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Carl Wernicke: Downtown Is A "Vibrant Heartbeat"


Like many Pensacolians who visit Europe, or a big city like New York, we were struck on a recent vacation in Spain by the vibrancy of the downtown scene, throughout the day and into the night. In Granada and, especially, Barcelona, the energy of the nightly street life seems extraordinary.

The streetscapes are filled with cafes, bars and restaurants, and people think nothing of walking miles, much less blocks. And it is striking how late into the evening the activity extends. Here in Pensacola, most restaurants are closing by 9 or 10 p.m.; in Barcelona, they are just getting going.

On our last night in Barcelona, a Thursday, we walked about a mile from our hotel to a local theater to hear a touring American band, the Jayhawks. On the way we stopped in a small cafe for dinner and drinks. I asked the waitress if they would be open after the show, and she said, oh yes. How late will you be open, I asked. 3 a.m., she said. On a Thursday night.

As our trip progressed, we found ourselves eating later and later in the evening, although we recognized a certain advantage in eating as early as 8 p.m., sort of like slipping in for the senior specials at 5:30 or 6 here in the states. In Pensacola we feel daring to make dinner reservations for 8.

Now, they have some advantage in Spain in that the population, while beginning to spread out into suburbia like here in America, remains tightly grouped around the cities. When you have the mass of your population centered into a relatively small geographical area, it’s more feasible to cater to those people with shops and restaurants and public transportation. In the tourism district of Barcelona it was easy to find small markets and grocery stores everywhere; while they might not offer the selection found in American grocery stores, they were within easy walking distance.  And as we grew more familiar with the streets, we learned where the produce shops were, where to find a bottle of wine, and where we could find seafood or meat.

I relate all this because I am happy to say that I see this trend developing in Pensacola.

We recently attended opening night for the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, and were rewarded with its expected professional, sophisticated performance. Leaving the Saenger Theatre around 10 p.m., we emerged onto packed sidewalks and a Palafox Street jammed with cars. It clearly wasn’t just the exiting theater crowd, because there seemed to be as many people walking down the street as up it. As we threaded up the crowded sidewalk toward our car on Garden Street, we passed restaurants and bars filled with people.

Earlier that evening the remnants of the Pensacola Seafood Festival had downtown jammed, making parking difficult. Yet at 10 p.m. downtown seemed even more crowded than it had been at 6 p.m.

My wife and I love the quiet life of country living, and we loved our decade-plus in the woods of Garcon Point. But we also love the hustle and bustle of an energized downtown, which we also see in our current home on Pensacola Beach. We see the ongoing resurrection of downtown Pensacola as the vibrant heartbeat of community life a welcome event, and look forward to what its future will bring.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.