For a while, it seemed as though all that was left was hours to reminisce on all the great spots that once were.
By Patrick Jude
Orlando faced a momentary decline in its musical nightlife over the past few years. Tons of places closed their doors: The Space, Natura, The Peacock Room, Spacebar, Red Lion Pub, etc. Other favorite outing spots like Caboose and 64 North unfortunately removed live music from their bars for whatever reason; maybe people truly have gotten to the point where they’d rather hear a blaring radio instead of blazing guitars.
For a while, it seemed as though all that was left was hours to reminisce on all the great spots that once were. Luckily, there are still a few relatively nascent joints that have been combatting the hard times with creativity, as they strive to produce some of the more unique places Orlando musicians have the pleasure of playing.
Henao Contemporary Center – Tucked away in the northern part of Orlando, near Edgewater, lies the first venue on our list, Henao. The first thing everyone realizes about Henao is the fact that it’s huge, and covered with art – which makes sense considering it’s an art studio by day. One could easily, and satisfactorily, believe the entrance room must be the entirety of this cool new venue. It’s not. Henao has a second back room, complete with a bar, a great sounding stage and loads of lights. Beyond this second attached room is a massive backyard…and another stage! This backyard area, often adorned with more in-the-works art projects, melts the icing off the cake with a huge firepit (which was a blessing during the unusually cold winter we Central Floridians faced in the earlier part of this year). I would absolutely recommend checking out Henao, it’s got all the makings of a true O-Town treasure.
Blackstar / Odd Jobs – The neighboring duo of Blackstar and Odd Jobs is easily the most “out of town” feeling venue the local scene has ever seen. The pair both boast much more of a New York, big city vibe than Orlando is accustomed to. In fact, with its enormous mural spreads, one of which is of the late David Bowie, and the endless zigzagging wall patterns, Blackstar, as a whole, feels like one big Pop Culture piece. The patio, which is really the glue between the two venues, is also sizable and lively. Both Blackstar and Odd Jobs feature raised stages, the latter of which is back dropped with about 100 individual and legitimately functioning television screens, instead of the typical projection screens of most venues – definitely innovative.
Iron Cow – Last but not least is just about the only good spot in the struggling and worn out Milk District. I’m not happy to call it that way, but as an observer I have to say it’s so. Truth be told, I’ve only made it to Iron Cow once, but it certainly left an impression. The stage is nice, and the venue is roomy. Iron Cow is decked out with some comfy sofas and chairs, along with the traditional tables and barstools. The best part, in my opinion, about Iron Cow is its incredibly diverse food menu. The fact that they have food is a blessing in and of itself, but the variety genuinely puts this venue a few nods ahead of the rest. I’ve always wished more music bars would implement the culinary arts. It gives non-drinkers a way to treat themselves, and can help fill the stomach of a drinker before their lack of nutrients gets them spin-sick.
It seems like “bigger is better” is the mantra for Orlando’s musical nightlife at the moment. After a life spent packing into some venues of yesteryears, having the space to move around is kind of a nice change. There’s nothing like the intimate setting of a tight, close up venue, but after seeing a few performances at these new & exciting additions to our city, it’s safe to say the small stage spirit carries on over…
** Though it’s not as new as the others, I always like to point out the great folks at The Falcon for being an exemplary continuum of how a music venue should be. I’ve always had a magnificent time there, as both a performer and as a patron.
Born and raised in Orlando, and Socialist to the core, Patrick Jude graduated from The University Of Central Florida in 2015. He currently holds a B.A. in English Literature, as well as an A.A. in Jazz Performance from Valencia College. Jude is heavily tattooed, abstains from alcohol and is an avid Packers fan.