I’ve been behind the bar at three different manifestations of Redlight Redlight. Since my friend Brent has yet to bartend at his nationally recognized, award winning beer parlour’s most recent spot, I’m the only person who can say that. During that time I’ve been voted Orlando’s best bartender twice by the Orlando Weekly’s readers’ poll and had a word in urbandictionary.com coined after me, and no, I didn’t post it myself. As far as the internet is concerned, to be “teeged” is to let your bartender pick out your next beer for you. This is particularly handy when you are drinking somewhere that has as diverse a selection as Redlight Redlight and being served by someone, like myself, who has sampled more different types of beer than he can possibly recount. Tell me your favorite beer. If we don’t have it, I’ll find you something close. Tell me a flavor your palate desires, and I’ll pick you a beer out of Redlight’s enormous collection that you are guaranteed to enjoy. This is not some preternatural ability. This kind of knowledge comes from years of research.
When Redlight closed on Bennett Road we all thought the new location at 2810 Corrine Drive would be open within a week. This did not happen. Two weeks went by and my bank account began to wilt away. When October’s rent began to rear its ugly head, I knew I had to find a way to make a few quick dollars. Fortunately, I have some amazing friends in this city. Friends who own amazing bars. Friends who had been teeged and liked it. When I offered to whore my bartending, beer drinking expertise to whomever would take me, these incredible people didn’t hesitate to offer me shelter. I packed my bindle and set out into Orlando’s various neighborhoods, each night learning new POS systems and new draft lists, and hopefully, paying back some of the generosity I’d been shown.
I love Oblivion Taproom’s owner Pete Wesenberg because he was one my best regulars before his own bar and grill opened a year ago, he gave me two incredible nights serving drinks at this bar, and he is one of the only people I know who is balder than I am. His head is as smooth as the Q-ball on his pool table, and his kitchen’s creative interpretations of bar grub are some of the best food in Orlando. Monday night he orchestrated a Redlight Redlight take over for my starving coworkers and me, pleasing those of our regulars who had grown pale with lovesickness during their lonely month without us. Pete had just tapped kegs of Green Flash’s West Coast IPA and Hop Head Red, two excellent beers that had arrived in Orlando during Redlight’s hiatus. I do enjoy educating myself.
If you ever want to drink fantastic wine and beer with the tranquil eyes of the Buddha smiling beatifically upon you, head to The Imperial at Washburn Imports located at 1800 N. Orange Avenue, right in the middle of antique row. One can’t help feeling worldly and traveled at The Imperial, which is a bar built right in the middle of a furniture store and is decked out in owner John Washburn’s exotic acquisitions. Our good friend Brett Banta, The Imperial’s manager, put together a Redlight Redlight take over of his own and along with my colleagues Jess and Sara, I survived a totally slammed Tuesday night. I guess Redlight’s regulars just can’t get enough of us. Or maybe they just love beer. It certainly didn’t hurt that Brett had just tapped Orlando’s first keg of Sierra Nevada’s exclusive beer camp’s newest creation Lost Guy Rye, which our very own Brent Hernandez helped to create. Despite the packed crowd, I found time to continue my research.
The next night I returned to Oblivion Taproom to help out with their popular Wing Wednesday. Basket after basket of mouth watering wings passed under my nose, but as I scrambled to fill the glasses of a parched and ravenous crowd, I didn’t find time to indulge. The Oblivion’s regular bartender Matt and a patient weight staff tolerated my blunders with the unfamiliar POS system and enormous list of ciders, by far the biggest selection in town. By last call, I felt like one of the gang. After a busy and thirst-inducing shift, I was eager to spend my tips on any of the Oblivion’s forty taps, but Pete, ever the philanthropist, wouldn’t hear of it and bought me a couple of pints himself.
The Falcon at 819 E. Washington Street in the middle of Thorton Park is arguably the hippest bar in town, though owners John and Melissa Felcman are much too modest to ever make that claim themselves. Their recent addition, a small lounge known as the Red Room, is one of the strangest and most original drinking spaces I’ve ever seen. An homage to the motion picture The Shining, it looks like it was lifted straight out of the Overlook Hotel and opened in conjunction with the Redrum art show, which featured work inspired by Kubrick’s classic film. Functioning as much as a gallery as it does a bar, The Falcon host some of the finest art shows in town, and if this isn’t enough, its head bartender Karen Russell is one of the most talented painters in Orlando. Thursday night she was generous enough to show me the ropes, share her tips, and even had me drinking straight out of the tap for a photo shoot that required so many retakes I had beer running down my beard by the end of it. Fish Out of Water’s sushi kept the customers thirsty and Karen and I kept them quaffed with three dollar pints of Rogue Mocha Porter, and absolutely unbeatable deal.
By Friday we were splashing a final coat of paint on Redlight and on Saturday, in time for Audubon Park’s Zombietoberfest, we opened our doors to the public. The response and turnout were overwhelming. Dripping with fake blood, I endured the busiest single night of bartending I’ve experienced since I started slinging beers five years ago, and though the digs and even some of the faces were new, it began to feel like home. As good as it is to be home, it’s even better when you know your neighbors have got your back. Orlando proves that a city has room for as many great bars as there are visionaries. Oblivion Taproom, The Imperial, The Falcon, and Redlight Redlight each fill a niche and help to make our city an amazing place to live and work. Until last week, I never understood the concept of community so completely, and I’ve never been more thrilled to be a part of one. The generosity I have received in my time of need is staggering, and I hope to be able to repay some portion of it one day. If you need me, you know where to look.
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