Nightlife: Drinking in the Décor

The Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden is the go-to place for gatherings with friends as well as cozy date nights.
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Glass of wine in hand, it’s easy to feel right at home at the Imperial in Ivanhoe Village. (PAULINA TOMAN)

(Editor’s note: The Imperial is currently offering beer and wine pickup only because of the coronavirus pandemic. For more information, click here:

When you walk into the Imperial, you may not immediately notice all the details—like the vintage Dutch bike hanging from the ceiling, a bar made from an old fishing boat, ornate floor-to-ceiling door frames, or a curious mannequin peeking out from behind the bar. But it’s all there.

This Ivanhoe Village pub is really a successful offshoot of another business. By day, Washburn Imports is an eclectic import furniture store that features refurbished pieces from all over the world. At night, the Imperial Bar, located behind Washburn Imports, extends the casual vibe, offering guests space to lounge on surprisingly comfortable chairs built from refurbished logs, or hide away in one of the more private nooks.

During the 2008 recession, John Washburn’s imports business was struggling, so he brainstormed a way to save it. He created a space where people could enjoy the furniture and items from the store afterhours in an informal setting: He built a bar. And now the business has grown with additional Washburn Imports/Imperial locations in Sanford and Winter Park.

“People had always loved our showrooms and wanted to spend time there. So, I thought that if we created a bar in our showrooms, we could get clients to come in and have a beer and also look at furniture,” says Washburn. “Well, it worked out much better than I anticipated.”

The Imperial’s food and drink offerings include 35 beers and wines, as well as a menu that pays homage to the Asian influence of many of the furnishings. Guests can share plates of pork belly bao or Indonesian chicken satay, or one of the charcuterie boards.

Because every space feels more intimate with music, the Imperial Wine Room also showcases local musicians including Eugene Snowden, Shine & The Shakers, Jordan Foley, and David Schweizer.

Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden
5 p.m. – midnight

4 p.m. – 11 p.m.
1800 N. Orange Ave., Orlando

And of course, almost every piece in the establishment tells a story. Age-old garden gates, tables, chairs, mirrors and statement pieces feature carved wood and wrought iron—all set under mosaic lantern lights and a massive chandelier. The main bar is a creation from Washburn’s travels throughout India, Indonesia, China and Thailand. The world traveler commissioned local artist Blair Sligar to create the piece—and then Washburn had Sligar build one for the Sanford location.

But the welcoming atmosphere and neighborhood feel are what turn the patrons into regulars. Jarrod Valderrama, a teacher by day and Imperial bartender by night, notes that since the furniture is always changing, it makes every visit feel like a new experience.

“It’s kind of like you are walking into your living room, and someone has rearranged the furniture,” Valderrama notes.

Washburn agrees. “I think people like it because it’s intimate. You feel like you’re in someone’s fabulous living room. It’s casual yet sophisticated,” he says.

Whether you’re sharing conversation indoors at the bar or hanging out in the garden, the Imperial is a top pick for first dates or impromptu gatherings with friends. And since it’s always pet-friendly, there is a high probability that you’ll get a gentle nudge from one of the regular four-legged patrons, too. Because when it’s time to chill, every place feels a little more like home when there’s a dog around.

Categories: Home Page Features, Nightlife & Bars