Dis­ney Springs re­vives its late night

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COMMENTARY

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.

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