By Janet K. Keeler
Jacksonville is a vast, sprawling city. With 890,000 residents, it’s the most populated in Florida. It’s also the largest city in landmass in the lower 48 states, taking up nearly 750 square miles.
So for visitors, it’s smart to knock this massive place down to size. We do that by finding a unique neighborhood and one cool block to poke around on. Park Street in the Five Points district mixes the flavor of old Jacksonville with a bohemian vibe. There’s enough here to take up an entire day and even into the night, especially if the Cummer Museum and its beautiful gardens are tossed into the mix.
Five Points is on the St. Johns River with the north and south bank downtown core and its tangle of high rises nearby. Jacksonville is home to many insurance and financial institutions. TIAA Bank Field, the stadium of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is farther east on the river and the beaches of the First Coast beyond that. They are draws, too, but a ramble on Park Street is a different kind of experience and a manageable way to get to know the teeming metropolis.
Five Points takes up a special place in the larger Riverside historic district. Its name comes from an intersection that feeds into five streets. Don’t call it a roundabout or traffic circle because there are a couple of stops signs meaning that traffic doesn’t flow continuously. Prepare to be a bit confused while negotiating the intersection and if you aren’t, the driver in front of you might be. Chalk it up to the charm.
As you move away from the St. Johns, the neighborhood becomes residential and fans of house-hunting shows on HGTV will want to check out the tree-lined streets. Many of the homes here were built in the early part of the 1900s and have since been refurbished into glorious examples of the bungalow plantation style of architecture. Today, Jacksonville has the largest collection of these types of homes in the state.
After a drive to see the houses, we find a parking place on Park Street and start to explore. We have early dinner reservations and a pre-dinner drink date at River & Post restaurant on the river but we still have plenty of time to look around.
The sidewalk display at Five Points Antiques and Collectibles stops us right away. Dining table chairs from the 1950s find a place next to old globes, wooden duck decoys and so many bangles for around the neck and wrist. Inside, the warren of stalls each hawking their own vintage wares are new delights to some shoppers and memories to others. “I think I got rid of some of this stuff 40 years ago,” said one shopper. A younger couple marvels at the record albums, scrutinizing the covers and the backside chatter.
Down the street from the antiques emporium is Sun-Ray Cinema, a movie theater as different in looks and vibe as can be from than the multiplexes so common these days. There has been entertainment at this site for 90 years, and now patrons can see art-house films that are rarely shown at the multiscreen complexes, along with occasional first-run pictures. There’s an eclectic menu beyond the usual theater-fare including hummus and veggies sticks, a “wildly inauthentic” Cuban sandwich and a tofu bahn mi. Dinner and movie under one roof.
Brew Five Points draws us in for the promise of tea and beer. A young woman at the counter takes sips of hot coffee between knitting squares for a pillow. She keeps her handiwork neatly stacked while she orders another blast of caffeine. There is local brew in cans and on tap along with other better-known labels. It’s a breakfast, lunch and early dinner joint, too. Toast goes way beyond butter and jam with offerings such as Forever in Blue Jeans (tahini peanut butter spread, banana, dark chocolate shavings and agave syrup) or Don’t Call It a Comeback (goat cheese, homemade Datil pepper jam, arugula and honey). We settle in for liquid sustenance amid the customers staring at their screens, mobile and laptop.
Sufficiently hydrated, we pop in and out of other businesses, including Edge City and Jane Doe Boutique for women’s clothes and Bark, which bills itself as a “hip, urban pet boutique.” There are places to get tattoos, permanent and henna, along with more spots to eat and drink.
We save our appetite for River & Post, which is not on Park but within walking distance. There is a rooftop lounge and a ground-floor restaurant and we head for the elevators first. The restaurant is at Riverside Avenue and Post Street in a non-descript office building. Its existence represents a change to the area in which older buildings are mixing with new businesses and living spaces. In the lounge, we mingle with young professionals having after-work cocktails and nibbles with a view of the St. Johns and the south bank downtown core.
A charcuterie board of cured meats, cheeses, pickles and nuts pairs just fine with cocktails, one bourbon, the other gin. We vow that it won’t ruin our appetites because we have an eye on some hefty menu items in the restaurant. Local Mayport shrimp and grits is one. Hanger steak au poive is another.
We’ve made that early reservation for a reason. The 8:30 p.m. screening at Sun-Ray Cinema beckons. Where else but in new-wave Bohemian enclave will we get to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post on a big screen?
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