Downtown By The Hour

by Bonnie Thomas
You’re either downtown by choice or because you’re stuck there by work. Either way, there’s more to do than you probably know, but figuring out where to go next can be confusing and ultimately overwhelming.
I walked around at all hours, talking to various people about what they liked to do and when, and I discovered a few places on my own. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive guide, but it should help point you to what’s available when you happen to be there.
I hate mornings, but this place made mine immediately palatable: Urban Grind. Urban Grind is nestled in the lobby of the Bank of America building (the tallest, pointy ‘scraper around) and makes getting caffeinated easy and pleasant. It’s basically like the Starbucks inside of a Target, but the people-watching is better because everyone is more snazzily dressed. With a cup of their low-acid, house blend in a to-go cup, I was ready for further urban adventure.
Fortified by the morning bustle of people moving with purpose and with the whole day stretching in front of me, I contemplated how to make the most of my time. I thought about going to The Library. I thought about going to MOCA. I thought about shelling out the measly three dollars for the Maritime Museum in the Landing, as well as taking a water taxi to MOSH. I even thought about searching out the Mayor’s Office and seeing if they didn’t want a volunteer for some civic duty. I went shopping instead.
At this point in my explorations, I was under the misapprehension that the Landing was just another mall, so I eschewed it for hipper destinations. On my way to Budget Records and Burro Bags, who share a storefront, I took a jaunt down Laura Street. They just redid it. It’s pretty.
I noted that there were two clothing boutiques I’d overlooked: K Anthony Boutique and Strght & Nrrw (also a pleasant place to hang out with some devout hiphop artists). I also promised myself I’d return to Chamblin’s, possibly for lunch, possibly for coffee, definitely for getting lost in that old book musk. Starting at the MOCA gift shop and working your way to the Landing, this street is your best bet for some condensed shopping. And eating. (And dinner at La Cena? Oh. My. God.) In fact, while the sun is up, it’s my favorite street.
At Budget Records I was really impressed to find a $2 L. L. Cool J. recording and a $5 Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s album. Don’t be afraid to peruse. At first glance it seems daunting, but their extensive collection of used vinyl is immaculately organized. If you enter with a particular thing in mind, you can ascertain its presence in a couple of minutes. Even if it weren’t the only music store downtown, it would be a jewel. They even have a dollar rack. At Burro Bags you won’t find much merchandise besides some interesting t-shirts; they prefer you to do your shopping online. Nevertheless, it’s a neat stop because they’ll show you their workshop. It’s interesting to see actual manufacturing in the U.S. Come in with an idea for a bag–they will be able to flesh out the design and sturdily construct it for you.
After seeing my interest in manufacturing, Chris, the very nice man at Burro Bags, blew my mind. He told me to go to The Landing, where I would find a sandal factory. At Vitello Shoe Repair and Sandal Factory what I would come to think of as the curse of Downtown hit. It was closed. Perhaps the owner had just popped out for a minute. At any rate, this disheartening circumstance blemished the remainder of my excursion repeatedly. Erratic hours, open signs left blinking from desolate dining rooms, 20-minute-old “Be back in 5” notes, and plain-old-wrong hours posted on doors began to crush my heretofore dauntless explorer’s heart. I should have taken Chris’s advice of a Snappy Mango smoothie from An Apple A Day, a nifty, part bodega, part fruit stand business in the Landing, and sat myself down by the water to scout for dolphins.
I also should have checked out Olio’s “banging, if small” breakfast menu. In fact, there are myriad places I should have eaten. An addictive cookie from Desert Rider Sandwich Shop might have done the trick. Don’t let your blood sugar get low. It will make you balefully eye a ragged man on a bike who notices you are clearly lost, gives you directions & doesn’t ask you for money. True story.
One of the nice things about being downtown during the day is the variety of restaurants available to you that are only open for lunch. Case in point: The Magnificat. After having been charmed for years by it’s gated exterior, catty-corner to Hemming Plaza, I was finally able to indulge. The vegan soup would have been delicious even if I hadn’t been starving, but for the greenest lettuce, go elsewhere.
Also of note is Benny’s (not the one in the Landing, although I’m sure it’s meritorious, too). No, this Benny’s is underground, both literally and figuratively. You won’t find a sign for it on the street. It’s located in a tunnel that used to run between two banks. Find 121 Atlantic Place. Go downstairs. Pay no attention to the hours posted on the door.
Downtown has a weird lull in between work hours and party hours. My favorite thing to do at this juncture is ride the Skyway. People say it doesn’t really go anywhere, and maybe they have a point–if you’re valuing your destination over your experience. It’s sightseeing par excellence. It’s also free. In the afternoon light, from the top of the Acosta, Jacksonville is stunning.
As the afternoon lingered I made my way to Burro Bar. With its picture windows facing the intersection of Ocean and Adams, it’s probably the perfect transitional spot. Also, it’s right next to Burrito Gallery, Indochine, and Chomp Chomp (all prime places for dinner) and Icon. This pretty amazing, although guy-centric, clothing boutique is the reigning sock king. I like them because they’re open late. One day, I will procure a really amazing baseball hat there for my brother. If I’m feeling generous, maybe he’ll get the most dope kicks of his life.
After dinner, it’s time to party. “The Elbow” refers to the area rife with venues running down Bay Street and up Main. A simple stroll along it should provide you with a number of options. Starting at the far end is TSI, one of Downtown’s seminal nightclubs. Over the years I’ve been patronizing it, its vibe has changed. In fact, its vibe changes every night that it’s open. If karaoke is your thing, check out their Tuesday night. With a real stage and excellent sound-system, you really enter the fantasy of stardom.
In quick succession after that come the Dive Bar, Mark’s, and on the next block, Northstar Sub Station and Underbelly. Dive Bar has a fun dance floor–because they have a stripper pole. The best way to describe Mark’s is classy. Northstar is not clubby, but they have pizza and a ton of beers on tap. Underbelly’s full bar and eclectic aesthetic are overshadowed by amazing live music practically every night of the week.
Turn the corner and head to Lit and 1904. Lit has fantastic murals, a spacious dance floor and really nice bathrooms. 1904, although closed on most of the nights I pass it, is another great spot for live music. Their courtyard is reminiscent of the late Pearl.
Cross to the next street and you’ll see what I consider the most reliable late-night establishments: Burro Bar and Dos Gatos. Burro has a casual, punk ambiance and is known for booking all kinds of local music. Dos Gatos is upscale, with the inventively fancy cocktail menu to prove it. It usually has an upswing around 1:30 am due to an influx of dispossessed patrons from other venues shutting down early from sparse clientele.
Farther away from the Elbow is the new Atticus Bar, occupying Phoenix Taproom’s old spot. They will develop a reputation for excellent craft beer and booking diverse acts, albeit skewed towards hardcore. They are also open every night until 2 am. If you don’t want your party to end at last call, it’s simple to pop across the street at 1:50 am for more beer from the nice, new, 24-hour 7-Eleven. Nota Bene: at this juncture you may be rather desperately panhandled by a homeless person. You will be confronted by your inner empathy and ugliness. Perhaps fortunately, you will be drunk. Take a taxi home.
Lastly, nightlife obviously varies depending on the day of the week. Fridays, everything usually goes off, but check out the party at De Real Ting, for it will last until 4 am.
For an exhaustive directory go to Downtown Vision, Inc.’s website,