ORLANDO/CENTRAL FLORIDA It's that time again—time for the company holiday party. Here are new restaurants, bars, and other event spaces that can work for corporate holiday events, employee gatherings, and other end-of-year festivities.
1. Looking for a unique setting? Try Blank Space Gallery and Lounge. The 875-square-foot venue opened in November 2009 in an Art Deco building downtown, and is an eclectic blend of art gallery, lounge, and café. A rotating display of local and regional artists creates a colorful backdrop for parties. The gallery can accommodate 100 people for a reception and has large floor-to-ceiling windows. There is also a partially covered sidewalk patio that can hold an additional 30.
2. Classic car aficionados will feel like kids in a candy store at Rick’s Classic Cars in Winter Park, which opened in October. Displayed within the 6,700-square-foot garage are as many as 10 of the owner’s personal automobiles, including a 1960 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and a 1970 Ferrari 356 GT 2+2. The facility has a 20-foot hand-carved bar and small prep kitchen. Leather sofas and chairs provide seating for 15, but there is ample room for tables to be brought in for events of 300 people. The venue works with a select group of caterers.
3. Orlando’s newest theme park attraction, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened in June at Universal Orlando Resort's Islands of Adventure and is available to host private events for 20 to 20,000. Guests can start by experiencing Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a simulation ride that takes them on an adventure with Harry and his friends. For bigger thrills, Dragon Challenge offers twin high-speed roller coasters. When it is time to eat, the park’s event team can create a custom menu including such Harry Potter favorites as shepherd’s pie, cauldron cakes, and butterbeer.
4. The new Amway Center in downtown Orlando is more than a sports and concert venue. The $380 million facility opened in October and has a variety of spaces available for private groups on non-event dates. Jernigan’s Restaurant has seating for 300 and a menu that includes steaks, barbecue, Italian, and Asian dishes. For an authentic sports atmosphere, the N.B.A. Orlando Magic’s practice court can be reserved for events of 500 people. Larger groups can use the Disney Atrium, an 80-foot-tall lobby of nearly 7,000 square feet decorated with works by local and regional artists.
5. The new tower at the Peabody Orlando is the home of Napa, a restaurant with a setting and menu inspired by Northern California’s wine country that opened in September. The 5,000-square-foot restaurant with dark wood and modern accents can seat 200 inside and 50 outside. For smaller groups, a 16-seat private dining room is available. The culinary team incorporates locally grown produce, meat, and dairy products into the menu. Options include Sonoma lamb loin with celery root polenta, Meyer Ranch beef filet with zinfandel reduction, and caramelized diver scallops with vanilla-scented cauliflower puree.
6. In the Tampa area, the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa opened in February. The hotel has 32,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space. For large parties, the second floor Aqualea Grand Ballroom can seat 250 or hold 400 for a reception. The space can also be separated into three rooms for groups of 135 to 160 each. The largest restaurant at the resort is the 144-seat Shor American Seafood Grill on the second floor, with expansive views of the Gulf of Mexico. The menu includes steaks and seafood that come with a choice of nine sauces, such as mango butter and chive horseradish. For an outdoor setting, the 4,000-square-foot sky terrace can accommodate 150 people.
7. If entertainment is a must, consider Baby Grands Dueling Piano Bar, which opened on Church Street in October. The 6,700-square-foot restaurant and bar is available for buyout, or sections can be roped off for private events. The facility can accommodate 400 for a reception or 200 seated at four-top tables, booths, and three bars. Every seat is considered part of the stage, so audience participation is encouraged. The team of musicians can even customize a song for a group.
8. Mitchell’s Fish Market opened in Winter Park Village in June. The 7,700-square-foot restaurant seats 270 inside and 80 on a patio that wraps around the exterior. For private events, the Captain’s Quarters dining room seats 48 or can host 100 for a reception. The room has direct access to the patio, which can be roped off and used as a prefunction area. The menu is printed twice daily to reflect the fresh seafood flown in from around the world. Beef, poultry, and pork dishes are also available.
9. In July, Dragonfly Modern Izakaya and Sushi opened in the Dellagio Town Center. The restaurant specializes in Japanese tapas-style dining and food prepared on a robata grill, a Japanese grill that gets up to 1,000 degrees. The 5,900-square-foot restaurant includes a main dining room, a large sushi bar, a 32-seat private dining room, indoor and outdoor bars, and a wraparound patio. The decor incorporates natural elements such as cork flooring, concrete bars, and dark wood tables and accents.
10. Owner and head chef Kevin Fonzo opened K Restaurant in March inside a 1920s residence in College Park, just northwest of downtown Orlando. The cozy, homelike setting has seating for 66 inside and can accommodate 180 for receptions with the use of the covered front and side porches. The main dining room can be divided with heavy curtains into three semiprivate rooms. The menu changes nightly, with a focus on local produce, meat, and herbs from the restaurant’s garden.