A Magical Holiday Night Out in Downtown Jacksonville

The glittering lights, the vibrant costumes and the rich magic of Tchaikovsky’s music all conjure up a classic holiday experience: the Nutcracker ballet.

It is interesting to note that the original 1892 performance of the Nutcracker in Saint Petersburg was not entirely a success, only a 20 minute suite taken from the ballet. However the entire ballet has gained wide popularity since the 1960’s and now performances of the ballet, especially around the Christmas season, account for 40% of total revenue for most major American ballet companies.

Every year the Jacksonville Symphony puts on the First Coast Nutcracker and it has been part of the holiday season on the First Coast for 40 years. This year the performances are being held from December 15-17th and tickets are still available.

Friday night my sister and I dressed up in our finest holiday attire and headed to the Moran Theater at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts downtown for an enchanting evening at the ballet.

Before attending the 8:00 performance we had dinner at The Candy Apple Café & Cocktails.

It is located at 400 N. Hogan Street in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. It’s proximity to the Moran theater made it the ideal place to dine before the performance which is why I picked it but I didn’t realize it would quickly become such a star in the tale of this holiday night out.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to dine before a Christmas event. The restaurant, which is located inside Sweet Pete’s Candy store, features small plates and craft cocktails in a whimsical atmosphere. The twinkling lights and vibrant Christmas decorations illuminated the restaurant from down the block. Inviting and festive, it conjured up images of a Christmas party at the North Pole.

Inside the Christmas spirit was even more vibrant. The candy store and small shop displayed all sorts of sweet holiday treats.

The magic of Christmas fills every corner of the building. A visit to Sweet Pete’s is a must for any parent looking to take their kids on a special holiday outing.

After browsing the candy store upstairs we entered the restaurant which was packed with patrons. The atmosphere was warm and inviting.

They had a diverse menu which noted their brunch as a special feature. After debating about whether or not to order sweet potato fries, we finally decided to order the Adult Grilled Cheese, which came with a cup of their Candy Apple Bisque and the Croque Monsieur, a French inspired ham and Swiss sandwich on a baguette.

Their bar echoed the candy theme with decor that featured imagery and quotes from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

My sister ordered the candy infused cocktail Pop Rockadopolis which had pop rock candy, vodka, orange liqueur, lime and cranberry juice.

The cocktail came in a small pitcher which allowed her to pour her drink into a martini glass filled with pop rocks. The candy crackled as my sister poured in her cocktail. It was a playful way for her to enjoy her drink.

We left the Candy Apple Cafe filled with excellent food and the holiday spirit and headed to the ballet.

The theater was packed with patrons dressed in their holiday finest. The lobby was filled with the sent of cinnamon roasted nuts that were being offered along with various drinks and snacks at the concession areas. The lobby also displayed a giant Christmas tree that reflected the Nutcracker theme.

We had excellent seats close to the center of the stage. The lights dimmed, the orchestra began and the magic began to happen.

Snow fell upon the patrons during one part of the performance. The dancers, choreography and costumes were excellent. This year the show was directed by choreographer and artistic director, Rhonda Stampalia.

The First Coast Nutcracker did not disappoint. It was a wonderful performance that conjured up all the whimsical magic of the classic tale.

Tickets are still available and performances are being held Saturday December 16th at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sunday December 17th at 2:00 PM.

My sister and I ended our evening filled with the joy of the season. If you wish to experience a little of this Christmas magic yourself I encourage you to head downtown to the Jacksonville Symphony and the Candy Apple Café & Cocktails.

– Ashton

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