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Stroking Midnight

Our picks for New Year's Eve

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New Year’s Eve in NEFla is always a great time, and it’s going to be especially so this year. Folks in the region are eager to move past a tense, tragic, stressful 12 months, and put 2018 firmly in the rear-view mirror. (Then snap that mirror off, curse its existence in multiple languages and throw it out the window while driving away as fast as possible.)

The good news is that no matter where you make your residence, or where you want to be when the ball drops, you have no shortage of options. There are NYE events as far as the eye can see, miles and miles in every direction. And they’re diverse, too, consistent with the clientele. It’s a bona fide cornucopia of carousal.

The bad news: There are so many choices, you may do exactly what we did while researching myriad websites, word-of-mouth reports and voice mails from Auntie Marian—freeze up. It’s overwhelming. You might feel your brain short-circuiting in real-time. Or perhaps that long-suffering organ has already gone into sleep mode; such was the strain of this annus horribilis.

Fortunately, New Year’s Eve falls on a Monday night, which means the average reader will be counting down on the fourth night of an extended—possibly even lost—weekend. (Sorry if you have to work. Not sorry if you play for the Jaguars. Come on, that’s not real work).

Before the night’s debauchery begins, you can start your day the wholesome way by attending Noon Year’s Eve at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens (10 a.m.-1 p.m.). It’s one of those rare all-ages, family-friendly New Year’s events. Instead of rye and champagne at midnight, daylight revelers enjoy a (complimentary) apple juice toast at the stroke of high noon. Here you can party with actual animals before becoming an animal yourself later on in the night.

Many of the evening events listed here are free (though there are some big-ticket exceptions where noted). Free doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for drinks, though—it’s usually free admission. And you will be paying with a hangover as then next day dawns. The requisite champagne toasts are in effect almost everywhere. Depending on location, you may even get to have a stranger spray bubbly down your throat while riding by on a bicycle. (Most likely Five Points or Jax Beach.)

The Urban Core itself is shaping up as essentially one giant party, with Downtown central to all the fun. It’s important to start the year off right, and your setting and the company you keep will have a lot to do with how much you enjoy yourself. It’s hard to beat the aesthetics of the Downtown skyline. Nor can you go wrong having all your friends rendezvous there for a quasi high-end pub crawl. Any such endeavor must begin at the “creative glam” party at MOCA Jacksonville. The contemporary art museum’s NYE extravaganza features veteran DJ Catharsis and a seven-piece band led by Mama Blue. In terms of pure people-watching at the stroke of midnight, this one will be hard to beat. If you’re the networking type, the $100 ticket practically pays for itself.

The Bay Street bars will be busy. Neighborhood newcomer The Justice Pub ends its first year of operation with a homeboy hootenanny hosted by owner Ian Ranne, aka DJ Triclops I. Special guests include Jackie Stranger and Luke Peacock.

From Justice, you can step outside and catch the Downtown fireworks before swinging up to Adams Street, where The Volstead’s “Roaring New Year’s Eve” is nicely timed for the bar’s fifth birthday, with music by The Groove Coalition, vittles for days and an old-school speakeasy vibe that fits the occasion as snugly as the bartenders’ vests. It’s right around the corner from MOCA, which is on Laura Street, so expect to see a fair degree of overlap among the beautiful people.

Just a couple doors over, Breezy Jazz Club is doing it big with a $100 cover to see jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, who hails from New Orleans and represents the first family of American jazz. (We’re getting all three of the main Marsalis brothers in quick succession; Branford appeared with the Jax Symphony in September, and Wynton is bringing the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to Amelia Island on Jan. 25.)

The Breezy bash is just one of three cool jazz events on NYE. Crescendo Amelia Big Band is holding court at the venerable Alhambra ($129), and The Raisin Cake Orchestra returns to Prohibition Kitchen in St. Augustine (albeit earlier in the day: 4:30 p.m.). The retro quartet is once again augmenting its utterly singular small-group-swing sound with vocals by the great Linda Cole. The Raisin Cake concert is free, but the venue is hosting another event later that night (admission to that one will set you back $20). Prohibition Kitchen famously doesn’t take reservations, so it’ll probably be almost impossible to get in unless you’re invisible (even then, it’s standing room only).

Riverside is another hub of NYE activity. The neighborhood’s marquee event is a masquerade ball at River & Post ($100). DJ Vic Micolucci presides over the rooftop party. Yes, the emcee is a noted local news reporter and, yes, his beats are almost as fresh as his story leads.

River & Post is within easy stumbling distance from Five Points, where the whole strip will be in full effect for the millionth year in a row. If you wish to eschew the hoity-toity and do the kind of drinking that you will absolutely regret the next day, just bounce between there and King Street. But remember to drink responsibly and conduct yourself accordingly, or you might find yourself in the last place anyone ever wants to be when they usher in the New Year: the John E. Goode Pretrial Detention Facility.

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