Aug. 07--Want to take the pulse of Orlando culture?
Sure, you can check out the city's many art mixers. Monthly events such as downtown's 3rd Thursday art walks, the Orlando Museum of Art's 1st Thursdays parties or -- more recently -- the swanky art openings at the new Snap! Space gallery draw a crowd of eccentric, engaged or just plain curious spectators.
One can use the popularity of such parties to sing the triumphs of art alone, but let's address the pink elephant in the room: These events all offer drinks, which certainly enhance my art appreciation, if not my commentary.
Which is why I'm an equal if not bigger fan of Orlando's gallery bars, drinking establishments that offer good art and good drinks throughout the month, without the artistic airs. Here are a few of my favorite spots that support local artists and give barflies a little visual kick along with their beer.
1205 N. Mills Ave., Orlando
Doug Berger curates the art at BART but admits he doesn't have to do much hunting to fill the walls of the cozy Mills 50 haunt. With its distinctive, retro-arcade feel, the bar is prime real estate for artists with a pop-culture muse.
Since opening in 2012, BART has drawn in locals with its mix of craft beer and a rotating assortment of old-school video-arcade machines. Local artists such as Christie Miga and Parker Sketch have augmented the vibe with their own whimsical art, and painter Randall Smith sold out two exhibits that featured his signature "junkbot" creatures. Berger, who also handles graphic design and advertising for the bar, encourages affordable pricing on the art.
Exhibits change monthly. Visitors can check out the current collection of photography by Kayla Enright until Monday, Aug. 11, when it makes way for a dual show from "sunshine noir" painter Kittens of Industry (a k a Jaime Torraco) and street artist Wolfrich.
(5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 407-796-2522; bartcade.com)
The Falcon Bar & Gallery
819 E. Washington St., Orlando
With edgy, baroque wall art to match its selection of craft beer and wine, The Falcon opened in 2011 and became an instant draw for the younger, hipper drinkers of the Thornton Park neighborhood east of downtown Orlando.
Curator Melissa Schumann also co-owned Mother Falcon, the custom T-shirt shop that once occupied the neighboring space. The store formed profit-sharing partnerships with local artists who made their work available for screen-printing on Mother Falcon shirts, and art parties frequently strained capacity in the small venue. When the space next-door became available, Schumann says that turning it into Mother Falcon's sister bar was a "natural progression." Only The Falcon remains; Schumann's Mother Falcon continues to serve fashionable locals with its online outlet.
The Falcon has ready-made talent close at hand. Bartenders include artists Lauren Metz, Wendy Claitor and Marla Hernandez, whose works were featured in a staff art show in June. Painter Karen Russell was a former drink-slinger there.
Exhibits have tackled a number of off-kilter themes -- tattoos, phobias -- and the current "Project Cosplay" is no exception. On view through Aug. 29, the show features models in full superhero or Japanese anime regalia, rendered in watercolor portraits by Plinio Pinto.
(6 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday; 407-423-3060; thefalconbar.com)
2424 E. Robinson St., Orlando
Works by independent local artists have long hidden in plain sight on the walls of the funkier bars and restaurants of the Milk District, near the T.G. Lee dairy east of downtown Orlando. I'm thinking especially of the well-curated shows at Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria and the punk-influenced art and photo exhibits at Spacebar.
Returning to that list is Milk Bar. The walls of this eclectic craft-beer joint have always featured a colorful if erratic assortment of local art, but monthly exhibits have fallen off the schedule in recent years. The bar will once again host regular art shows under the oversight of new managing partner Jessica Pawli. Her name may ring a bell with fans of the monthly Southern Fried Sunday shows she organizes at Will's Pub, and Pawli says she plans to book a few live musicians at her new digs along with local art.
On view through August are paintings by Suzan Elizabeth. According to Pawli, new displays will be incoming every month to six weeks.
(6:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 407-369-1701; themilkbarorlando.com)
27 E. Pine St., Orlando
The epicenter of downtown Orlando's 3rd Thursday art walks is undoubtedly CityArts Factory (29 S. Orange Ave.). Down the street and around the corner, participating venue NV is off the art walk's beaten path -- or on its cutting edge, if you prefer.
Once a photography studio, NV has morphed through the years into one of my favorite downtown hideaways, thanks in no small part to the funky selection of art adorning the brick walls. Along with co-curator Brad Michael Biggs, Mark "Tre" Harris draws on his strong ties to the graffiti-influenced B-Side Artists collective -- a frequent fixture at CityArts -- to make sure that NV gives a leg up to the local creators who help define the bar's aesthetic.
That feel shifts subtly from month to month. The current show -- up through Aug. 17 -- features colorful and confrontational acrylics from New York City artist Joe Gullo. On Aug. 21, painted skateboards take over the walls for the third edition of the popular "Boarded Up" series.
"I'm trying to plant the seed [with art buyers] of looking in your own backyard," says Harris.
(8 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 407-649-0000; nvorlando.com)
1321 N. Mills Ave., Orlando
Mendi Cowles has a long history on the Orlando art scene, stretching far past the 10 years she has served as the Peacock Room's resident art maven. Longtime scenesters may remember her as the curator for the late, lamented downtown Orlando coffee shop Harold & Maude's, where she oversaw the first solo exhibition from now-prominent local artist Andrew Spear in 1997.
These days, she brings the same keen eye to her monthly exhibits at the Peacock Room. The lineup of shows she has facilitated reads like a who's who of the Orlando art scene, with works from Spear, Patrick Fatica, Parker Sketch and hundreds more gracing the walls during the past decade.
Sadly, the future of art at this Mills 50 staple is in doubt, with management changes at the Peacock putting an end to the monthly, rotating exhibits. While Cowles still will bring art to venues such as the Hammered Lamb in nearby Ivanhoe Village, her next two shows will be her last at the Peacock. Drop by while you can to check out works by Cake and Mikey Bear in the "red room" now, and Miriam Lorenzi's cheeky yet thought-provoking "Tighty-Whities 2: The Women" photography show in the main room, opening Aug. 18. Both exhibits will remain up through Aug. 29.
(6 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday; thepeacockroom.com)
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