Category Archives: Personality

Say Cheese! Wine Shop’s Reopening Draws Smiles

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Maude Wilson has been doing a steady business since opening Downtown Wine & Cheese last week in a space that had been the Wine & Cheese Gallery for 43 years.


Downtown Wine Cheese owner Maude Wilson in front of her menu board that is updated daily. Photos by Gainesville Downtown)

Downtown Wine & Cheese owner Maude Wilson in front of her menu board that she updates each day. (Photos by Gainesville Downtown)

The people have spoken, and Maude Wilson’s Downtown Wine & Cheese has opened for business in the homey space formerly occupied by the venerable Wine & Cheese Gallery at 113 N. Main St.

“We opened last Monday without telling anybody,” Wilson said. “It was all word of mouth and it was crazy all week. I am very, very happy.”

Last August, Wilson found herself unemployed when Thomas “Bunky” Mastin and Wade Tyler decided to close the Wine & Cheese Gallery after 43 years, shuttering a downtown institution that dated to the Nixon administration.

Eight months later, Wilson has resurrected the business with a slightly different name but the same quality food and service customers expect.

“I’m glad she’s keeping it going,” said Brian Sparks, who dropped by the store Monday evening with Holly Greer. “This place has been around a long time.”

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35 Years Later, Hipp Reprises ‘Elephant Man’

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Hippodrome stalwart Bryan Mercer gladly accepts the physically and emotionally demanding role of John Merrick, whose deformities require a total commitment from the actor.


John Merrick Bryan Mercer) is introduced to Mrs. Kendal Nichole Hamilton) by Dr. Treves Joe Ditmyer) in a scene from "The elephant Man."

John Merrick (Bryan Mercer) is introduced to Mrs. Kendal (Nichole Hamilton) by Dr. Treves (Joe Ditmyer) in a scene from “The Elephant Man.” (Photographs by Gainesville Downtown)

For the next month, audiences at the Hippodrome Theatre will be absorbing every moment of Bryan Mercer’s gripping portrayal in the title role of The Elephant Man. At the end of each performance, there will be a collective sigh of relief when Mercer takes his bows with the rest of the talented cast.

Bryan Mercer, out of character, holds the script for The Elephant Man.

Bryan Mercer, out of character, holds the script for “The Elephant Man.”

That’s when everyone will realize that Mercer’s OK. Physically, at least.

“This is an incredibly exhausting role,” Mercer said. “On the very first page of the script it says that no one with back issues should attempt this role.”

For good reason. The role of the Elephant Man requires an actor to morph into a deformed human being, twisting his body and contorting his face to channel John Merrick, the real-life person the play revolves around.

Mercer, 56, calls the role an all-out “cliff dive.”

If that’s the case, the plunge begins tonight at 7 with the first of two discounted preview performances of The Elephant Man at the Hippodrome in downtown Gainesville. Opening Night is Friday at 8.

The production marks a milestone for the Hipp. The theater made the old U.S Federal building at 25 SE 2nd Place its new home 35 years ago. The very first performance was The Elephant Man.

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Ernest Lee Has a Knack for Colorful Storytelling

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The self-taught folk artist will have his latest work on display during the Santa Fe Spring Arts Festival this weekend in downtown Gainesville. One painting has a little-known historical connection to author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.


Ernest Lee works on his painting of the Island Grove gas station for Diane Adams. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Ernest Lee adds a touch to his painting of the Island Grove gas station for Diane Adams. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Ernest Lee is a soft-spoken man who tells stories not with words but with brushstrokes on canvas. In that sense, he is the quintessential folk artist.

The painting of the first Wards market by Ernest Lee.

Trish Ward in front of Ernest Lee’s painting before it was installed near the entrance of Ward’s Supermarket a year ago.

Anyone who has visited Ward’s Supermarket in Gainesville recently knows a little something about the store’s history thanks to Lee. His 8-foot-by-4-foot mural to the right of the entrance depicts founder Bill Ward and the original produce stand that started it all.

This weekend, Lee and more than 200 other artists will exhibit their work for all of Gainesville to see and admire during the Santa Fe Spring Arts Festival. Although Lee has participated in the show for several years, this will be his first time in the juried section.

“I’ll be competing against the top artists coming into town,” Lee said with a hint of pride.

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Downtown Gets First Taste of FishHawk Spirits

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The new tasting room in the old 2nd Street Speakeasy is the first offshoot of the Ocala-based distiller of rum, vodka, absinthe and, soon, whiskey.


Dave Molyneaux, second from right, and his team at the Fish Hawk Tasting Room Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Dave Molyneaux, third from left, and his FishHawk Distillery Tasting Room team, from left, Chris Fillie, Joe Faino and Brian Meade. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

absintheThey’re pouring drinks again inside the bar space that once housed the 2nd Street Speakeasy in downtown Gainesville. And the best part is, it doesn’t cost a dime for a taste.

The FishHawk Distillery Tasting Room had a trial run for invited guests last week, and no one left disappointed. In another month or two, the storefront at 21 SW 2nd St. will be open for anyone 21 and older interested in sampling FishHawk products and perhaps purchasing bottles of the flavorful spirits to take home.

“We have a Craft Distillery license, so we’re not allowed by law to sell alcoholic beverages, but we can sell you the bottle,” said David Molyneaux, CEO of FishHawk Spirits.

Molyneaux came out of retirement one year ago to open a craft distillery in Gainesville. However, after months of planning, he decided to partner with the small, farm-based craft distillery in Marion County, near Dunnellon. The company developed a spirits line that now includes Absinthia Rubra liqueur, Marion 106 Black tangerine brandy, Island Grove Blueberry Vodka and Twisted Sun Gold Rum.

By the end of this year, FishHawk is expected to have a selection of 20 different spirits, including seven flavors of infused vodkas and the same number of whiskeys under the Sui Generis (“one of a kind”) brand name.

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Artist Leaves Gainesville With Parting Gift

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On Friday night, Marcia Raff will unveil a sculpture that will become the 23rd installation of the Downtown Gainesville Public Art Initiative. Some would call the piece “a-mazing.”


The Dreidel Labyrinth, by Marcia Raff, was installed earlier this week outside Black C Art Gallery on Southeast 2nd Place.

The Dreidel Labyrinth, by Marcia Raff, was installed earlier this week outside Black C Art Gallery on Southeast 2nd Place. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

This has been homecoming week for Marcia Raff. The renowned photographer and sculptor, who left Gainesville after her husband passed away two decades ago, has spent the past several days visiting with old friends and reminding herself why this area was such a special place to live for 18 years.

Marcia Raff

Marcia Raff

“It’s been so good to see everyone again,” she said. “It’s been like a trip down Memory Lane.”

This weekend, Raff will return to her home and studio in Austin, Texas, but not before bestowing upon Gainesville a special gift.

On Friday night, during the monthly Artwalk festivities, Raff will unveil one of her unique sculptures outside Union Street Station in downtown Gainesville. Titled “The Dreidel Labyrinth,” the 34-inch-high, stainless-steel sculpture will become the newest addition to the Downtown Gainesville Public Art Initiative.

The unveiling, just outside Black C Art Gallery at 201 SE 2nd Place, will take place at 7:30. The event will be one of the highlights of a busy Artwalk calendar that will include events at more than 20 galleries and art spaces around downtown Gainesville.

(For a complete listing of participating venues, visit the Artwalk website.)

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Sababa Tasting Success After a Year at Sun Center

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Riley Sullivan and Yael Goldstein opened their Mediterranean-style restaurant in downtown Gainesville on St. Patrick’s Day 2015. A year later, they are a married couple and couldn’t be happier.


Yael Goldstein and her husband, Riley Sullivan, at Sababa. Photos by Gainesville Downtown)

Yael Goldstein and her husband, Riley Sullivan, at Sababa Israeli Cuisine. (Photos by Gainesville Downtown)

It’s St. Patrick’s Day. For a chef named Riley Sullivan, you’d think that would mean preparing the traditional corned beef and cabbage or perhaps fixing up an Irish stew over a hot stove.

You know, Erin go Bragh and all that stuff.

Sababas salads, hummus and tabouli.

Sababa’s salads, hummus and tabouli.

Sullivan has Irish roots, for sure. However, on this holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland, you’ll find him laboring over such savory Mediterranean dishes as shawarma, falafel and bourekas.

The Gainesville native is not turning his back on his Irish heritage. He’s simply pursuing the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in the form of Sababa Israeli Cuisine at 101 SE 2nd Place, next door to the Hippodrome.

“It’s been incredibly satisfying,” Sullivan said while pulling a pan of roasted potatoes from the oven.

Coincidently, March 17 happens to be Sababa’s one-year anniversary at its Sun Center location. For Sullivan, 25, and his 24-year-old wife, Yael Goldstein, the past year has been more rewarding than they had ever imagined.

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‘Carmina Burana’: Dance Alive’s Golden Moment

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It’s a busy weekend for Dance Alive National Ballet as the Gainesville-based touring company stages a lavish production of Carmina Burana and celebrates its 50th season with a Golden Gala. 


Carmina Burana is a spectacle to behold. Photo by Johnston Photography)

Carmina Burana is a spectacle to behold. (Photo by Johnston Photography)

To put an exclamation point on its 50th season, Dance Alive National Ballet sought a performance that was dramatic and spectacular. Something glorious.

Fhilipe Teixeira and Carla Amacio put feeling into Adam and Eve. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Fhilipe Teixeira and Carla Amacio put feeling into Adam and Eve during Tuesday’s rehearsal at Pofahl Studios. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Carmina Burana, in so many ways, fits the bill.

“It’s lusty. It’s spiritual. It’s biblical. How can you miss?” said Kim Tuttle, executive artistic director of Dance Alive. “It’s a huge production!”

Some might even say epic. Carmina Burana involves 250 performers, including dozens of dancers, the UF Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Chobaz, the University Concert Choir and Gainesville Master Chorale under the direction of Will Kesling and three guest soloists in what is billed as “a celebration of the secular joys of life.”

This weekend, Dance Alive National Ballet will stage two performances of Carmina Burana at UF’s Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. There will be a Friday night show at 7:30 and a Saturday matinee at 2.

The weekend will be topped off Saturday night by Dance Alive’s Golden Gala at the Touchdown Terrace high above UF’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The fundraising event will include a silent auction, an art sale and a special “Dancing with the Stars” competition featuring Dance Alive’s principal dancers paired with a dozen local celebrities and community leaders. The event will be streamed live so that people can vote for their favorite duo.

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Gainesville Devours Ken’s Unfiltered Food Blog

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Ken Eats Gainesville, the blog written by Gainesville resident Ken Peng, keeps a close eye on the food scene in town. And sometimes what he writes doesn’t go down very well.


Ken Peng gets ready to chow down at Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Ken Peng gets ready to chow down on spaghetti and meatballs at Piesano’s Stone Fired Pizza. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Just for the record, Ken Peng’s 16,366 Facebook followers should know that he eats spaghetti and meatballs one forkful at a time.

In other words, Gainesville’s No. 1 food blogger chews his food like everyone else. But it’s the way he writes about that food—particularly restaurant meals—that has elevated him to social-media rock star in this once culinary-starved college town.

“Wild, isn’t it?” said Peng, the man and mouth behind the Ken Eats Gainesville website and Facebook page. Not to mention his strong Instagram following.

“The scary thing about the Internet is that if you post something that people are interested in, it spreads like wildfire on its own. It’s all about that little ‘Share’ button and that little ‘Like’ button.”

We recently sat down with Peng at Piesano’s Stone Fired Pizza to talk about the evolution of the Gainesville restaurant scene as well as a scary encounter he recently had that proves just how seriously some people take the guy’s opinion.

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Love is In the Air for Dance Alive Duo

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The Italian newlyweds Walter Angelini and Ines Albertini are living a fairytale on stage for Dance Alive National Ballet—and in real life. They will perform together this weekend in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Walter Angelini and Ines Albertini perform in "Romeo Juliet" in 2013.

Walter Angelini and Ines Albertini perform “Romeo and Juliet” in 2013 during a gala put on by singer Andrea Bocelli.

They are from Italy. They have dashing good looks. They fell madly in love as teenagers. They cannot live without each other. They even finish each other’s sentences. …

Ines and Walter on their wedding day in December.

Ines and Walter on their wedding day in December.

Walter Angelini and Ines Albertini (now, that’s Italian!) are quintessential lovebirds. Their similarities to a certain Shakespearean couple are downright eerie.

“In Italy, people on the street used to stop us and say, ‘You look like Romeo and Juliet!’”

Angelini giggled when he shared that story. Sitting across the table from him, Ines burst into laughter.

“It’s true!” she smiled. “We love each other sooo much! He’s my best friend.”

Angelini, 24, and Albertini, 25, could easily be mistaken for youthful-looking students in this college town. They dress casually. They hang out at Starbucks. Their smartphones are always within reach.

However, about the only thing they study in Gainesville is their dance moves. Angelini and Albertini are principal dancers for Dance Alive National Ballet.

On Saturday, the couple will be onstage at UF’s Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Dance Alive’s dazzling production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The curtains rise at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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Cyclops Cinema Has an Eye for Film

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Video Rodeo has left town, but Cyclops Cinema has taken its place, offering the same extensive collection of DVDs and Blu-ray discs not available anywhere else in Gainesville. By the way, owner Jason McNeal knows a thing or two about film.


Jason McNeal (aka Jason Armadillo), owner of Cyclops Cinema.

Jason McNeal (aka Jason Armadillo), owner of Cyclops Cinema.

Jason McNeal is living his dream. He’s a diehard film buff who now owns a movie store and, soon, a screening room.

On Dec. 1, McNeal took over Video Rodeo at 10 E. University Ave. and renamed the DVD-rental place Cyclops Cinema at the beginning of the year.

Cyclops is an appropriate name for a couple of reasons. First, a movie projector—like the beast from Greek mythology—has just one eye. Also, Cyclops is a likable character in Marvel’s X-Men series, made into a popular movie franchise. Not to mention that McNeal is an artist known for painting cartoonish monsters.

“I was trying to come up with something catchy,” said McNeal, known artistically by the moniker Jason Armadillo.

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