New Nightlife and Old Faves

by jack diablo
This time last year, the buzz on the Downtown nightlife seemed to focus on the opening of the Sinclair. The year before that it was the Ivy Ultra Bar. Well, to borrow a line from a friend, the “good depression” has been incredibly kind to the Downtown bar scene. Downtown Jacksonville’s recent cultural renaissance (can we go ahead and call it that?) has witnessed the opening of two new establishments over the past year and the expansion of a third. Dos Gatos and Lit have joined the ranks of the existing, established nightlife community. Poppy Love Smoke, which has been part of the scene for a few years, has recently seen major expansion.
Dos Gatos may be new to Jacksonville, but its owners, Jason and Joy Albertelli, share a wealth of experience in the service industry. Before returning to his hometown, Jason oversaw the operation of multiple bars in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Albertelli saw a need for something new and different in the bar scene of his hometown so he and his wife decided to do something about it. As Jason puts it, “There’s a ton of cool kids in Jax, but the bar owners feed them the same old mediocrity: bad music, bartenders who don’t know anything about what they’re doing or selling, and zero atmosphere or style.” The Albertelli’s responded by opening Dos Gatos at 123 East Forsyth.
Another addition to Downtown is the equally discreet new bar Lit. Located just around the corner from Dos Gatos on Ocean Street between Bay and Forsyth, Lit has no exterior signage either. To find this almost secret new spot, you need only look for the bizarre but tasteful facade of angled wooden blocks and the single velvet rope that is only put out during business hours. Don’t judge the book by its cover. Although the entrance seems to suggest a small but cozy speak-easy, Lit’s high ceilings and interior arrangement create an atmosphere that feels open and spacious while maintaining an intimate charm. The bar can equally accommodate a handful of folks or a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd without feeling too crowded or too empty. The designers seem to have taken tips from the native architecture as well by preserving the brick walls and restoring a hundred year-old hand-painted advertisement mural that covers the wall behind the bar.
Whereas Dos Gatos took its cues from the LA bar scene, Lit has a more New York vibe to it with it’s subdued lighting (hence the name) and sleek design elements. There is a lounge feel to it at first but the open dance floor area has the potential to accommodate a full-blown dance party as Nick Puzo, aka DJ NickFRESH, is keenly aware. He hosts Act Like You Know, the bar’s new service industry night on Mondays. Although ALYK is only a few weeks old, Nick watches the crowd grow each time as he whips up what he calls a “terrific hybrid of soul, funk, italo and other groove-driven sounds” to dance away that case of the Mondaze. With no cover and cheap drink specials, it is the place to cut loose on what is otherwise a pretty dull night. Nick has DJed successful nights at bars all over town but believes that Downtown’s inherent walkability and the diversity of its options are what make it the best nightlife destination in Jacksonville. “A lot of new happenings are going on, offering a wide variety of things to do,” he says. “Entertainment is available here.”
The cigar and wine bar, Poppy Love Smoke at 112 East Adams Street, offers a different take on the nightlife experience. Poppy Love Smoke is a place to chill out and relax. To help you unwind, the bar boasts a full walk-in humidor filled with hundreds of premium cigars as well as a 2,500 bottle wine rack. If a quiet evening with a few friends is what you’re looking for, PLS may very well be worth checking out on your next Downtown excursion.
All three of these new bars are located in close proximity to what is shaping up to be a hot new section of Downtown, particularly during Art Walk. With all of these bars within one block of the unofficial nucleus of activity that is the old library, combined with the opening of The Lettershop (see article on page 12) just another block east on Forsyth, there’s a lot of potential to attract thirsty Art-Walkers during the widely-attended event.
Of course, there are many old Downtown favorites still doing their thing and bringing people out to party as they see fit. No look at Downtown nightlife would be complete without mentioning what has come to be known as the entertainment district on East Bay Street. Mark’s, Dive Bar and Club TSI can all be found on the same block allowing choosy club-goers several options right in a row. The Ivy Ultra Bar is just a short walk west and from there it’s only a couple of blocks to Lit, Dos Gatos, London Bridge and Poppy Love Smoke. Slightly off the beaten path on Downtown’s west end one can still find something to do at Cafe 331 or the Sinclair. And of course, the Jacksonville Landing is always an option with live entertainment in the courtyard and a variety of bars and restaurants to satisfy just about any taste.
With the new nightlife destinations and the continued success of the trusty old standbys, Downtown Jacksonville is shaping up to become the destination for those seeking the ultimate nightlife experience in Northeast Florida. So make it a point to check out what all the fuss is about and head Downtown to try something new. You’ll like what you find, I promise.