DRINK: Nothin’ Fancy

Despite its rep as the land of gas stations and fast-food drive-thrus, OP and Fleming Island — not technically a real island (send your complaints/proof to [email protected]) — does have a few bars and lounges that are not shit-kickin’ honky tonks or converted Pizza Huts. All is not lost in Clay County, just be aware the county cops wait outside bars at 2 a.m., their breathalyzers at the ready. Two words: designated driver.

Park Avenue Bistro Lounge

Just south of Doctors Lake, where U.S. 17 winds into Fleming Island as Park Avenue, lies … well … Park Avenue Bistro Lounge, in Westover Station shopping center. Co-owner-slash-mixologist Brent Winecoff categorizes his place as being “like Ruth’s Chris with the sleeves rolled up.” The upscale Mediterranean and Italian menu includes a prime rib special Thur.-Sat., but it’s the craft cocktails that keep discerning clientele coming back. They’re discounted for happy hour. Mojitos, martinis, you name it — master bartenders Brent and Andrea serve signature cocktails, like Pineapple-Gin Kir and Pumpkin Smash Martini. 

The Roadhouse

Just down the road from the OP Mall is the fabled establishment The Roadhouse. Not to be confused with some Honky-tonk outpost, the Roadhouse books some of the best local rock, hard rock, and even harder rock outfits anywhere in Northeast Florida. And with pool tables, foosball, steel regulation dart boards, NTN trivia, NFL Sunday Ticket, TVs all over the place — it’s where your cousins would live if your aunt couldn’t cook.

Live music Thursday through Saturday, and DJ Big Mike spins every Thursday, too. The drink specials actually are special; bottled and canned beers, as well as drafts, many of them local, mixed drinks and shooters are often discounted. Leave the cowboy boots at home.

This is the kind of place you can bring your mom or kids — provided you keep an eagle eye on the little darlings, because there’s open water. Mom’s on her own. Whitey’s, situated on a spit of land on Swimming Pen Creek on Fleming Island, serves a menu to warm the cockles of your pea-pickin’ heart: fried seafood baskets (catfish! gator tail!), tacos, po’boys, and combo dinners and platters. Nothin’ fancy, though. The full bar is open every day, and there are pool tables, beer pong and dollar drafts on Mondays. Live local music every Friday and Saturday; DJ Throwback spins every Thursday. Deck music out on the … uh … dock every weekend.

The Hilltop Club

At one of the prettiest spots west of the Guanas sits The Hilltop, a grand location for special occasions or just to relax and forget about the drive back over the Buckman. The upscale menu features she-crab soup, filet mignon, seafood dishes and a chef’s choice each evening. You can book the whole place for an event — the grounds are as nice as the house. The extensive wine list, scotches and cognacs will raise a few eyebrows — in a good way. Local famed pianist John Michael tickles the ivories every Tuesday. The only downside? No confetti allowed.