Each month in Gainesville downtown hosts the Pledge 5 Foundation First Fridays, which is a fun event that I have embraced in the last couple of months. It gives me a chance to have a date with my husband, while helping a charitable cause. The Pledge 5 Foundation is all about volunteering, and asks participants to pledge 5 hours of volunteer work.
Whether you pledge your time or not, this is a great time in Downtown Gainesville for an opportunity to try out different restaurants and drinking establishments. Even the Hipp participates, along with several art galleries. You can participate for free, just by picking up a passport which gets you some great deals, like 1/2 price appetizers, and which you can get stamped or stickered to trade in for raffle tickets at the end of the night. Or you can pay for a VIP wristband, which has tabs to trade for special freebies, such as drinks or a carriage ride.
The last two months, we were able to get the VIP wristband on Groupon, so it ended up being a great deal for a really fun night. Even if you don’t get the Groupon deal, the VIP wristband is only $20, so you’re still getting a great deal. It’s a really great way to get to know the local establishments. We found a couple that we’d never been to before that we will definitely go back to another time, which is why they participate. Remember, if you do this, go back for a visit and tip your wait person well!
We started out at Sweet Mel’s, where we had their Philly Nachos, which is the inside of a Philly cheese steak piled up on hand-cut, house made potato chips, and may very well be better than an actual cheese steak. They also offer a free beer with the VIP wristband, so we each had one of those, too. Oh, and some breaded and fried mac & cheese. There was a bit of excitement outside when an ambulance pulled up for someone on the sidewalk.
There are all kinds of things to explore downtown. It might not be a huge area, or quite as quaint as some other cities, but it does have some wonderful old architecture, and interesting people to watch. The old Pontiac dealership has been turned into a nightclub, but they didn’t obliterate the origins when they remodeled. I always love being able to trace a building back to its roots. And to see a heavy Chevy with dingle balls all around parked out front just made me smile.
Dove World Church, the church that threatened to burn the Quran and briefly became the face of the US to Muslim countries is headquartered here in Gainesville, and seem to dislike just about every group you can think of. They showed up with some mixed messages of love and hate, and were countered by a couple of eclectic groups. I can’t say that I like Dove World, but I do like that they can speak their minds legally. And I love that people come out to counter their nonsense, and do so peacefully.
One of the really wonderful freebies you can get is a carriage ride. We did that last month and had a great time, but this month Doc decided to go in his wheelchair, so he couldn’t get into the carriage. It is definitely worth doing if you can.
As I was leaving one fine establishment, I believe it was The Midnight, I turned and saw Summer Love on tap. Well who doesn’t want a little summer love? That’s one place I will have to revisit, and soon.
Half Corked offered free wine tastings to anyone with a Passport, along with a free draft beer for the VIP wristbands. They have an amazing selection of wine, and offer cards where you can choose to sample several, or just have a glass or two if you know what you like. The beer on tap makes it easier for a mixed group to enjoy. I love their wine cork balls at the front. I’m trying to figure out where I could put one if I made it.
Lillian’s Music Store isn’t really a music store at all, although they do have some live music. It’s a bar, and it was a fun place to stop in for a Jolly Rancher Shooter. You may notice that the images get moodier as the night goes along. I decided early on to not switch to a higher ISO when it got darker because I wanted to capture that moodiness. The feeling of the images is more accurate that way, capturing an essence that would be missing if the corners and crevices were exposed.
My favorite stop of the night was probably Sharab, which I actually stopped at twice. The first time was before they were open, but they gave us stickers anyway. The second time was when we were looking for Bombay, which mistakenly had their address listed. It turned out to belong to the same people, so they honored the freebie from Bombay at Sharab, which was a free Bacardi drink. Of course I had a mojito! It was made right in front of my eyes, with real fresh mint, muddled with real lime. We sat and talked to the bartenders for a while, and were impressed with their knowledge and selection. This image was taken from their bar, of the pool hall across the street.
Lest you think all I did was drink, I also had gelato from the Gelato Company and french fries from Relish and coffee from Maude’s, so there were a few non-alcoholic choices, too. Then, at the end of the night, you trade your passport in for raffle tickets and door prizes are drawn. One couple near us had incredible luck and went home with several of the bigger packages. We won a gift certificate to one of our favorite restaurants,Emiliano’s, so it looks like we’ll have another date night sometime soon!