Can we just take a moment to give three cheers for the Downtown Orlando Development Board? In the past couple of years, Orlando's downtown has been transformed from just the place you go to watch fireworks on July Fourth to somewhere people actually want to be, and not just between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. With the addition of the flagship Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the swanky new Starwood hotel and its cocktail bar across the street, a soccer team that garners sell-out crowds, craft cocktail bars and more above-average dining experiences, downtown is getting really cool really fast. Keep it up.
GRAB A BITE
22 E. Pine St., 407-730-7499, artisanstableorlando.com
This restaurant menu is full of new American and fusion cookery – not quite a gastropub, but really, don't we have enough of those already? Brunch dishes are standout, including the Japanese-style sticky rice bowl and fluffernutter latte (though maybe not best together).
Beth's Burger Bar
24 E. Washington St., 407-650-4950, bethsburgerbar.com
Trust on this: Try the peanut butter burger. The spot Beth's occupies on Washington is prime real estate for drunkies (pre or post) looking for a gullet-filler. Sub fries for "frickles" (fried pickle chips) and you've got a meal. Take the DD challenge, but we can't promise the fat will go to your boobs.
325 S. Orange Ave., 407-313-9000, grandbohemian.com
Fancy-schmancy, yes. High-quality fine dining in a super-romantic atmosphere, yes. Pricey, hell yes. Sunday brunch in the Bösendorfer Lounge is worth the price of admission, though, as it gets you unlimited champagne, free parking and access to a grand buffet.
HAVE A DRINK
Hanson's Shoe Repair
27 E. Pine St., 407-476-9446
Call ahead for a reservation and get the password for the night via text. Sadly, it doesn't mean you'll get in right away. Located up the stairs in the back of NV Art Bar, this is a speakeasy in the true sense, with 1920s decor, cozy nooks for whispering sweet nothings, a doorman and plenty of hooch.
13 S. Orange Ave., 407-839-5039, avenuegastrobar.com
A roomy cell on Orange Avenue slinging $10 cocktails like the Around the Campfire – a concoction that tastes like summer camp combining pumpkin vodka, ginger-based Art in the Age Snap, orange juice and lemon. There's plenty of craft beer on tap, including Belgians and locals from Orlando Brewing.
World of Beer Downtown
431 E. Central Blvd., 407-270-5541, worldofbeer.com
Hundreds of beers available and a terrace overlooking Lake Eola means downtown's WOB is A-plus real estate. This location also sports a food menu (as other locations will in the near future) with items like kale salad or steak frites, complete with pairing suggestions.
Harp & Celt
25 S. Magnolia St., 407-481-2928, harpandcelt.com
A cozy two-story Irish pub with plenty of accents behind the bar. Stop by on Sunday morning for Irish breakfast or bangers and mash and a black-and-tan. During soccer season, don't be surprised if the place is packed on game days with out-of-town fans looking for a draught.
CHECK THIS OUT
Yoga in the Park
Lake Eola Park, facebook.com/yogainthepark
Gather on the northwest lawn at Lake Eola Park for a free mass yoga class to start your weekend (donations are encouraged, of course). It's one of the only places you can dog-watch while you're in downward dog. Bring your own mat, towel and water, as loaners are scarce.
Orlando City Soccer Tailgate at the Citrus Bowl
Once the new OCSC soccer-specific stadium opens in 2016, there's no guarantee tailgating will be allowed (it's not at most of the other MLS stadiums), so get in on it while the Lions play at the newly revamped Citrus Bowl. Bring your tiny Weber grill and join the purple-clad supporters of the Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm as they march into the stadium waving flags and singing.
Florida Music Festival
April 15-18, floridamusicfestival.com
The 15th annual music festival takes over downtown in mid-April, when all the live-music venues will be jam-packed with revelers swaying and moshing and headbanging to their favorite local, national and international acts. Past acts have included Taylor Swift and Third Eye Blind.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
445 S. Magnolia Ave., 844-513-2014, drphillipscenter.com
Touring Broadway shows like Wicked and Motown: The Musical are headlining the inaugural year of arts and culture at the shiny new Dr. Phillips Center, but the state-of-the-art spaces would even make watching paint dry super-comfy. Good thing you have a slew of shows to choose from instead. Grab a cocktail at the W XYZ bar at the Aloft Hotel across the street before curtain.