It’s a Wednesday afternoon. First you smell the aromatic curry spices wafting out of Andaz, then the perfume of fresh-brewed coffee wafts onto the street from Alpine Bistro, then a bell rings as the door to Flaco’s Cuban Bakery opens and the warm scent of empanadas and arepas spills out. The drums and hums of a Hare Krishna singing circle buzz up from the Union Street Farmers Market at Bo Diddley Plaza. Bare walls at every turn have been transformed into acrylic paint gardens, with murals of flowers, musicians and abstract art.
Welcome to downtown Gainesville, the beating heart of our city’s culture. Beyond the bustle of Archer Road’s chain restaurants and the University’s academic shadow, downtown Gainesville offers myriad ways to take a bite out of culture, both literally and figuratively. Whether your interests lie in art, theatre or simply uncovering something new, here are five ways to get your fill of food and local culture.
1. Cue the band
It’s no secret that Gainesville is a musical town. Home to Tom Petty and Sister Hazel, Gainesville has given birth to some of the greatest musical talents of a generation. Today, venues like High Dive, The Atlantic, Loosey’s and more bring talent to the stage nearly every week. Take a walk under the glow of downtown’s retro street lights and you’re sure to hear some combination of punk rock, smooth jazz and jam bands spilling out onto the cobblestone streets and sidewalks.
Getting into the local music scene is a great first step into the Gainesville art world, because no matter what type of music you enjoy, there always seems to be a venue, band or soloist that can tap into your personal style.
The Bull is an eclectic wine and beer joint nestled snuggly into the corner of SW 1st Street and SW 1st Avenue. With bare brick walls, wooden furniture and antique décor, The Bull has a homey, yet modern vibe. This small, intimate space is the perfect spot to order a glass of red and lose yourself in the rhythm of the melodic jazz band. Every Tuesday night, Jazzology, a Gainesville-native jazz ensemble, will transport you to a swanky New Orleans joint without ever leaving your home town.
Plus, The Bull is conveniently located right next door to Crane Ramen, a modern, upscale Japanese ramen restaurant with largely locally sourced ingredients and umami dishes made from scratch. Try Crane’s customer-favorite Shoyu bowl, then drift over to The Bull for a pairing of jazz and the house Malbec.
2. Paint the town
Downtown Gainesville is home to a variety of local art galleries and showrooms displaying collections of paintings, photography, sculpture, audio and performance art. Black C Art Gallery, located at 201 SE 2nd Place, beckons casual passersby with its unassuming storefront and whimsically colored collections. When the door yields, though, visitors discover an ever-evolving gallery filled with dance, photography, paintings, sculpture and more from Ani Collier and other select guest artists.
On 113 S Main Street, Eleanor Blair shares her softly textured oil paintings through her self-titled studio. Blair’s work focuses largely on Florida landscapes, with a casual precision reminiscent of expressionist painters like Vincent Van Gogh and impressionists like Claude Monet. Each piece feels like a warm, hazy memory.
These are just two of the many galleries downtown, and the idea of finding the right experience for you can be overwhelming. Artwalk Gainesville, however, offers the opportunity to do just that. On the last Friday of each month, Artwalk provides a map of featured local galleries, businesses and restaurants. This event is an evening, self-guided tour, so you aren’t encumbered by a schedule. Simply download the monthly map from artwalkgainesville.com, and join in with crowds of other art lovers as you buzz in and out, taking in all that local talent has to offer.
Then, when you’ve had your fill of art, stroll over to Dragonfly to keep that high-society momentum rolling. The explosively flavorful sushi rolls and creative signature cocktails provide the perfect fuel for a night of art.
3. To be, or not to be?
Nothing says culture like a night at the theatre. To someone who may not have much experience with the thespian arts, a night at the theatre may only seem like part of a family trip to New York, or an undergraduate group reading of Shakespear. However, theatre is so much more. As the lights dim, actors and directors build a whole world full of humor, struggle and moral ambiguity that, when done well, captures an audience in a wholly unique way from other art forms.
Gainesville residents are at an advantage here. Standing like a marble monument on 25 SE 2nd Place, The Hippodrome Theatre has brought professional live productions to Gainesville for half a century. With massive columns at its entrance, stepping into The Hippodrome feels like strolling into an ancient Greek theatre long ago. Of course, audio, stage lighting and plastic cups from the bar bring audiences back to the 21st century, but the magic of the theatre stands timeless. Under the creative direction of Lauren Warhol Caldwell, The Hippodrome will produce a total of seven plays during its 2018-2019 Mainstage Season from tragically heartwarming stories of friendship, to horror and romance. Before you catch that weekday evening performance or Sunday matinee, you can grab a bite at one of the restaurants at the adjacent Sun Center. Whether you’re in the mood for a burrito and margarita from Boca Fiesta, sushi and noodles from Liquid Ginger or top notch, hole-in-the-wall Israeli cuisine from Sababa, there’s something quick and delicious to grab before the show.
4. An ode to poetry
You’re sitting in a smoky room, as throngs of hip 20-somethings sip whiskey and snap to show their appreciation of some guy in a barrette behind the microphone. This might be the image that comes to mind when you imagine a live poetry reading. This image, however, can be restrictive for those who love poetry, but may not consider themselves artsy enough to go. In reality, poetry is an inherently non-restrictive art form. Poetry is all about emotion, vulnerability and human connection; topics in which people from all walks of life can find value and meaning.
The Civic Media Center strips away the idea of who does and does not belong. The mission of this community-based non-profit organization is, essentially, to provide a space for ideas and voices that are often silenced. This atmosphere creates an optimal space for the CMC’s Weekly Poetry Jam. Every Thursday night at 8, poets, musicians, spoken word poets, performance artists and more gather at the CMC to bare their souls. The CMC asks for a $3 to $5 donation for those coming to the event, but the mic is open. You can choose to listen and absorb, or share you own words.
5. A million flavors
Farmers markets in every town represent a slice of the community, and Gainesville is no different. The Union Street Farmers Market provides a colorful look into the Gainesville community. Local farmers, artisans and cooks shake hands with kids, couples, students, artists and business people. Bright green veggies and fresh cut flowers catch your eyes while children roll in the grass, and live performers set the tone for it all.
This patchwork quilt of people offers a relaxed setting to explore. From live music and dancing, to local artists selling their work, to culinary wizardry that you can’t believe was served from a tent, the Union Street Farmer’s Market offers a simple way to take a bite of local culture.