Hot Spots in Orlando
Downtown Disney and CityWalk are the biggest nighttime draws for most tourists and some locals. However, the dozens of clubs and bars on International Drive, along Orange Avenue, and in the rest of downtown Orlando attract most homegrown night owls, business travelers who want to stay as far as possible from the Mickey madness, and a small number of enterprising tourists who venture north at night.
Downtown hot spots include Chillers, the Big Belly Brewery, and Lattitudes, 33 W. Church St. (tel. 407/939-4270) -- three separate clubs located in a single tri-level building, all geared to the young-adult crowd with a very casual atmosphere.
Another complex lined with clubs and bars is Wall Street Plaza (www.wallstplaza.net), a "meet market" on Wall Street that's home to the Globe (tel. 407/849-9904), a European patio cafe; Slingapours (tel. 407/849-9904), a dance club with a patio for relaxing; Waitiki (tel. 407/849-0471), a retro Tiki lounge and restaurant; the Monkey Bar (tel. 407/849-0471), a hip martini bar; One Eyed Jacks (tel. 407/648-2050) and the Loaded Hog (tel. 407/649-1918), both party bars; the Tuk Tuk Room (tel. 407/849-9904), a cocktail and sushi lounge; and the Wall Street Cantina (tel. 407/420-1515), which serves mean margaritas.
Notable newcomers to the downtown scene include the Other Bar (tel. 407/843-8595), also on Wall Street, and Bullitt Bar (tel. 407/841-1068), where real rock 'n' roll -- and a down-to-earth decor to match -- replaces the usual top 40, dance, and techno found elsewhere.
Some of Orlando's most unique nightlife is located in its hotels. Even locals head to some of these places after dark.
Rix, at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort (tel. 407/939-3806; www.disneyworld.com), a surprisingly sophisticated un-Disney-like lounge, serves up gourmet appetizers and signature drinks in a trendy Mediterranean-inspired setting. Todd English's bluezoo bar, at the Walt Disney World Dolphin (tel. 407/934-1111; www.thebluezoo.com), features classic cocktails in a hip and chic atmosphere. At Disney's Grand Floridian (tel. 407/824-3000), a pianist and band alternate playing time from 3 to 9:45pm in the lobby. Outer Rim, at Disney's Contemporary Resort (tel. 407/824-1000), is a trendy nightspot and close to the monorail. Kimonos, the sushi bar in the Walt Disney World Swan (tel. 407/934-3000), offers karaoke after 8:30pm. The entertainment is purely visual at Mist Sushi & Spirits, in the Renaissance Orlando Resort at SeaWorld (tel. 407/351-5555), which overlooks the huge atrium, glass elevators, and trendy new interior.
Sit and sip one of the 25 signature martinis, accompanied by a menu of tapas-style treats and live entertainment, at the Blue Martini, in the Mall at Millennia (tel. 407/447-2583). Or drink along to the sweet sounds of Ol' Blue Eyes in the Starlight Lounge, at Timpano Chophouse & Martini Bar (tel. 407/248-0429). Over at the Gaylord Palms, Auggie's Jammin' Piano Bar (tel. 407/586-0000) has live entertainment at 9pm nightly. And you can sit back and relax (in velvet chairs, I might add) at the Velvet Lounge, at the Hard Rock Hotel (tel. 407/503-3700), where you can down cocktails while surrounded by rock-'n'-roll memorabilia and music.
Disney's BoardWalk has a few options for folks searching for off-the-field nightlife. Street performers sing, dance, and do a little juggling and magic most evenings on the outdoor promenade. It can be a cheap night out if you enjoy strolling and people-watching. It has something of a midway atmosphere reminiscent of Atlantic City's heyday.
Atlantic Dance (tel. 407/939-2444 for limited recorded information) features top-40 and '80s dance hits Tuesday through Saturday. It's open to everyone 21 and older; most of the clientele tend to be of the business-traveler variety. Hours are from 9pm to 2am; no cover.
The rustic saloon-style Jellyrolls (tel. 407/939-5100) offers dueling pianos and a boisterous crowd. Strictly for the 21-and-over set, it's open daily from 7pm to 2am, though it's busiest on weekends. There's a $10 cover.
The Big River Grill & Brewing Works (tel. 407/939-5100) serves microbrewed beer as well as steaks, ribs, chicken, fish, sandwiches, and salads. Prices range from $10 to $26. It's open Monday through Thursday from 11:30am to 1am; Friday through Sunday from 11:30am to 2am. It's near Atlantic Dance.
Gay & Lesbian Nightspots
You can get all sorts of useful information on events from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida, 946 N. Mills Ave., Orlando (tel. 407/228-8272; www.thecenterorlando.org). Gay Orlando Network (www.gayorlando.com) and the Gay Guide to Florida (www.gay-guide.com) also feature a lot of nightlife entries.
Pleasure Island (Hyperion Wharf)
The 6-acre Pleasure Island complex, once home to an array of clubs and bars (all of which shut down in 2008), is currently in the end stages of a major redesign, with a completion date set for 2013 and a new name of Hyperion Wharf. Re-imagined in an effort to widen its appeal, in order to attract more than the 21-and-over clubbing set, the island now offers an array of themed restaurants, upscale shops, unique attractions (including Characters in Flight, a tremendous tethered balloon ride), a multiscreen movie theater (with an ETX theater, the first of its kind in the U.S.), a high-end surf shop, and a Harley-Davidson shop. The dining scene saw the addition in 2009 of T-Rex Cafe -- think Rainforest Cafe with a prehistoric twist -- and Paradiso 37, an upscale eatery with a menu that reflects the 37 countries of the Americas (North, South, and Central). Other notable eateries include Raglan Road ; Fulton's Crab House; Portobello, once known as the Portobello Yacht Club; and Planet Hollywood, which is just a few steps way, adjacent to Disney's West Side. Additional updates and enhancements are in the works, ensuring that those in search of an exciting, though more family-friendly, night on the town will not be disappointed. Guests can walk the grounds and enjoy the sights, sounds, and surroundings, making their way from one end of Downtown Disney to the other (all the way from the Marketplace to Hyperion Wharf to the West Side) with ease -- and without having to worry about bringing along the kids.
For more information on Downtown Disney, call tel. 407/939-2648 or go to www.disneyworld.com. Pleasure Island's existing shops and restaurants are currently open daily from 11am to midnight or later (and will remain operational throughout the reconstruction). There's free self-parking, but as the evening wears on (generally after the parks begin to close) spots can become very hard to find.
Disney's West Side -- This area adjoins Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf) and offers additional shops, restaurants, and a 24-screen AMC Theater.
Located between the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida theme parks, this nightclub, restaurant, and shopping district had its coming-out party in 1999 and competes head-to-head with Disney's Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf). It opens daily at 11am, but the hours of many clubs and restaurants vary, so call in advance if you're interested in a specific venue. Most clubs stay open until 2am.
At 30 acres, CityWalk (tel. 407/363-8000; www.citywalk.com) may be four times smaller than Downtown Disney, but it's the only remaining nightclub district now that Pleasure Island is in the midst of being "re-imagined," with its clubs closed for good. Alcohol is prominently featured here, as it's geared to an adult crowd; younger members of the family should always be accompanied by an adult if allowed to tag along. The nights can get pretty wild here. (Note: Some clubs won't allow anyone younger than 21 inside after a certain hour.)
You can walk this district for free at night or visit individual clubs and pay a cover. CityWalk also offers two party passes. A pass to all clubs costs $11.99 plus tax. For $15 plus tax, you get a club pass and a movie at Universal Cineplex (tel. 407/354-5998). Universal also offers free club access to those who buy select multiday theme-park tickets. There's also a Meal & Movie Deal option; for $21.95, you get entrance to a movie at the Cineplex and dinner at one of the CityWalk restaurants (select menu items apply); visit www.universalorlando.com for complete details.
Daytime parking in the Universal Orlando garages costs $14, but after 6pm self-parking is only $3. To get to CityWalk, take I-4 exit 74B (westbound) or 75A (eastbound) and follow the signs to the parks.