Gainesville may not be one of Florida's top tourist hubs, as it's nowhere near any beaches, but this generally progressive college town in the state's north-central region does have a good-size GLBT population and a terrific, centrally located gay nightclub, the University Club (18 E. University Ave., 352-378-6814), which is steps from a number of cool cafes, restaurants, and indie shops in the city's bustling downtown. The club draws a mix of gay men and women, plus quite a few heteros depending on the night, and is a top pick for dancing and socializing.
There are multiple bars as well as a good size outdoor area. Check out the club's website for information on upcoming events and parties. Note that you enter the University Club via the door in the back of the building, just off of Northeast 1st Avenue. Gainesville's only other gay bar, Wild Angels-Spikes (4130 N.W. 6th St.) has closed.
A hip, student-favored spot known for its creative cocktails and tasty late-night cooking (burgers, plantain chips, pork belly noodle bowls), the Top (30 N. Main St., 352-337-1188) draws an eclectic crowd and is a fun place for grabbing a meal or drinks, perhaps before heading to the University Club, which is just around the corner. For a somewhat swankier dining experience, book a table at the stylish Paramount Grill (12 S.W. 1st Ave., 352-378-3398), which is great for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
Chef Clif Nelson serves exceptional, contemporary American fare. Typical dishes include wild-caught shrimp served scampi-style with heirloom tomatoes, dried apricot, spinach linguine, pecorino romano, and pistachio; and grilled butcher-cut pork chops over smoked-cheddar polenta with green beans, and fresh apple and black cherry, port wine, and peppercorn reduction.
This city of about 127,000 has a vibrant downtown with a number of great restaurants and bars, many of them quite popular with LGBT patrons. Big Lou's Pizza (5 S.E. 2nd Ave., 352-335-7123), which is a supporter of Gainesville Gay Pride and the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, serves tasty New York-style pies, plus calzones, sub sandwiches, and the like. It's a casual, laid-back spot with a pleasant outdoor seating area. Open until 9 pm most evenings, Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate (48 S.W.
2nd St., 352-271-4361) is a first-rate, trendy coffeehouse that pours high-octane macchiatos, espressos, and fine coffees (they use beans from Intelligentsia, Toby's Estate, Handsome Coffee, and others). It's a nice option for people-watching, working on your laptop, and enjoying all sorts of delicious treats - rich drinking chocolates, interesting teas, Askinosie and L'Artigiano chocolates, and both sweet and savory baked goods.
Gainesville is in north-central Florida, about a 90-minute drive southwest of Jacksonville, two-hour drive north of Orlando and Disney, a 2- to 2.5-hour drive northeast of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and a 2.5-hour drive east of Tallahassee.