Simply put, if you live in Tallahassee and are over the age of 21 and have not been to the Bradfordville Blues Club, something is wrong with you. The first time I went to the famous Bradfordville Blues Club was in 2005, when I briefly lived in Tallahassee and my husband (then boyfriend) wanted to show me all Tallahassee had to offer. The club is located on the northeast side of town, down a dirt road and surrounded by oak trees with their chandeliers of Spanish moss. It’s easy to feel like you’re lost the first time you go – “Are you sure it’s down this dirt road? Really?” Just keep driving. The club is filled with the ghosts of blues legends past (B.B. King and Ray Charles is the rumor) and the warm bodies of blues legends of today. The best part about the club is its history. The Tampa Bay Times wrote a terrific article about the club’ s history. Bradfordville Blues Club was part of what was known post-World War II as the “chitlin’ circuit” for black musicians and was the place folks would go to after last call at Tallahassee’s Red Bird Cafe. It was bought by its current owners in 2002 by and offers a steady diet of blues musicians. The small cinder-block building that makes up the club is unimpressive. The intimacy is part of its charm, though. The club is only open on weekends and depending on the night, you will need to buy tickets in advance or get there early as it sometimes sells out. Its clientele tends to be all-ages, though it leans more Baby Boomer than most clubs.
Address: 7152 Moses Lane
Apologies for the terrible photo. This is what happens when you snap pictures with an iPhone in a dark club. The big night to go to Top Flite, surprisingly, is Wednesday. Situated a few blocks from Florida A&M University, Top Flite is extremely popular with southside residents and FAMU students and graduates. I went recently with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday and was really surprised to see how packed the place was on a Wednesday night. We had to pay a small cover charge and wait in line to get in. Once inside, we were able to grab one of the few open seats left. Top Flite isn’t known for its tasty cocktails or glamorous decor. You know the kind of club I’m talking about – floors and furniture with the wear and tear of decades of high-heels and spilled beer. The club is popular because of the location, atmosphere and fairly strong drinks. It was karaoke night and we kicked back to watch a half-dozen wannabe singers and dancers take the stage. At times it felt like we were judges on “American Idol” – the singers were that good. I was way too intimidated to try to sing or join the dancers on stage. Overall, an evening well spent.
Address: 623 Osceola Street
Alchemy is the worst-kept secret in Tallahassee. The first weekend this Prohibition-era secretive bar opened I heard about it from friends on Facebook and learned that even out-of-town actor Seth Rogen was spotted there. It’s a good thing the secret is out. Tallahassee could use more bars like this one, that taking mixing cocktails as seriously as heart surgeons doing a triple bypass. The first thing to know about Alchemy is you can’t just stroll in after a Friday meal. You have to make a reservation online. Then you receive a secret password to get in. The door to Alchemy is disguised near a pool table inside the Midtown Filling Station bar. You deliver your passcode to the doorman and then are brought into an alley in which the doorman sternly explains the rules. One of them is no flash photography, which explains the dark photo of the bar above. Once we got inside we were ushered to our table. The lighting is dim and romantic and they have banquette seating as well as standalone tables. Each table has its own waiter/bartender who serves you drinks. The menu is just cocktails – no snacks, appetizers or even beer and wine. Personally, I was disappointed there weren’t any vodka-based drinks. The rationale has something to do with what alcohol was available during the Prohibition era, such as rum and tequila. I’m not a big drinker so I’m not the best judge of a great cocktail. I like my drinks to disguise the fact that I’m drinking alcohol at all. That said, I definitely enjoyed the “Mary Pickford,” which is light rum, maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice and grenadine. The entire bill (a total of four drinks between my husband and I) came to $60, including at tip. And that’s what worries me about Alchemy. Tallahassee isn’t a city with a lot of high-rollers who have the kind of cash to drop $60 on drinks every weekend. I hope Alchemy sticks around, but for me it will be a once-a-year treat.
Address: 1122 Thomasville Road
I’m a quarter Italian but I like to think of myself as a full-blooded “giovane donna.” I could live off a pasta-only diet, I make a lot of wild hand gestures, and to my WASP-y husband I often find myself exasperatingly saying “I’m not yelling. I’m Italian!” So I was thrilled when a Italian pizza and pasta shop called Grazie’s opened up a half-mile from my house. I made the ten-minute walk the second day it was open to sample the carmelized onion and goat cheese pizza. I really dug the way the shop embraced the Italy concept. Everything was in red, green and white, from the menu to the Grazie’s sign. They had a pizza oven, but also quite a few pastas, salads and sandwiches available. Grazie’s also has a small bar area with Italian wines and beer to sip. Seating options were a bit limited – a few tables inside and outside. I ordered my pizza to-go and it came quickly and was delicious. (Though not quite as good as my top three – Decent, Rummy’s and Riccardo’s.) There are a few cons, too. It can get smoky inside on a busy night, and the busier it gets the longer the wait. I went back a few nights later and ordered a different pizza. It wasn’t quite as good, which I chalked up to busy, distracted pizza boys on a Friday night. Try stopping by Grazie’s on a weeknight and definitely eat outside. It’s pretty kid-friendly, with a “bambinos” menu.
Address: 3196 Merchant’s Row Boulevard
Science geek or not, you shouldn’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to peek inside one of Tallahassee’s most prized assets: the Magnet “Mag” Lab. The formal name is the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University. The 370,000-square-foot magnet research complex is at Innovation Park, home to other research-oriented businesses. The lab brings in researchers and visitors from all over the world because of the size and complexity of its magnets. For instance,the lab’s most powerful magnet produces fields more than a million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field. The open house, held once a year, attracts thousands of visitors and is free. I went with my Lil’ Sis who has said many times she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. There are dozens of demonstrations on different scientific principles, from biology to chemistry to geology. Think of it like as a long buffet of cool science tricks. Though it is aimed at kids, I was also kept entertained by some of the demonstrations, too. We saw a “comet” being made, a colorful display on ocean currents, pet animals brought in by the Tallahassee Museum, colorful chemical reactions, and what had to be my Lil’ Sis’s favorite, a demonstration of how silly putty is made, which she got to take home with her. My only advice is to get there early because the more popular booths get crowded.
Address: 1800 E. Paul Dirac Drive
One of the things I miss most about Austin is the abundance of delicious food trucks that can be found, it seems, on every street corner. I was thrilled to learn that the food truck phenomenon had arrived in Tallahassee. Every Thursday a half-dozen food trucks squat in a tiny sliver of asphalt and grass between a Burger King and laundromat on Tharpe Street, across from the Lake Ella Publix. It’s not easy to find parking. I probably illegally parked behind the laundromat and my husband parked across the street and walked. The clientele was, for me, the highlight because of the entertaining people-watching. It was mostly college students, who lugged their BYOB wine and talked about such weighty topics such as who was having a party on that particular night. There were also some young families and kids running around. I got pizza from an impressive-looking truck with pizza cooked over a fire. I have to say, though, my pizza was not that great. The dough was thinner than a cracker. I wish instead I had gone to Street Chefs, where they have a grown-up grilled cheese that I heard is awesome. There was also a burgers/fries and Cuban food truck, a cupcake truck from Lucy and Leo’s, a chicken and waffles truck, and a Philippine-food truck. Overall, I’m just excited that Tallahassee is taking a step in the food truck direction. I’m hopeful they find a better location soon with picnic tables. Which brings me to my last point – bring chairs. Or else you will be sitting in a parking lot.
Address: Tharpe Street, near Monroe. Across from the Lake Ella Publix.
I don’t have much artistic talent, but I can get into the whole paint-your-own-pottery experience. I was excited to find Firefly Pottery in Market Square recently and took my Lil’ Sis because I thought she would enjoy doing something artsy. Your first task is to select a piece of unpainted pottery. They have practical items, such as plates and bowls, and more decorative items, such as horses and frogs. I went with a bowl and Lil’ Sis got a horse. You pick colors next and if you ask, the Firefly girls will show you little tricks with the paint brushes and other tools they have lying around. I must stress that there is zero expectation that you know anything about art or painting. But it’s still fun, even if what you painted was probably what Picasso could do at age two. The Firefly girls will give you as much or as little help as you want. It’s a pretty kid-friendly place, with a kids’ playroom off to the side, and a summer camp, but they also have adult and couple nights and can accommodate large groups. The prices were pretty reasonable – I paid about $35 for the both of us. You can bring your own snacks and drinks as well. After you’re done painting you pay and leave your contact information to pick up the pottery about a week later, after it has been fired in a kiln.
Address: 1415 Timberlane Road