Disney Springs revives its late night
Once upon a time, that time being from 1989 to 2008, there was a little village just outside the Magic Kingdom known as Pleasure Island. It lay beyond a gate inside Downtown Disney which only opened at night to those pure of heart and over 18 years of age and offered a club-hopping refuge for people seeking respite from the endless family friendliness of the Mouse. Then it closed.
Lots of backstory, an economic collapse and recovery and a complete rebranding later, the renamed Disney Springs is experimenting with late night offerings once again. The clubs are no longer divided from the rest of the attraction, but after 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, several of them become age restricted, a dress code goes into effect (it includes “dress shorts,” so you’re probably fine), and the entertainment gets a little more adult (meaning dancing and DJs and stuff, not *adult* adult).
It’s difficult to reconcile Pleasure Island’s storied past with the current set of late night venues — all of which are restaurants — touted by Disney Springs. Food and drink seem to be the main draw at these spots. That’s appealing to me as a food reporter, but not so much as a 30-something looking for a place to dance, watch a show, or sing along with a band.
Still, our adventure through the entertainment complex resulted in a lineup of spots we’d return to for a night out in Disney Springs. They go beyond an acoustic bands or simple bar scene to add something to your late night fun.
This is the real heart of the nightlife circuit. Starting at 8 p.m., space opens up for a dance floor as a live band takes the stage. In keeping with the restaurant’sProhibition Era theme, the band plays a kind of modified hot jazz, mostly arrangement of current pop songs. (Think Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox.) Alternating between the music sets are a variety of burlesque-ish entertainers. Again, it’s Disney, so all the outfits aren’t what you would call skimpy, but also, it’s Disney, which means they can afford some real talent. The dancers and performers are all at or near Cirque level.
I’m still in awe of the hula hoop artist. I won’t give away more. I will point out instead the three bars, plenty of creative cocktails, and a tasty menu.
A live singer brought some Latin favorites to life on a small stage near the Latin-American restaurant’s outdoor seating. His appearance was occasional, but its effect was immediate. People passing by the restaurant stopped for a little merengue, while diners danced in their seats.
I can’t decide if I like the use of a sporadic live singer or if that act should be more consistent. Something about not knowing when you’re going to catch the music makes the night more exciting.
There’s a reason why Raglan Road has been a longtime favorite way back before the complex’s new status as Disney Springs. It’s saying something when a live band gets you to put your cocktail (a gingery Dublin Donkey for me) down for a pub-wide song. The nightly entertainment inside and outside the restaurant doesn’t feel like an afterthought — it’s part of the experience.
Having a close hotel room or a designated driver seems like a necessity for a true visit here. The raucous drinking songs and the ballads (which are also drinking songs) inspire more than a single shot of whiskey. Also, someone hangout in the bathroom and listen to the Irish standup act they have playing on the speakers. Then report back to me because I missed the punchlines to about half those jokes.
Bowling is one of the most solid late night activities. Takes less coordination than dancing and the volume makes for slightly easier conversation than a club. Splitsville stays open until last call (2 a.m. on the weekends) and has 30 lanes split between two floors. It’s fun and all, but I hope I’m not the only person who wishes it was still a Virgin Records only with a bar in it. An interesting mix of sushi, pizza, burgers and entrees pairs oh so well with their slush drinks.
What would a club night be without a lounge? STK is where you can listen to a top local DJ, grab a cocktail and chill. And maybe make plans for taking control of all the operations on the west side. This seems like the kind of place where that sentence would come up in regular conversation.
If a DJ isn’t your thing, head upstairs for a quieter bar as well as a patio offering some of the best views of Disney Springs. STK is technically a steakhouse, but its food menu goes beyond some excellent cuts of beef with seafood and smaller plates.