Downtown is also home to a thriving art scene known as the Downtown Arts District, with a collection of 21 galleries dotting the city centre and tucked inside the CityArts Factory and Church Street Exchange building. The district is best explored during the Third Thursday Gallery Hop, a monthly art party where galleries, restaurants and boutiques spotlight local artists and tempt passers-by with nibbles and drink specials as well as musicians and street artists.
Come hungry because downtown Orlando offers a vibrant collection of restaurants, from Spanish tapas to farm-to-table American to modern French cuisine. A good area to visit is Church Street, a dining and nightlife district that has seen a remarkable revival of late. With the Amway Center – the colossal sports and concert venue – set at the district’s west end, the area is always buzzing with visitors out to enjoy tapas and live flamenco at Ceviche, camp and colourful fun at Hamburger Mary’s, upscale steaks and martinis at Kres, or locally sourced fare at The Rusty Spoon.
As the sun goes down, Church Street becomes a destination for cocktails and dancing thanks to nearly a dozen bars and pubs, including ONE80 Skytop Lounge, where you can sip decadent cocktails while enjoying one of the best rooftop views of the city’s evening skyline.
Nearby Hanson’s Shoe Repair, an Orange Avenue speakeasy, is also worthy of a visit. Offering craft cocktails and rooftop views, guests use a secret password to enter the space. Call 407-476-9446 and leave the time, date and number of people in your party. Then simply await the text that will tell you the day’s secret password.
Finally, theatre lovers will want to see what’s showing at Mad Cow, a professional theatre group presenting musicals and plays at an intimate live theatre venue at 54 West Church Street. In addition, SAK Comedy Lab, located in the CityArts Factory, features zany live sketch comedy shows most nights of the week.
Orlando’s Dining Scene
While it may be tempting to stick to the tourist zones for dinner, consider veering off into lesser-known territories loved by locals.
Nearby, Kabooki Sushi is wowing sushi lovers with its incredibly creative offerings that are miles apart from standard sashimi and sushi rolls. Chef and owner Henry Moso takes quite a departure from Japanese cuisine by blending flavours from many Asian cuisines – including some from his homeland, Laos – to create fusion dishes that make dining here a gourmet adventure from appetizer to dessert.
Strand, a retro diner meets bistro eatery in Orlando Mills 50 District, is whipping up made-from-scratch comfort food bolstered by seasonal fare. Txokos Basque Kitchen has brought the cuisine of Spain’s Basque region to East End Market, the local food hub that opened late 2013 in the Audubon Park District. Here you’ll find meaty small plates (pintxos) and entrees (platos) that invite diners to veer away form the usual Spanish staples.