Aku Aku Tiki Bar
Forget the fact that Orlando isn’t actually on the beach, and bring the sea and the sand to downtown Orlando in this affectionate, somewhat kitschy ode to the tiki culture of the 1940s and 50s. The order of the day is cheeriness, festivity and powerfully potent rum punches served in tiki heads and coconuts. Take your date to Aku Aku for a South Seas vacation within your vacation, and reacquaint yourselves by sharing a bowl-sized cocktail in one of the colorful and cozy nooks dotted around the bar.
Address: 431 East Central Boulevard, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-839-0080
Wally’s Mills Ave. Liquors
Any list of drinking institutions in Orlando wouldn’t be complete without this slice of authentic Americana. Wally’s proudly boasts itself as a traditional neighborhood dive bar – dark, smoke-stained, but crucially, home to some worldly bartenders who’ll pour you some of the stiffest drinks in town. Stick around for happy hour and a three dollar microbrew beer on Wednesday nights, and you’ll get a sense as to why Wally’s regular clientèle have been coming back for more ever since it opened in 1954 in the halcyon, pre-theme park days of Orlando.
Address: 1001 Mills Ave, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-896-6975
The Monkey Bar
Another of the Orlando CBD’s bright bar lights, The Monkey Bar is a classic cocktail lounge with a tropical interior that stays on the right side of quirky. This bar’s USP are their locally-renowned Martinis, which, in a move that might ruffle James Bond’s feathers, are made using a muddle rather than by shaking or stirring. Take one out onto the terrace outside and watch the bustle below on the downtown Orlando streets.
Address: 26 Wall Street Plaza, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-849-0471
Orlando’s Central Business District, encompassing everything between Orange Avenue and Church Street, is also renowned for having the largest concentration of bars in Orlando’s downtown area. One of the newest additions to the roster (and something of a secret, located as it is in an alley behind the Antigua nightclub), Rok Room is a local hotspot making some big waves. The drinks served at their sleek all-white bar might set you back a few dollars, but on any given night expect some of Orlando’s biggest rising DJs to drop in for a special set, aided by Rok Room’s state-of-the-art sound and lighting system.
Address: 41 West Church Street, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-649-4270
The Imperial at Washburn Imports
Some people drink to forget, but at The Imperial Wine Bar and Beer Garden, you may wind up drinking to buy a new artisan-wood coffee table. Nestled within Washburn Imports, a home-furnishings superstore specializing in the exotically-sourced and crafted, you can enjoy a wine or microbrew as a prelude to some retail therapy, or to drown away buyer’s remorse. The Imperial’s location, on Orange Avenue’s Ivanhoe Village retail strip, also means that you can explore various other dining, shopping and drinking possibilities at the start or end of your evening.
Address: 1800 North Orange Avenue, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-228-4992
Named after the eponymous grand piano – one of only a handful in the world – that resides within, and whose tinkling ivories provide the soundtrack to most evenings here, the Bösendorfer Lounge is a sexy and soulful addition to Orlando’s nightlife. Located within the five-star luxury Grand Bohemian Hotel, the bar caters to guests and non-guests alike as a stylish haunt to catch some of Orlando’s coolest live jazz and soul. Order a cocktail and envelop yourself in this bar’s Fabulous Baker Boys vibe.
Address: 23 West Church Street, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-420-1111
With just as much mad zeal as Doc Brown, the eccentric scientist from the Back to the Future franchise (a touchstone for this bar’s Gen X crowd), the owners of BART are taking Orlando back to the 1980s and early 1990s, fusing IPAs and retro arcade games in one ultra-cool, throwback bar. If the constant bleeps and pings of Donkey Kong and Space Invaders get too jarring, you can keep yourself intellectually stimulated by the various high art works dotted around the place. For the gamers, there is also no need to worry about hunger pangs; food-trucks are regularly present outside. Game on.
Address: 1205 North Mills Avenue, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-796-2522
Hanson’s Shoe Repair
Exclusivity is both a blessing and a curse to regular patrons of this modern-day speakeasy, tucked away in – surprise, surprise – a former cobbler’s shop on Pine Street. An 19th century space in 2015 means that this joint only has room for about 30 customers at a time. If you’re desperate to get your foot in the door, make Hanson’s your first port of call for the evening, at around 8pm. For those fortunate enough to access this gilded space, you’ll be treated to a lovingly restored nook, supplemented by an enclosed patch of rooftop for occasional live music and burlesque. On the menu are an array of Prohibition-era cocktails, centered around quality bourbon, with their specialties including champagne cocktails.
Address: 27 East Pine Street, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-476-9446
Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour
A bona-fide institution of Audobon Park, Redlight Redlight often feels like an academic institution for budding craft beer drinkers. The friendly barkeeps are always at hand to offer personal recommendations, which, when you consider Redlight’s selection of 250 bottles, 23 rotating drafts and two beer engines for cask-conditioned ales, is a hugely useful pool of hoppy knowledge. Even for the casual drinker, regular events such as Orlando City soccer watch parties and expert-led food pairings will go some way to ensuring repeat visits to this establishment.
Address: 2810 Corrine Drive, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-893-9832
The Eola Wine Company
South Eola connects downtown Orlando’s historic core to hip and trendy Thornton Park, and in this up-and-coming neighborhood, new bars and restaurants border the stunning Lake Eola Park. The Eola Wine Company hits the South Eola sweet-spot of intimate and contemporary. With over 70 wines available by the glass, and plenty of pairing options, from cheeses and charcuterie to artisanal style tacos, this is a bar where you and your best friends can kick back in the light of Lake Eola Park’s nightly-illuminated fountain.
Address: 500 East Central Boulevard, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-481-9100