A couple of weeks ago I spent an evening in downtown Orlando and had such a wonderful time that I wanted to tell you about it — because apparently very few of you know what downtown has to offer. What made it all so enjoyable were two bartenders and a piano player.
I started off at the Grand Bohemian, the elegant hotel across from City Hall and the rising performing arts center. (Can’t wait for the performing arts center to be finished; Mr. Mayor, may I push the plunger to detonate the implosion of the Bob Carr?) Anyway, here’s the first secret that most people don’t know: if you’re concerned about where to park in downtown Orlando, just pull up to the valet lane of the Bohemian and let the nice fellows there park your car for you. If you’re going in for dinner, the valet parking is complimentary. If you’re going in for drinks, it’s only $6, which is less than what you’ll pay at many of the lots in the area.
And you’re going to want to go in for drinks at the Bosendorfer Lounge, especially if Ivy is working the bar. Ivy is one of my favorite bartenders in town because she has such an easy-going attitude and a ready smile — not to mention she pours a pretty mean drink. (She prefers to go just by Ivy, and she has an unnatural aversion to being photographed, but we like her anyway.)
The bar is a worthy destination itself, and so is the Boheme, the hotel’s restaurant. But in between the two is the Klimt Rotunda, where the property’s extraordinary Bosendorfer grand piano resides. And if you’re there on an evening when Wes Hamrick is playing, you’re in for some wonderful music. Sometimes Hamrick plays alone, other times he’s joined by others — singers, instrumentalists — and each time I visit I leave wondering why the place isn’t packed. This is the sort of entertainment that would carry a hefty cover charge in New York and it’s offered free here. You really need to do this. (Here’s a link to the Grand Bohemian’s entertainment schedule.)
After we enjoyed a couple of Ivy’s cocktails and some of Hamrick’s tunes, my friend and I strolled over to the Rusty Spoon on Church Street.
The Spoon, of course, is where the talented Kathleen Blake produces her wonderful culinary creations. But commanding the bar here is another terrific craftsman, Jesse Windham. As you would expect at Rusty Spoon, the juices used in the drinks are fresh. How fresh? My friend ordered a lemondrop, and Windham brought out some lemons and a hand press and squoze the juice right there. He pays close attention to the creation of the drinks and isn’t fazed by the cocktails with multiple steps (like that lemondrop). And even more surprising is that no one at the bar is kept waiting. He works efficiently, keeps a pleasant demeanor, and pays attention to his guests. A true joy to watch. Pair your cocktail with an appetizer or light entree from the kitchen and you’ve got yourself a satisfying feast.
So that got me wondering — who are your favorite bartenders in town? I want to know about them, and to let other people know about them. Leave a note in the comments below with the restaurant or bar, the name of the tender, and, if you like, your favorite cocktail or pour. I’ll visit some of them and have an update about Orlando’s Best Bartenders in a future column.