Coolest Block in Orlando: Audubon Park for Shopping and Dining
By Janet K. Keeler
The first clue that you aren’t at an ordinary urban strip mall is a sip of 2014 BFM Abbaye de St. Bon Chien sour beer at Redlight Redlight Craft Beer Parlour.
Yes, the name’s a mouthful and so is this variety of suds that triggers serious pucker. The sour power mellows as the amber liquid warms, an interesting character of a beer style long on history but short on wide exposure.
And so begins an exploration of the 2800-2900 block of Corrine Drive in Orlando’s Audubon Park Garden District. This strip, a literal term in this instance, is a higgledy-piggledy mashup of buildings close enough together to mimic a modern strip mall but with a different vibe all together. Forget the chain stores that take up space in the modern retail landscape. These businesses are unique, independent and generally super-cool.
That itself is a good way to describe the whole of Audubon Park, a shopping and dining district surrounded by 1920s bungalows and more modern ranch-style homes.
It’s just minutes from tiny Winter Park and even closer to Harry P. Leu botanical gardens. The anchor of the business district is the indoor East End Market, a tangle of merchants celebrating Orlando’s growing food obsession. Cooking classes plus regular seminars (wine and chocolate pairings for one) bring knowledge to a hungry audience. Through the year, the area boasts outdoor events and festivals, from farmers markets to a retro modern home tour and Zombietoberfest.
We are at this no-name strip mall on the other side of Corrine Drive, sipping beer at Redlight Redlight. The proprietors have done something clever with their tap house, besides calling it a “craft beer parlour.” They have preserved the ambience of the Weathermasters air conditioning/heating business that came before in this very spot. The business was shuttered for years before the beer purveyors came along and the old signage still existed inside and out. So, too, did the industrial bones, perfect for a new hipster hangout. Patrons can pull up a barstool and sample a wide array of beers from Redlight Redlight’s own specialty sours to an Italian Belgian-style witbier that pays homage to Euro-brew diplomacy and a pepper ale crafted from Japanese hops.
But this Corrine Drive strip is not built by craft beer alone. In fact, it’s a different place during the daylight hours when the narrow walkway bustles with buyers, diners and people seeking yoga-calm and the folks at Redlight Redlight are catching up on their sleep. (It’s open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and many of the shops close by 6 p.m.)
The Lovely Boutique Market is a rabbit warren of wonders and once inside the doors, you’ll find it is far more extensive that you might expect from the front. Hopping from stall to stall reveals handmade soaps and candles, collectible cameras, 1960s lighting fixtures and a healthy collection of vintage bridal dresses tailor-made for Halloween. Tim Burton’s 2005 film Corpse Bride comes to mind.
Smack in the center is Bookmark It, a gem of a bookseller, with a fine collection of children’s and Florida-centric books. Author talks and signings, plus regular children’s story times (“for babes in the womb, babes in arms and babes on the crawl”) are a draw here.
Dear Prudence and the Bead Lounge, and the R. Nichols Shop (stationary and gifts) are the little joints next door. Both are excellent stops for gifts to take to the folks back home or to treat for yourself. Nick Hanzlik, the illustrator of the best-selling French Women Don’t Get Fat, puts his urban designs on candles, stationary, frames and luggage tags with serious style. At Dear Prudence, gently used and new clothes share space with a DIY jewelry joint, classes offered.
Park Ave CDs still bears the name of an earlier address and it’s a narrow of a description because they stock much more. Vinyl takes up lots of space along with books about dreamers, rockers and writers, Jack Kerouac for one. Looking for a copy of Jon Nordstrom’s Danish Tattooing? It’s here, along with Japanese anime collectibles. Among the most popular inventory are the 10 LP grab bags for $7. The albums are stashed in brown paper bags so buyers have no idea what they are getting. I might buy a lot hoping for a copy of Frampton Comes Alive!
Food is important to an urban adventurer and there’s Junior’s Diner for breakfast and lunch at one end of the strip and Sushi Lola’s for lunch and dinner in the middle. And at other end is P is for Pie Bake Shop to satisfy the desire for flaky crust. The owners create savory and sweet pies, some in traditional forms and others baked in large slabs or prepared in jars. Whoopie and mini-pies are among their specialties and there are few flavor combinations left undiscovered. A coconut cream pie in a small jar hit the spot and my longing for a fig with honey goat cheese hand pie is something powerful days after a visit.
All this shopping and dining requires a restorative break and it can be found at Warrior One, a yoga studio that offers free community classes several times a week. An hour doesn’t pass during the day when there aren’t people in yoga pants coming and going with mats and a glow about them. Spinning, sweating and Samadhi happens here.
There are other shops to explore, too, and an afternoon at this strip mall offers another view of Orlando, and a glass of beer you won’t forget.
Highlights of 2800-2900 Block of Corrine Drive
Even if you aren’t in the market to see The Amity Affliction at The Beacham or MC Chris at The Social, stop by Park Ave CDs to marvel at the board that displays the live music at local venues. Park Avenue serves as the box office. This is how to get a feel for the lively club scene.
Tired of hunting for your black bag in the sea of black bags on the luggage belt at the airport? Your R. Nichols luggage tag ($6 each) will fix that. Bold graphics that say something about what you love (Paris, San Francisco, dogs, flowers, travel in general and more) are a sweet find.
Stick to Your Diet
Order a glass of Farmhouse Table Beer at Redlight Redlight Craft Beer Parlour and you’ll be getting a taste of a local brew. Plus, it’s gluten-free and made with Southern sorghum and honey.
On the Fly
The cult of fly fishermen and those who love the art of tying flies gather at Orlando Outfitters. Local anglers and tourists are drawn here for the vast offering of equipment. Orlando has a number of urban lakes and ponds suitable for fishing. And now that you've got the right equipment, how will the fish resist your line?