Dear Orlando, You’ve Grown On Me: A Local’s Guide to the City Beautiful

Coffee:

  • Foxtail – I have yet to check out the Winter Park location but I frequent the one in The Glass District and I like the patio area on a not-so-sweltering day.
  • Lineage – Great coffee; the decor is a little too sparse for me personally but the hip kids love it and so will you, cool internet person.
  • Credo – The College Park location boasts a homey, cozy vibe, & you name your own price (there’s a whole ethic to that you can read about here).
  • Craft & Common – This one is my favorite; someone went absolutely plant and millennial pink crazy so of course I’m obsessed. The entire shop is insta-ready but it doesn’t feel pretentious (nothing in Orlando does – that’s the best part). True story: the first time I was here the Barista got a zip tie and jimmy-rigged the sagging bumper of my 2007 Honda Civic because he saw that it was dragging. What I’m saying is, there are many coffee shops in Orlando but I will die on this hill

Craft & Common creating the perfect place to rest your butt.

Plants (yes, plants, someone did ask me where I got my plants from the other day so there):

  • Palmer’s – Helpful salespeople will tell you which plants are hardest to kill (but don’t worry, you’ll still kill them).
  • The Heavy – Our local pot dealer housed in a lush, photo-friendly location that used to be a fish market! It doesn’t smell like fish, miraculously. Photos below.

Dessert

  • Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream – The line is usually out the door but it moves quickly and the seasonal flavors are always worth it.
  • Valhalla Bakery – Vegan baked goods. When you wonder whether or not you should get the cookie sandwich lookin’ thing called a YOLO – yeah bro, just do it.
  • The Backhaus – An authentic German bakery on the shores of Lake Ivanhoe.

Food

  • Tori Tori – Panasian from the minds behind Domu. Try one of everything and don’t be afraid of the hip bartenders, they’re all super nice. As of date of publication, they’re still in soft opening.
  • Osprey Tavern – ~American~. Splurgey. Located in Famously Bougie Baldwin Park, right by the lake so you can take a stroll before or after.
  • Sticky Rice – Self-described as Lao Street Food and that basically covers it; if you’re not adventurous read the descriptions in case you’re not into fermented crab. The lemongrass beef jerky is a crowd pleaser.
  • Pizza Bruno – Haven’t been personally but universally adored. Let me know when you’re going and I’ll come with. I am also eager to try the new Bagel Bruno (Foxtail/Pizza Bruno lovechild dream baby). 
  • Anna’s Polish Restaurant – After a trip to Poland I was craving pierogi and this spot did not disappoint. Serves traditional Polish dishes like pierogi and goulash, and it has a mom-and-pop vibe so you know it’s good. (Technically Winter Park, close enough). 
  • Se7en Bites – Favorite post-Church Sunday breakfast spot; this is a truly Southern comfort, biscuits-and-gravy, coma-inducing experience if you want it to be. It is always crowded but they keep it moving and there’s sweet art you can ‘gram pre- or post-feast. 
  • Briarpatch – This is technically Winter Park, also, but oh well. It is the quintessential brunch spot. The raspberry lemon cream pancakes are a hot item; ya gotta try ‘em at least once.
  • Guavate – Traditional Puerto Rican food. If you haven’t tried Mofongo yet, this is the place to do it.
sweet purple rice with coconut gelato from Sticky Rice

Bars

  • Whippoorwill – BEER. Representing the Milk District well. Relaxed and well-curated style, with delish food-pop ups every so often. They are really on top of their Instagram if you want to see what’s up for tonight.
  • Big Daddy’s – The best and most divey karaoke in town EVERY NIGHT.
  • Lil Indies/Will’s – These 2 separate but structurally connected bars were described by a friend of mine, in earnest, as having the appearance of “a house from a third world country.” I think that’s a harsh assessment to both the bar and developing countries at the same time. Regardless of the political correctness of that assessment, I love local shows here. Go on a school-night to enjoy slowly bopping along to legitimately groovy music with approximately 6 other people. You’ll feel good spending $7 on an indie band from Tampa because who knows, they could make it! The weekends are more lively, and their themed events never disappoint (hello, 90s Night and my introduction to Zima). 
  • Guesthouse – For the grown ups who enjoy reasonably priced cocktails and well-placed plants.
  • Aku Aku – Tiki vibes and sugary cocktails for days. Grab “The Volcano” with a friend and if you live to tell the tale I’ll be very impressed. “Tiger F*cker” is a safer choice, despite the name. 
Will’s Pub does not mince words.

Shops

  • Park Ave CDs – CDs are the new vinyl, right? You can cop both here, along with many other quirky goods including your favorite band merch and jokey socks.
  • The Lovely – Located in the same plaza as Park Ave, I love the vintage finds here. For Christmas one year I bought a good friend a vintage camera here (it worked!); the look on her face was priceless.
  • YAY – This tiny place packs a big punch; my coworker and I stumbled upon it during lunch break. We somehow dropped mad money in a store that can’t be more than 500 square feet. The owner is deeply knowledgeable about all of her wares, and there is nothing better than a piece of art with a story, especially if it’s from Florida. 

To-Do

  • Lou Gardens – Take in luxurious flora and fauna on a relaxed, lovely stroll. Did you know that roses smell better when they’re not from the grocery store?
  • Enzian – Local indie theater with an outdoor restaurant and bar; their halloween party is the go-to spot for true film nerds who sport the most thoughtful costumes.
  • Orlando Museum of Art – I took a boy here on a date and he sincerely asked me, “they had cameras during the civil war?” which tells us two things: 1) we seriously need to take a long, hard look at public education, and 2) this is a a fun and easy way to impress your witless dates! But seriously, their exhibits are well-curated and worth visiting.
  • Did y’all know Universal Studios is here? Oh, you did? Did you know the roller coasters are 1000x better than any in Disney and the annual pass is more affordable? I know, I know, you can’t really compete with the Disney brand but hey Harry Potter World amirite?? Just throwing it out there!!
  • Neighboring Apopka is home to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive – You have to be very enthused about nature to really enjoy this one, but if you have the patience to endure the 10 mph speed limit you could see over 360 species of bird, and gators. I personally did a little nature walk here and saw some gators up close and personal; it is truly wild to me how casually unsafe it is.
Aw! New Friend @ Lake Apopka

The Artist Answers

Sthenos the Gorgon, Tony Philippou

Humankind is obsessed with itself. Since the dawn of recorded time we have, as it were, recorded time. We insist on painting, drawing, singing and writing about the strange highs and lows of the human experience. As such, art has the ability to draw us in close. A good song or book or painting can dust off the cobwebs of your very soul. It’s almost like it’s reassuring us that there is meaning, we are understood.

Such is the way I experienced Tony Philippou’s Sthenos the Gorgon. When I turned into Pho Hoa Noodle Soup to start poking around at the local public art, I was immediately drawn to it. At the time, I didn’t understand what I was looking at 100%. She was, to be candid, a pretty snake lady on a bright purple background. Her face held a certain tension: yes, she drew me in but she also scared me. There was something foreboding behind her beautiful eyes.

Which makes sense because she is, as I later found out, a gorgon. Sthenos is the more lethal sister of Medusa; she is said to have killed more men than Medusa and Euryale combined (yeah, totally not worrisome at all that I was drawn to this image).

I wondered: why would anyone want to paint Sthenos, the lesser-known sister of Medusa? The creator of this work, Orlando-based artist Tony Philippou was kind enough to offer his insight on Sthenos in particular and public art in general (note: the following is an email Q&A edited for brevity and clarity).

Q: Did the city of Orlando or the state of Florida inform or influence Sthenos the Gorgon in any way?

A: No…The mural is on the side of PHO HOA, a Vietnamese restaurant, that curates the walls every year. So every year different people will do new murals on those walls. I was contacted to see if I would contribute something this year and Sthenos The Gorgon was my contribution. My inspiration for Sthenos is partially based around my heritage as I’m part Greek. I’ve always enjoyed using Greek Mythological characters and creatures in my work. They are some of the earliest examples of extremely imaginative and fantastical design.

Q: It might be said that historically, public or “street” art has been viewed as more counter cultural or democratic (its only more recently that you see arts districts with big murals becoming more and more popular; for example Rino in Denver or Wynwood in Miami). It has its pros (public exposure to and engagement with art) and cons (very generally speaking, critics might say it often accompanies gentrification). Do you have any comment on the rise of popularity in public / street art? 

A: Public art from my own experience and knowledge has a tremendous ability to connect with the masses. The message of the artist or the effects of the design decisions they make are the important factors that allow for the viewer to enjoy or interpret what they are seeing in an impactful way. With that being said, I’d say that it’s as much the viewers responsibility to be educated in the aspects of visual communications if they want to enjoy or connect with it beyond face value. I believe a large part of the acceptance of art is how well the viewer connects with the final execution of the artists idea or concept for the piece they have created. I think the more public art the better. As long as it is successful and is in good taste. The best form of public art is one where the community is considered and possibly has some input in to the inspiration and concept of the work. This helps form an impactful and long lasting connection between the art and the community.

Q: What are some of the challenges and benefits as an artist when you’re asked to create a mural like this (whether it’s technically, artistically, etc.)? 

A: My major challenge which I’m sure most outdoor muralists can relate to is working around the weather. A lot of outdoor murals are executed in spray paint which I use as well, but I also do a good portion of the murals work with brushes by hand. So when it rains it makes getting any forward  progress really difficult.

Q: Finally, Sthenos—the violent sister of Medusa. She’s a very interesting subject. What inspired you to paint her? Why not her more popular sister? 

A: I had wanted to do a piece based around a gorgon for a while now and this seemed like a great opportunity for it. Gorgons are fascinating and I was not really looking to do another version of Medusa but something a bit more abstract and design oriented. I do lots of digging in my research process and this usually leads me to things that can help influence or motivate my original idea.

A gorgon-sized thank you to Tony; he also provided the images for this post. You can check out more of his work here (spoiler alert: it’s gorgeous), and you can follow him on IG here.

I think the more public art the better.

Tony Philippou

& how fortuitous for folks in Orlando: If you’re ready for even more creativity and art, head over to Immerse (because you’re going to be immersed in art, see what they did there?), featuring over 1000 artists, performances, and experiences this weekend, October 18th and 19th. I always manage to miss it, but I finally got a ticket this year.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: ORLANDO PRIDE

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Come Out With Pride. My personal plan is to watch the parade, wear as much glitter as humanly possible (if no one has put you on to Unicorn Snot yet — here ya go, you’re welcome), and maybe grab a popsicle. My very first Orlando Pride weekend, my friend showed me The Pop Parlour. Knowing that there was a dedicated space for popsicles made me realize that Orlando really got “it,” ya know? That friend also made fun of my outfit that day and he is no longer in my life (Scorpios seriously know how to hold a grudge, y’all). Fortunately, Pop Parlour is still going strong.

In anticipation of Pride, I recently attended The Center’s Stonewall Exhibition opening which was really lovely. I didn’t even realize how much they offer the community: 

  • Free mental health counseling every Tuesday & Friday
  • Free Monthly Legal Clinic 
  • Free Computer Lab Access at the Cyber Center
  • Free Monthly Hep A & Hep B Vaccinations
  • Free Condoms
  • Notary Services

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cases pending in SCOTUS impacting the LGBTQ+ community via employment discrimination. But it’s not just about employment discrimination; the potential impact to federal civil rights could go deeper. Get a proper education here.

Orlando Street Art Guide Volume 1

Ya know those recipe blogs that make you read about how their mom made this recipe when they were little, and all their friends love it oh-so-much, and you’re like please tell me how to make these tacos? Yeah, I don’t want to do that to you. So you can totally download the guide via the link above and be on your merry way.

BUT, if you want to know why I think street art is going to change your life, it’s because it changed mine:

The year was 2015. I was exiled to roam Lisbon, Portugal alone after I had ticked off my friend’s then-boyfriend (now husband, whom I adore). I think I had talked about feminism too much or something; it’s hard to remember the bad stuff when it turned out to be one of my most cherished adventures. 

But in the moment, I was devastated. I remember crying in our Airbnb thinking, I’m a young woman alone in a new city, what am I gonna do? I vaguely tried walking around by myself and even the actual police cat-called me. 

Fortunately, my best friend gave me a pep talk from several time-zones away and assured me that I was 100% That B*tch. So I dried my eyes and did what any sensible Alternative Girl would do; I joined a motley crew of other young travellers on my very first Street Art Tour. I had never heard of such a thing and didn’t know what to expect; it seemed like a bit of a con. Couldn’t I just go look at this stuff myself? It’s OUTSIDE, that’s the WHOLE THING – it’s free. 

Ultimately, this turned out to be one of the most fun days of my life. I learned about Fado music, the country’s severe economic crisis, and their unique response to drug addiction among other things. Not to mention I had a killer dance party with my new friends. 

Since then, I make a point to look for street art whenever I travel. Nothing tells a city’s story like its own walls. For example, in Puerto Rico there was a very simple question posed on the walls of Old San Juan – it wasn’t a fancy commissioned mural, in fact the spray paint looked pretty rushed (it was in Spanish, the English translation was): “What happens to the Puerto Ricans that don’t rebel?” As an outsider, I had no idea what that meant. Speaking with new friends later on they explained – all Puerto Ricans know they live in a colony, but what can they do, realistically? These particular young men were in the U.S. military. They knew the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico wasn’t perfect, to say the least. They “bought-in” to try to live the dream despite what some perceive as unfavorable odds — but what would become of them? This conversation sparked a paradigm shift in my understanding of U.S. / Puerto-Rican relations, and it started with a wall asking me a question

The Orlando street art scene is an orange glistening in the sun, ripe for harvest. My hope in putting out this guide is to facilitate appreciation for all of the luxurious color and creativity we are a little bit spoiled by. I tend to drive by so quickly that these beautiful pieces are sort of reduced to scenery in my mind’s eye. Taking the time to look at them more intentionally resulted in greater appreciation and insight. Check out the link for Volume 1, encompassing Primrose, Bumby and a bit of Colonial. My only lament is that while we have large, lavish commissioned works we may be lacking in spaces for newcomers. I did see tags and little tiny unsanctioned pieces in the more obscure spots, but it seems we either have a heavy hand or lack of space for up-and-coming art.


Which pieces are you APPALLED that I missed? Comment below with info about your favorite piece so we can add it to the guide. I’m really most curious to know: what story do you think Orlando is trying to tell?