varnished cypress, the Thirsty Topher’s bar top is guaranteed to impress anyone with an appreciation for woodworking and a fondness for the drinks served on it. It’s the kind of thing that, after a few rounds, you’ll be boasting to friends that you could craft at home if you wanted to. Trust us: You can’t.

The Falcon
819 E. Washington St., 407-423-3060,

Tired of kissing all those frogs you meet online? Bitch, we all are. Screw you, Tinder. Created by the much-missed artist and beer slinger Karen Russell, this completely analog dating service brings the fun back into the actual Orlando dating scene, and we approve of all the choices. Here’s what you do: 1) Grab a sheet from a bartender. 2) Fill that shit out. 3) Hop into the photo booth, staple your favorite shot onto said sheet, and then tape it to the wall with the other singles. 4) Put the three remaining photos into the envelopes under the profiles you like the most, with your digits scrawled on the back. Finis. Falcon Bar owner Melissa says it’s working and people are using it all the time, so hurry up and get down there before someone steals your prince.

Best Biergarten to Spend a Sunday Funday

Barley and Vine Biergarten
2406 E. Washington St., 407-930-0960,

When Barley and Vine Biergarten opened their doors, we were eager to invade their patio, littered with long picnic tables that encourage communal carousing. Typically open at 4 p.m., the bar extends their hours on the weekends to welcome day drinkers at noon, and on Sundays, the welcome wagon has some extra sheen. Guest chefs grill out in the garden, serving free food to famished folks guzzling craft beers on draft or in bottles. For those in the Milk District already spoiled by the selection at Sportstown and Milk Bar, maybe it’s the new kid on the block, but making friends is easy when you have such a cool backyard.

Best Grassroots Venue

The Space
1206 E. Colonial Drive, 407-205-7572,

If you’ve never been to the Space, it can sound a little like a hipster clubhouse, but the informal venue run on donations has evolved to become an artsier alternative to Uncle Lou’s Entertainment Hall. Whatever your weird idea is, it’s accepted, as the stairs leading up to the curious venue pronounce: “Welcome. You are here. It is now.” Unique arts events crop up, like The Caress of Progress and I Believe in You, and it’s the preferred venue for edgy events by Body//Talk, Is It Over Yet?, Literocalypse and Polylust Burlesque. Add to that stacked lineups of notable local bands like Golden Pelicans, Me Chinese, Sales and Case Work, plus touring acts like Centuries, Emperor X and Bombadil, and you quickly learn the Space is equal parts community and courage.

Best Immersive Concert Experience

John Vanderslice at the Acre
4421 Edgewater Drive,

Despite – or perhaps because of – his lack of concert-organizing experience, local culture prod Dave Plotkin set a new standard for special musical engagements when his favorite musician returned to play Orlando. Experimental popsmith John Vanderslice usually has his pick of the top indie clubs when he comes here. But last November, he went off the booking grid and let Plotkin build a fresh event around him. Between the arty souvenir tickets, the dynamic setting and the live local collaborations, it was a mold-breaking, 360-degree experience that impressed the audience and – according to what Vanderslice told us – the artist alike.

Orlando Pub Crawls

One does not just attend an Orlando Pub Crawl – one must live up to the group’s expectations for what makes a pub crawl special. Sometimes, that means dressing up like a zombie, or pulling your old ’80s gear out of the closet, or going out in a full masquerade ensemble. Check the website for the next event, dress for the theme and meet your new drinking buddies at the designated starting point. Thank you, Orlando Pub Crawl, for raising the bar for downtown drinking.

The music of Sam Rivers

Of the music legends who’ve called Orlando home, few are as brilliant and important as jazz master Sam Rivers. Once a frequent scene presence with exciting public performances of varying scale and formality, his spirit was reduced to a revered memory with his 2011 passing. However, after the enthusiastic reception of a couple of performances last fall, the New Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra, mostly comprising musicians who played in Rivers’ big band for years, now honors the man on stage monthly at Will’s Pub.

Best Local Showing on National TV

Roadkill Ghost Choir on Late Show With David Letterman

We told you these DeLand kids were gonna go places. Well, this year, one of those places was national TV as the musical feature on the Late Show With David Letterman. Not bad for a band that hasn’t even released a full album yet. Fundamentally excellent and current in sound, this astonishingly deep folk-rock group is easily one of the most complete bands this area has ever yielded. Hopefully, they’ll go from big promise to full-on breakout when their hotly anticipated debut LP, In Tongues, is released on Aug. 19.

Best Music Star Crushing on Orlando

Talib Kweli

With four DJ dates, Questlove graced Orlando plenty this year, but those nights were the fortunate windfall of bigger scheduling coincidences. Hip-hop royalty Talib Kweli, however, has notched a surprisingly deep association with our city. He spins here frequently thanks to Bullitt Bar, shot his latest music video (“What’s Real”) in public at the same bar in May and recently signed the tropic-cool Niko Is – one of Orlando’s freshest, most original MCs – to his label. We think shit’s getting serious.

Best New Band to Rep Orlando Hard


ButterQueen guitarist-vocalist Phil Longo has been a fixture of Orlando music as part of much-loved bands like Country Slashers and Basements of Florida, so it comes as no surprise that his newest project references familiar settings on songs like “Dinner at Wally’s” and “U.F.Pho88.” Their song “Speaking Of” introduces ButterQueen’s members, describes a bunch of other local bands on the scene, and throws in an allusion to the Peacock Room. But this band isn’t exceptional just because they name-drop city favorites; the lyrical conversations between Longo and vocalist-bassist Susana Chaplin (Wet Nurse) make for an engrossing live show. Although Munchkin-like vocals and carnival instrumentation is employed to sell the jokey premise of “Butter Run,” the musicianship on their debut – also featuring local go-to drummer Jordan Duttinger (Tam Tam the Sandwich Man) – demands serious attention.