North Beach Bistro is more than a restaurant—it's a legacy. The upscale eatery was the vision of renowned chef Tony Pels, who trained with culinary giants such as Wolfgang Puck and Michel Richard, and chef David Seavey, whom Pels mentored for 15 years at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa. Pels passed away only two months before the restaurant's opening in June of 2008, leaving executive chef Seavey to carry on his tradition of culinary creativity and generosity.
Spurred on by this responsibility, Seavey combines the freshest ingredients with a genuine love for his fellow Floridians. The Jacksonville native crafts hearty and flavorful surf 'n' turf entrees such as the bistro bouillabaisse with Mayport shrimp, sea scallops, mussels, calamari, and fresh fish or chargrilled Black Angus filet mignon with sauteed mushrooms and port wine sauce. Reddish-gold fixtures in the bar emanate light that's as warm and welcoming as the chef himself. DJs and live music keep the space vibrant, and the dining room's wood floors and spot-lit art give it an air of sophistication. Weekly trivia nights arm guests with knowledge that makes an ideal conversation starter or helps pass the time while stuck in an elevator with Ken Jennings.
As one of the world’s largest beer brewers, this Jacksonville outpost of Anheuser Busch is surprisingly open about its process. The looming facility offers free tours on how they brew and package Budweiser, with guests catching glimpses of the state-of-the-art technology, giant tanks, carefully controlled temperature rooms and bottling and packaging facilities, all of which can be seen through glass viewing windows. There’s also information on the recycling program, energy recovery and conservation of wildlife in the surrounding Jacksonville wetlands. After the tour, stop in the hospitality room and sample some beer. For the truly curious, the more in-depth Beermaster Tour is for true connoisseurs and a one-off Beer School class introduces patrons to different beer styles, proper pouring and a variety of craft beer and food pairings. There’s also a gift shop on hand, and occasional events take place on the property.
Equipped with in-depth product knowledge and bottles from all over the world, the consultants of PRP Wine International waltz into homes ready to answer nearly any question a novice oenophile may have. As they pour samples for small groups, they explain everything from the intricacies of flavor profiles and the correct pronunciation of “pinot noir” to the most dramatic way to throw a glass of red at a mortal enemy. After tastings, guests can select any of the wine varietals sampled, all of which are chosen by PRP consultants after thorough scrutiny.
Since 2003, the Jacksonville Film Festival has annually served as one of the city's most anticipated cultural events, screening international and independent films and hosting some of Hollywood's most accomplished names. The first deal plunks cinephiles squarely on the red carpet with access to Saturday's special event, a screening of The Six Wives of Henry Lefay, starring Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, and Andie MacDowell. Young film critics that already possess Roger Ebert's critical eye and Gene Shalit's bushy mustache can attend the kids' red-carpet event, which will screen the zany kid-friendly comedy Finn on the Fly. The third options gets you into the world premiere of Thespians, which documents the theater programs at two Duval County high schools as they prepare for the Florida State Thespians theater festival. Afterward, stay for a Q&A with the filmmakers and special guests.
Mardi Gras Jax celebrates Mardi Gras with a themed pub crawl across eight bars and restaurants, recreating the Bourbon Street experience without the hassle of cramming an entire parade float into an overhead compartment. A ticket earns proto-revelers a wristband for admission that yields discount drink specials, automatic entry into numerous prize drawings, and a handy way to differentiate between right and left. A souvenir drink glass and beads decorate participants like a belt over a boxer's shoulder, and scavenger-hunt maps and cards give clues that will lead an industrious partier to the mysterious grand prize. The after-party, hosted by Bo's Coral Reef, serves drinks until 2 a.m. and features the crowning of a king and queen of Mardi Gras Jax—fledgling potentates gain a hefty reward for their newfound royalty and an ethanol-fueled crowning ceremony to make it official––and the costume contest rewards eccentrically outfitted participants. The grand prize of the evening is a cruise for two from Budweiser, perfect for a happy couple, bonding siblings, or a probation officer and ward.
Engine 15 Brewing Co.'s beginnings go back a long time—to the year 1988, when college freshman Luch Scremin took a stab at brewing his own beer. Bereft of the Internet, he spied a brewing kit in an old issue of Popular Mechanics. His first creations weren't noteworthy, but that’s beside the point. After attending the Siebel Institute, he got a job in the airline industry, which afforded the opportunity to travel the world and sample its many exceptional beers. Both matured and inspired by the experience, Luch met some business partners in 2008, and Engine 15 Brewing Co. soon followed.
Today, the craft brewery's creations reflect the values symbolized by Luch's 1962 Ford Fire Engine—time-tested know-how, determination, and camaraderie. At Engine 15's brewpub, taps spew forth original drafts such as the (904) Weissguy, a Bavarian-style hefeweizen whose cloudy body contains notes of clove, orange, and coriander. These stalwart drafts, plus seasonal creations such as the sweet-potato brown ale, grace the brewpub menu on a rotating basis, with current offerings scrawled on a blackboard or across the foreheads of dedicated waiters. Along with drawing drinks from Engine 15's freshest kegs, bartenders also pour beers from other well-respected craft breweries, such as Left Hand, Dogfish Head, and Southern Tier.
Not one to forget his roots, Luch also teaches other hopeful beer barons through hands-on Brew Your Own tutorials. With his guidance, guests brew four 22-ounce-bottle cases of styles such as raspberry wheat and oak-aged imperial stout.