Mathers Social Gathering
30 S. Magnolia Ave.
Downtown's poshest newcomer this year is undoubtedly Mathers Social Gathering. Located on the third floor of the historic Mathers building – one of the few remaining downtown buildings that predate the fire of 1884 – the space is decked out in sumptuous furnishings, photos of Old Orlando, and even a turn-of-the-century-style general store tucked into a corner. Here, you can plop into an armchair with a craft cocktail in one hand while regaling your friends with stories of Orlando's past – either real or made-up – while sitting underneath the oversized U.S. flag that once flew at Tinker Field – as long as you adhere to the dress code, of course.
Burton's Bar closes, then reopens as Burton's Bar
801 E. Washington St.
When Burton's Bar closed in February of this year, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as it seemed that Thornton Park's cheapest and friendliest neighborhood bar was to be no more. But while we waited to find out what the developer vultures that circle the city would do to the beloved casual boozer, the owners of downtown staples the Lodge and the Woods were making moves to take over the space. And when they announced that they'd not only be taking over Burton's but keeping it pretty much the same, Thorntonites rejoiced, comforted by the knowledge that they'd still be able to dig into a bucket of reasonably priced domestics while chilling on one of the best people-watching perches – Burton's patio – indefinitely.
Talk Yo Shit
Where other recurring dance nights beat audiences over the head with themes and mission statements, Talk Yo Shit is just about making people move. Their crowd has steadily increased not via Facebook ads or endless fliering, but by word of mouth. Over the last two years, co-founders Fiona and Grape successfully parlayed their monthly hip-hop/R&B events at the Social into every Thursday night at the Patio's Jungle Room, inviting fellow DJs B8TA and Yosh to join the mix. Most weekly events flop in the first few months, but TYS will go as long as its leaders want it to, and we hope that's a long while.
June 9, 2017
Hip-hop firebrands Ho99o9 aren't from here. But their manager, Mike Feinberg, is. And it's his Promethean handiwork that brought one of the most internationally and intensely hyped underground bands right now to town in a happening that packed more intrigue, sensation and revelation than the city's seen in years. Although the date was announced months in advance, the actual location of the secret rendezvous wasn't revealed until the day of, and it was at a club that didn't exist yet (and still doesn't). The result was a winding nocturnal journey following cryptic signs through a parking lot, past a fence break, down a long walkway, up to a back entrance and into a buzzing crowd that erupted in hysteria when the rap-punk juggernaut hit the stage. It was all a reminder of the difference between a show and an event.
In June 2016, Orlando music promoters Ugly Orange hosted their first event, a tour kickoff for Lakeland's Swept with support from the Knick Knacks (RIP), Dumberbunnies and the Zigs. Even before its start, each of UO's three heads – Nicole Dvorak, Hannah Fregger and Kaley Honeycutt – were already seasoned veterans in the Orlando music scene, booking shows and playing in local bands. They've quickly become a brand, boosting local and touring indie rock music, booking an average of two shows a month, and collaborating with fellow Orlando promoters Always Nothing, the Vinyl Warhol and SR50 Magazine. In a lane largely controlled by men, female-powered booking has taken the top spot.
2000 N. Orange Ave.
Look, just because a person doesn't want to tread into the morass of downtown nightlife doesn't mean they might not want a sky breeze ruffling their hair as they quaff an old-fashioned. M Lounge opened on North Orange Avenue this spring, providing a rooftop aerie for drinking and mingling without the hassle of downtown parking. It may only be on the third floor, but in low-rise Ivanhoe Village, that makes you king of the world.
Joysticks Arcade Lounge and Retro Bar
69 E. Pine St., second floor
Joysticks spares no detail when it comes to re-creating the neon frenzy of the 1980s. Homages to Jaws, The Goonies and other nostalgia-heavy flicks abound, and there are more than enough arcade and console video games to go around (including couches with old Nintendos hooked up to TVs for adventurous nerds on dates). The drink menu matches the bar's over-the-top theme with specialty cocktails using dry ice and colorful liqueurs to concoct science-project-esque beverages. The Hooters-y vibe of the waitress uniforms is a teensy bit off-putting, but the free Ms. Pac Man guarantees we'll hit "Continue" here instead of ending the game.
Merchandise in-store at Park Ave CDs, David Vassalotti live session on WPRK and solo set for the In-Between Series
Though Orlando didn't snag a date on 4AD band and Florida underground stalwarts Merchandise's 2016 tour, the City Beautiful hosted three even more unique Merch events. First, the band premiered their gorgeous Corpse Wired for Sound album at a free Park Ave CDs in-store performance, where the quartet got loose with improv'd versions of songs new and old. And then a few months later in January, founding member/guitarist David Vassalotti blew into town to record a live radio session at college station WPRK and then packed out the Gallery at Avalon Island for the most volcanic In-Between Series yet, a cathartic, improvised solo set built around raw guitar work and loops that was equal part unhinged and deeply, deeply vulnerable.
The Sh-Booms on NPR
March 18, 2017
Orlando's hottest young soul band, the Sh-Booms, did not win NPR Music's big Tiny Desk Contest. But they stood out enough among over 6,000 entries to still command a feature, something NPR did for only a few of the most memorable contestants. Of course, we jam out to them from our car speakers all the time. But it was a big shot of local pride in the arm to hear them transmitted on the national airwaves as part of a legit story. See? We told you they were special.
Women in Song Series
For all the good cultural work that the Orlando Philharmonic does, its demographic doesn't exactly skew hip. Its Women in Song series this past season, however, went a good way toward shaking up that image. With a debut rollout that featured noteworthy and indie-certified artists like Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins and Crooked Still's Aoife O'Donovan, the events showed a side of the Phil that's innovative, collaborative and forward-looking. We're looking forward to the 2017-2018 series, which kicks off in October.