July 2011: Orlando has unique bars and taverns located throughout town, but then what city doesn’t? Tourists and many locals, however, focus on three high-party areas:
• Universal’s CityWalk: To access Universal’s two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, all visitors must park in two huge garages and walk through CityWalk. Universal, of course, hopes many tired visitors exiting the parks will stop for a margarita on their way out, and many do. For diverse entertainment – everything from New Orleans jazz to dance clubs to Jimmy Buffet – nothing beats Universal. It’s a bit plastic, slightly fake, way-too-neon bright, blaringly loud, and undeniably expensive – but that’s why you go there.
• Downtown Disney: In 2008, Disney backed off its Downtown Disney liquor business by closing Pleasure Island. A few bars still exist there, however, including a House of Blues. The company recently announced a new concept for the Pleasure Island area, dumped it, and is re-reconsidering the area. The walk from bar to bar will include a few more little girls in Mickey ears than the crowd at Universal. If you want to drink a bit but avoid drunks, consider Downtown Disney. If you want to be drunk and avoid a significant number of sober little kids, opt for Universal.
• Downtown Orlando: To meet locals (some of them, anyway) and drink in bars that don’t have a perverse need to theme themselves to some other country, state, or cartoon, downtown Orlando wins. These are bars proud to be bars. It’s also where the twenty-something Orlando crowd hangs out, at least on Friday and Saturday nights. Take exit 82 or 83 off I-4 and look for a public parking garage. The city also offers public parking under I-4 itself, which gets you within two blocks of some hangouts. The key bar district is about two blocks deep along Orange Ave. between Church St. and West Robinson, with a smattering of other bars nearby.