Page 2 - Diving Into Art in the Land of NASCAR

Diving Into Art in the Land of NASCAR — Page 2
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Daytona Swimwear

Some members of the family were scared to fly, so they owned two private sleeping quarters rail cars they used for travel. Both are on display in the museum as well, along with Cuban art donated by President Batista before he was deposed, African art donated by a local family, the skeleton of a giant sloth found in the region, and the huge collection of Napoleon-era antiques and more from benefactor Kenneth Worcester Dow. Apparently Dow had plenty of money for collecting inherited from his wealthy father. He died at 90 having never worked a day in his life outside a wartime stint in the military.

Art in Daytona Life

I wondered if this sense of aesthetics could spill over to the under-40 crowd, however, in the land of race cars, bikers, and tacky souvenir shops. I found the first encouraging sign on Granada Avenue in the Ormand Beach area on the mainland side. There three interesting restaurants and watering holes sit across from a restored century-old auto garage that is remarkably still an auto garage.

When seeing the sign for Grind Gastropub and Tiki Bar I expected no more than a fake palm tree and some thatch hanging over a small corner bar. Instead there was a packed open deck space with a live band, fruity rum cocktails joining a good craft beer selection, and a vivid mural on one wall. Across a parking lot is 31 Supper Club, an elegant Art Deco restaurant and lounge modeled after something from the early 1930s. No bathtub gin here though: the cocktails are creative and made with the best ingredients from the modern age.

Daytona Beach Tiki Bar mural

I had dinner at Rose Villa Southern Table and Bar after first checking out the speakeasy style absinthe-emphasis bar upstairs. The Victorian building dates back to the 1800s and was carefully restored by the restaurant's owner inch by inch. The bar is on the top floor, hidden behind a bookcase with a false section that can be opened from the bar side.

The menu is southern all the way, with deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, and shrimp & grits, but that doesn't mean they don't take things upscale. There's lobster mac & cheese, a kobe burger, and a bourbon-glazed porkchop on the menu. After all of that I was ready to stretch out on my bed at the Plaza Resort until it was time to see the sun rising over the ocean.

I finished up the trip finding more promising signs of creative life in the Downtown Daytona Beach area, across the Halifax River from the beach. Many cities 10 times the size of this one don't have an independent movie theater, but Daytona has Cinematique, one where discerning moviegoers can see non-superhero films while drinking a glass of wine and having food served to their seat. On the same street is a surfboard and paddleboard shop, a hat store, one selling boxes of oranges, plus Daytona Books & Metaphysics (with its own "aura station").

The big draw for all ages is the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory, a working sweets assembly line and retail shop. I went on the short hourly tour and watched them create a range of goodies from chocolate alligators to chocolate-covered potato chips. The artistic surprise here was the shoes. Crafted in actual size, the white chocolate fancy footwear is white or red, decorated on top, then filled with wrapped candies for a popular gift.

Chocolate footwear

Across the street the Daytona Tortugas play baseball in one of those inviting minor league stadiums where a regular family can still afford tickets and beers are not priced in double digits. There's a timeline of the development of Jackie Robinson—the first black baseball player in the major leagues. He got his history making start here doing spring training in Daytona.

I end up my visit having dinner at Racing's North Turn restaurant. It has a big deck with a view of the ocean, but the importance of its location is evident by all the racing memorabilia inside. Right below it is what was the "north turn" of the racetrack back in the 1950s, when stock cars would race in an oval that was on the street for half of it, on the wide beach for the other half. (There's a great 1957 video with race footage posted here on Silodrome.)

The crowd of beachgoers on vacation was predictable, but at a table near ours where the dad had on a Dale Earnhardt tank top, a young girl was immersed in her sketch book. Oblivious to what was going on around her after her french fries were finished, she kept her hand moving quickly from one section of the page to another, occasionally showing it to her mother and getting a smile. Perhaps someday she'll be displaying her work here. Maybe she'll even sell something to one of the 1.2 million visitors who come to the Daytona Speedway each year...


See the links in the previous text for individual facilities. For more information on the region, see the tourism websites from Daytona Beach and New Smyrna.

Editor Tim Leffel splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa, Florida. He is the author of five travel books, including the second edition of Travel Writing 2.0, and has run the Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003. All photos by Tim Leffel.

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