Orlando Nightlife Columnist Tod Caviness: An Interview

Poet recites and holding a Yuengling

Orlando’s Tod Caviness writes the nightlife column for The Orlando Sentinel. Once a month, he hosts The Speakeasy at Will’s Pub, an open-mic poetry reading. By readers choice, three times he won Orlando Weekly’s Best Spoken-Word artist. A long friend of mine, I asked him to grace this humble blog for an interview.

1. Tell us your literary history.
The usual high school poetry and journaling. Some short stories that will hopefully never see the light of day, although some of it still makes me smile when I dig it out of the attic.

2. What is  your Orlando literary history?
Really, the “literary” history starts in Orlando. I didn’t start writing with intent until after I moved here in the mid-’90s, and I still credit the old Backroom Words and the larger spoken word scene for a big part of that. Sometime after the Backroom Words morphed into Speakeasy, I weaseled my way into some freelance work for an arts & entertainment site called Orlando Citybeat. (Later known as Orlando Metromix, before the Orlando Sentinel dropped it entirely.) I find that the “old days” are never as cool as we remember, but man, do I miss doing comic book reviews and that oddball karaoke column I used to write with Trevor Fraser.

Anyway, that led to full-time grunt work with the Sentinel and eventually the features reporting job I have now. Although my days of “slam poetry” (or whatever you want to call it) are largely in the rear-view, I still keep a toehold in the scene through my monthly gig hosting Speakeasy at Will’s Pub and spoken word events at the annual Orlando Fringe Festival.

3. Explain your Orlando Sentinel blog.
The blog’s just a small part of my job, which is basically the same nightlife beat the late Kelly Fitzpatrick used to cover. And man, do I owe her for it – I would not have gotten the foot in the door way back when without Kelly and I hope I can keep doing this with half the sense of humor she had.

When I’m not coming up with synonyms for “cocktail,” I’m a general features reporter, which means I write about a wide range of entertainment topics. Basically, whatever I can convince my editor to print. I’ve interviewed everyone from local burlesque dancers to Art Spiegelman. All this is not quite as fun as it sounds … but yeah, it’s still a lot of fun.

4. What are your views on Orlando’s nightlife?
Man, does Orlando love chasing trends. Luckily, the primary trends at the moment are craft beer and better cocktails, and I can’t argue with either of those. Who doesn’t want better drinks? Orlando may not have blazed any trails, but we’re quick learners: Florida’s one of the fastest-growing states for microbreweries, and the bartenders at joints like The Courtesy and Matador really care about what they do. All this, and there’s still room for the old guard like Wally’s and Will’s. It’s a good mix. I think a few areas are reaching the saturation point (ahem, downtown), but after the smoke clears the worthy bars are still going to have a clientele.

5. Any memorable moments?
Man, I wish I had more Bukowski moments, but the best part of this job is just letting bartenders talk and watching people. There’s a bar a few miles north of College Park, and I found the markers where a couple regulars are buried in the backyard. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you which one.) They’re still there, if you know where to look. That probably seems sad to some people, but I dunno – sometimes the ties you make at bars are the strongest. The friendships I made at Will’s back in the day have lasted longer than 99% of the people who signed my high school yearbook.

6. Anyone given you backlash over a review?
Sure. It’s funny, though – most people are just glad to be mentioned, even if it’s lukewarm. It’s when I don’t mention them that I hear about it. God forbid I do a roundup of dive bars or whatever and (insert hole-in-the-wall here) isn’t on the list. People, I cover six counties. That’s a lot of bars.

7. I forgot the specifics. Yet, you mentioned a Southern site not mentioning any Orlando bars.
Oh yeah! Southern Living did some “Top 100” list awhile back. But a lot of the buzzworthy spots have just been popping up in the last couple years; give it time. And let’s be honest, this was a magazine that my Mom reads for cake recipes.

8. What are your views on Uber? (Uber is a mobile phone network connecting clients to available drivers. Worldwide, taxi companies hate it.)
Don’t really know enough about it to have a strong opinion, but I know a couple legitimate cabbies around town and you can probably guess theirs. I know if I were drunk and looking for a ride, it probably wouldn’t make my top 3 options.

9. Any future projects or plans?
I’ve just recently become a Dad, which has a way of putting anything beyond the 9-to-5 on hold. Despite that, it’s shaping up to be a good year: I’ve got a short story coming out on the next “15 Views of Orlando” anthology from Burrow Press, and I’m in talks with a publisher in Tampa to knock out my first book of poetry in awhile. So far, so good.

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Altamonte Springs’ Why Not Lounge: A Big Waste of Money

Why Not Lounge

The damned-near empty parking lot was an omen. Yet, last Friday night, I entered the infamous Why Not Lounge, anyway. Why Not Lounge exists in a Howard Johnson’s Hotel located in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Legend has it Playboy once wrote it as the best place to get laid…back in the 1970’s.

For the longest of time, many Central Floridians viewed Why Not Lounge as a temple of cheesiness, the laughing stock of all Central Florida nightclubs. Some of it was deserved. True enough, patrons way past their primes dressed like twenty year olds. Some even behaved that way too. Still, that was only some of the people. Also, Why Not Lounge wasn’t the senior citizen paradise folks said it was. Right along with the over-fifty patrons were folks in their thirties and forties. Some were even in their twenties.

I never had a problem with the crowd. For me, Why Not Lounge is a ten minute drive away. Plus it was always free to go in. Also, the service was good.

Last Friday showed a different Why Not Lounge. First, there was a five dollar cover for non-hotel residents. A live band always played on the stage. That night a DJ was on the stage.

Truth be known, I enjoyed the night just having a DJ. I never had anything against live entertainment. Still, I always preferred listening to music by the original artists.

When I bought the usual Bud Light, my mood soured. The Bud Light was four bucks. I handed the bartender a five. She kept my dollar change, something that annoyed the hell out of me. As a tip, I was going to leave it to her anyway. Yet, she took it upon herself to keep my dollar.

Let’s go over this again. I paid five dollars to enter a fuckin’ hotel lounge, a place no bigger than your average dive bar. Unless there’s a band, dive bars usually let you in free. As other spots usually charge three bucks and some change for a Bud Light, Why Not Lounge charges four dollars, too goddamned high for a domestic beer. Plus Ol’ Girl took it upon herself to keep my dollar. If it wasn’t for the free parking, I could have sworn I was in Downtown Orlando, a spot notorious for shitty service and over-priced drinks.

I enjoyed the DJ. His mixing showed a talent for catering to diverse crowds. Older crowd doesn’t mean playing “classics” all night. The DJ successfully mixed the classics with the new.

Another bright spot was running into two female friends, both I hadn’t seen in awhile. Their smiles and friendly behavior lightened my mood a little. I gave them both a hug before I left.

On the whole, I may not set foot into Why NotLounge for a long time. The whole experience was a waste of money.

Orlando’s Ruling Indie Venue: Will’s Pub Part One

Of course, as the blog continually focus on Orlando’s nightlife and culture, no way in hell could it forget Will’s Pub, one of Orlando’s ruling live act venues.  Because of it’s strong Indie presence, some might even suggest Will’s Pub the ruler of all Central Florida live venues.

I found Will’s Pub back in 1997.  My buddy, Nigel, DJed there once a week.  The service was good. People were laid back and nice. I kept going back to Will’s every since.

Bands from all over the country come to Will’s.  Not only that, Will’s strongly caters to local acts also.

When local poets had no venue, Will’s Pub welcomed them.   Every week, I hosted the open-mic reading that eventually went to Tod Caviness.  (A side note: Every bar that kicked out the poets prior to this have since closed.)

The old Will’s Pub location closed in 2006.  Another bar eventually opened in 2009.

The following gallery shows photos of the first bar.  Photos of the second bar will be shown in a future blog, Part Two.

 

 

 

Wally’s: One of Orlando’s Oldest and Best Dive Bars

Wally's Sign

Almost every week, friends and I hang at Wally’s, an Orlando bar that existed before Walt Disney World. Founded in 1954, by the late Roy Updike, the bar opened as Mills Avenue Liquors.

On Wally’s walls, you see wallpaper of naked women.  That’s been up since the bar’s opening.

Wallpaper of naked women

As time went on, the late Walter Updike (Roy’s son), took over.  During this time, a jukebox was added.  Then, the name changed.

I couldn’t find the exact date.  Yet, the name change happened during a time patrons gathered to watch televised UCF football games.  For some reason, patrons kept yelling, “Wally! Wally! Wally!”

That created the name change.

What’s to love about Wally’s, you ask?  Service is super friendly.  When they pour liquor, you get a good pour. Plus the liquor isn’t watered-down and over-priced. You definitely receive a stiff drink.  Another thing, the bar always have decent drink specials.

My friends and I usually attend the bar counter.  Yet, Wally’s is also a carryout  joint.  Folks can buy booze for taking home.

The hours are 7:30 am to 2 am.

People of all ages and all backgrounds hang here.  Also, folks from every economic class hangs here too, from broke to wealthy. Usually, everyone gets along.

Once in awhile, you see entertainment.  Yet, most of the music comes from the jukebox.

I never forgot this moment.  It happened during President Obama’s first run for president.  The television in our area was on FOX.  Me and some friends kept talking shit about FOX not being truthful with the voting counts.  I guess the bartender was fed up with our shit talking.  He changed the channel to another station showing the counts, one we agreed with.

I’m not going to hide it. I’ve had my downs here.  Mostly, people hogging the Internet Jukebox.  I love and hate that thing. I love it because you can find almost any song you want.  I hate it because current technology allows douche bags to block your songs on a phone app.  I witnessed an idiot doing this all night.  After that, I vowed to never step foot back into Wally’s again.

Yet, a friend pointed out the many positives over the negatives.  Because the positives outweighs the negatives, I still return to Wally’s.

The following gallery contains photos of the past years.

 

Photos of Amazingly Talented Simulcast at Orlando’s CaddyShanks

Photographer Robert Millward blesses the blog with another set of cool concert photography. Last weekend, the band Simulcast performed at Orlando’s CaddyShanks. CaddyShanks is a virtual golf and sports pub.

Simulcast performs pop, classic rock, blues and modern country.  Robert Millward describes them as amazingly talented.

Enjoy Rob’s photos.

Downtown Orlando’s Monthly Art Event: Third Thursday

Last Thursday, I attended Downtown Orlando’s Third Thursday, a monthly art event.  During these events, downtown galleries open to the public and display artists featured for the month.  If cheap booze is your thing, I recommend stopping at City Arts or Gallery at Avalon Island.  Domestic booze is three bucks.  Plus try to arrive early because free parking fills up quick.  The event usually starts around 6PM.  After 6PM, parking at the meters are free. So, you might want to arrive between 6 and 6:30 for the available free parking.

Next, a photo gallery of the event.

Orlando Crowd Enjoys Comedians Luke Cunningham and Seth Herzog

Last night (Tuesday), I drove to Orlando’s Will’s Pub.  At the last minute, comedians Luke Cunningham and  Seth Herzog was scheduled to perform. Seth Herzog is a warm-up comedian for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Luke Cunningham writes for the show.

Earlier, Jimmy himself taped a show at Universal Studios.

The Will’s Pub event was free.

As I arrived, a long line waited to enter.

Will's Pub Line for Seth Herzog

With me was my camera in a gym bag.  Walking to the front of the line, I asked the nice door lady would they allow me in with the bag.  For some reason, I thought because these guys were pros, me coming in with a bag may present a problem.  Actually, I was worried about them allowing a “pro” camera.

“You’re going to blog about it?” the door lady asked.

“Yep,” I answered.

The door lady allowed me in.  The door lady was a dear friend who knew about my nightlife blog.

Waiting for brew at the heavily crowded bar counter,  I missed part of Luke Cunningham’s act. Actually, I missed a huge chunk of his act.  After getting brew, I was busy trying to find the right spot to photograph him.

I moved in as close as I can to the stage, and wound up pissing people off.   I was still near the back.  I stood in front of a short guy.

“Oh, don’t stand there!” he yelled.

I moved over.

“You happy now?” I asked.

Now, I was standing in front of a short woman.

“Don’t you see her standing there?” a female yelled.

Irritated I moved on.

“Oh, what the fuck ever!” I said.

I felt embarrassed using that kind of language.  True enough, my actions did appear inconsiderate. Still, if you’re short, why in the fuck would you stand in the back? Plus have the audacity to insist folks shouldn’t stand in front of you.

I did manage a decent shot of Luke Cunningham. Definitely not perfect.  Yet, I’ll live with it.

Luke Cunningham at Will's Pub

Because I missed most of his show, I can’t give you my personal opinion on Luke Cunningham’s act.  Yet, I will say folks were entertained and enjoyed the hell out of him.  Luke Cunningham gained the laughs he was aiming for.

Next, Seth Herzog performed.  First, theme  music from the 70’s TV Series Wonder Woman played.  In a jogging suit, Seth was dancing onstage.  Next, he took off his jogging suit to reveal he was wearing a Wonder Woman costume.

Seth Herzog in Wonder Woman Costume

I enjoyed Seth’s tales about New York. A real funny story dealt with a guy yelling at folks calling him gay.

During part of his act, Seth asked what was the bad part of town.  Some idiot yelled Pine Hills.

Okay, for those unfamiliar with Orlando, I shall tell you what area you really should avoid.  Tourists should avoid International Drive. If a person wishes not to experience muggings, International Drive should be avoided at all costs.

Seth also told a funny joke about Leesburg, Florida, a hicktown you don’t spend your Florida vacation at.

Everyone enjoyed themselves that night.

Still, I left asking myself the same question over and over.  If you’re short, why in the fuck would you stand in the back?

 

The following gallery are scenes from the event.