Intimate setting or a wild party: take your pick at the Funky Monkey Wine Bar on New Year’s Eve.

ORLANDO – It’s a quiet environment, with dim lighting that creates the ideal spot for a romantic dinner between two that ends with a champagne toast at midnight ….

No, it’s a wild night, with flashy production numbers, music and dacning — almost like something out of Vegas …

Since the Funky Monkey Wine Company has two separate locations, and both of them are celebrating New Year’s Eve, you get your choice on the big night.  Do you want serene and romantic … or some lively entertainment with your meal?  Decisions, decisions.

“Pointe Orlando is more of a party,” said Ashley Nickell.  “Ours is more relaxing.”

The Funky Monkey Wine Company's Mills Avenue restaurant has an intimate, relaxing atmosphere.

Nickell is preparing the New Year’s Eve meal at Funky Monkey’s downtown Orlando location, at 912 N. Mills Ave. It promises to be a lavish offering in a restaurant that seats 45 people in an intimate setting.

Guests start with a duo of Carpaccio, tuna with wasabi cream and Gold masago, and beef with horseradish cream and olive oil drizzle.

The appetizer includes a choice of carmelized seared scallop, a bed of Lemon Risotto, Mint Oil drizzle, and Cripsy Pancetta … or a vegetable roll with cucumber, asparagus, roasted red peppers and carrots.

The soup course includes roasted garlic and leek soup, followed by a spinach salad that comes with strawberries, prosciutto, bacon vinaigrette, croutons, and poppy seeds.

The entrée gives guests a choice of filet of beef with lobster mashed potatoes, Mushroom Demi grace, and white pepper asparagus … or sea bass with Saffron mashed potatoes, truffle brown butter sauce, and bourbon glazed baby carrots … or Sous Vide braised lamb shank, cherry red wine reduction, roasted duck fat potatoes, and white bean ragout.

For dessert, guests can choose between “Hot Chocolate” bread pudding with peppermint infused whipped cream and vanilla bean ice cream, or Egg Nog Crème Brulee Cinnamon with whipped cream.

“It takes works,” Nickell said of the task she faces preparing this enormous meal.  “I have to plan it weekly in advance.”

Nickell added that during the meal, guests “can order whatever wine they want.”

The Funky Monkey's six course meal on New Year's Eve seems likely to keep guests smiling.

But if it sounds delicious, a lot of other people thought the same thing days ago.

“The Mills meal is completely sold out,” said Matthew Slattery, the executive chef.  “But at Pointe Orlando, they’re still accepting reservations.”

Funky Monkey’s larger restaurant is at Pointe Orlando at 9101 International Drive. This one has 150 seats, more than three times larger than the Mills Avenue site.

They also have a lavish meal planned – Panzanella Salad, Crab and Spinich Dip, an Assorted Buratta Platter with stuffed olives, roasted tomatoes, grilled artichokes and assorted meats, Lobster and Truffle macaroni and cheese, Apple and Blue Cheese Bites, Assorted Skewers (Miso glazed rock shrimp, salmon and ginger, chicken and broccoli Karage) and grape-infused meatballs stuffed with mozzerela cheese.

And as you wine and dine, there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate with shows, shows and more shows.

“We’ve got about seven different production numbers,” said Jimmi Rossi, who manages the Funky Monkey’s new Mills Street diner, Bananas, and has been helping out with the Pointe Orlando entertainment.

“We have huge costumes,” he said.  “We have numbers from ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Grease.’  It’s very much a Las Vegas-type show.”

The elaborate show is put on by Danielle Hunter and Company, with performances by Hunter, Alicia Markstone, The Minx, the Funky Monkey Dancers and others.  The fun also includes plenty of ice. 

"It's very much a Las Vegas-type show," Jimmi Rossi says of the Pointe Orlando New Year's Eve bash.

“We’re doing a huge display and bringing in ice carvers,” Slattery said.  “They come in and carve the ice and build a three tier stations,” which will include a raw bar and dessert station.

The cost for this event is $99 and reservations can still be made by calling 407-418-9463.

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Spoken Word poetry is alive and well in Orlando

ORLANDO – The journey starts in Orlando, but it quickly heads elsewhere … first a taxi in Mumbai … then a beach in Hawaii … finally the Atomic Bomb Dome in Japan …

It’s a tour around the world, all done over a cup of coffee or with a Panini on the side.  It’s a tour that comes courtesy of Swami, a world traveler who brings his experiences, impressions and questions about the places he visits back to Orlando, just in time for Soft Exposure.

Swami gets ready to describe his world travels during the Soft Exposure Reading Series & Open Mic at Infusion Tea.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight and indulging me,” Swami said to the crowd that had gathered at the tables surrounding the open microphone at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive.

The Bohemian-style cafe, with its Herbed Cream Cheese Sandwiches and vegan platters, seemed the perfect location for another very Bohemian tradition: a poetry night.

“Orlando is a wonderful town,” said Frankie Messina, an original co-founder of the poetry readings, known officially as the Soft Exposure Reading Series and Open Mic, and the guest host for the evening.  “It has a lot of poetry nights. We just kind of rounded it out and called it Soft Exposure.”

Infusion Tea is the kind of Bohemian coffee house that has poetry nights.

Spoken word artistry is often traced back to the 1950s and the Beats who met in urban coffeehouses to share their poetry, often words that never got published.  A similar Spoken Word movement started in the late 1980s known as “poetry slams,” where spoken word artists would square off together on stage, often engaging in political protests. Coffee shops remain a prime venue for these performers.

Swami brought with him to the Soft Exposure night some shared memories of his trips around the world, with stops in Mumbai, the North Shore of Oahu, and Hiroshima.

“He’s basically a renaissance guy,” Messina said, noting that Swami has worked as an animator, writer, and filmmaker, in addition to being part of a group known as CouchSurfing – people who travel across the globe, hosting one another, often times by providing a sleeping space on their couch – hence the name.

“It’s basically a world-wide network of traveling spirits,” Swami said. “It’s really an amazing way to get to know some amazing people, by sleeping on their couch.”

Those couches have enabled Swami, at age 49, to keep on traveling – and to bring back with him the anecdotes he uses for his Spoken Word poetry.  Bohemia in the Deep South? Absolutely, Messina said, adding that with growth comes plenty of rich diversity.

“In the last 18 years, Orlando has really grown around me,” Messina said. That’s one reason why he created the Web site, or Apartment E, a movement to encourage people to express themselves. As the Web site notes, Apartment E is all about finding your voice and making it heard.

Frankie Messina organizes the Soft Exposure Reading Series to let people express themselves in front of an open microphone -- and a crowd.

“APARTMENT E IS ‘YOU’,” Messina writes on the site.  “It is that place inside of you that you want to share with the world.  Define it, create it … and then share it!”

Spoken Word poetry nights like Soft Exposure allow people to do just that, and it gave Swami a forum for his travel journal.

“Swami has been compelled to express and share,” Messina said, noting that the artist’s favorite activities include “hanging out at Bohemian coffee houses, petting cats, and striving to help others achieve their potential.”

And don’t forget visiting new locations, Swami reminded him, which is why one of his Spoken Word poems was called “In My Backpack” – encouraging people to climb into his backpack and join him for the world tour.

“Yes, you can stow away in my backpack,” Swami said.  “Come with me to foreign lands. Live your dreams.”

Swami has done just that, even when the dreams get a little bit rocky, such as in “Mad Ride Through Mumbai.”

“This was written about a mad taxi ride from the airport to my hotel in Mumbai,” he said, adding that Taxi 2108 was “small, very small; old, very old; and fast, very fast,” operated by a driver who seemed oblivious to other cars, or even pedestrians.

“Does this guy know what he’s doing?” Swami asked.  “Apparently, he thinks he owns the road.  Apparently, the lane markings are mere suggestions.”

But Swami survived that ride, and was able to move on to the beaches of Oahu, where his passion for surfing – always difficult to achieve growing up 150 miles from the beach in Maryland – was realized.

“Relatively speaking, Florida does not have the best waves in the world. Hawaii does,” he said.

His path also took him to Hiroshima, where he visited the Atomic Bomb Dome.

“I decided to ask some Japanese people about it,” he recalled, then recounted how he stopped a young woman who worked as a teacher.

“Her English was not the best, but she was willing to sit with me for a while,” Swami said.

He asked the woman what the Atomic Bomb Dome meant to her, and she responded, “A symbol of peace.”

“I said what was on my mind – a symbol of destruction,” he said.  “She was looking to the future, while I was looking to the past.  I said ‘I hope I too can come to see it as a symbol of peace.’ “

He also encouraged people to start their own journeys and see where they end up.

“Go from observer to participant,” Swami said.  “Start walking to nowhere, anywhere. See where it might take you.”

Infusion Tea has Poetry Night at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays. Call 407-999-5255 to learn more.

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It’s all about building healthy relationships at Blissful Lotus.

Stacey Murphy shows off the products sold at Blissful Lotus that help couples discover intimacy and romance.

ORLANDO – Stacey Murphy gets a lot of people who sign up for her classes, particularly women, and “a lot of our clients, they’re professional, educated people.”

But Murphy still knows that when a few of them start the class, there’s always going to be that initial giggle factor.

“I say, ‘Ladies, this is a participatory class, you didn’t come here to look at me, you came to learn a technique,’ “ Murphy said. “And some of the women are giggling.”

On the other hand, for some of the couples who show up, her class turns out to be a major revelation.

“We have a lot of men who come in with their girlfriend, and by the end they say, ‘Girl, I’m seeing you in a whole new light,’ “ Murphy said.

That doesn’t surprise Murphy, who with her husband Sean Ramsay runs Blissful Lotus, a boutique on Orange Avenue that puts an emphasis on romance – specificially, by selling products from linqerie to oils, books to artwork, designed to help couples discover what works for them romantically, and what makes them tick.  

Husband and wife owners Sean Ramsay and Stacey Murphy opened Blissful Lotus a year ago in October.

At the same time, the boutique – which celebrated its one year anniversary in October – also hosts classes for couples and individuals that run every Tuesday through Thursday from 7-9 p.m. The educational component of the business is “huge,” Murphy said, since the classes are designed to teach couples and individuals about healthy ways of embracing their sexuality.

“What makes it positive is we try to teach men and women about authentic and empowered sensuality,” Murphy said. “It’s all about teaching people to embrace themselves and their sexuality. We have a school for loving arts.”

It’s also, Ramsay said, a way to get people to talk and think about a subject that people often are uncomfortable confronting: their sexual feelings. In a sense, he said, it becomes about strengthening relationships by teaching people how to be more open about feelings and desires.

“It’s okay to talk about this,” he said. “We’re letting the guys know it’s okay to be in touch with this stuff. It’s about relationships, and the experience of creating an intimate relationship.”

So how does a couple get into the business of teaching intimacy education through classes on “Erotic Kissing for Couples” and “Seven Days to Sex Appeal”? In some ways, it all happened rather accidentally, Murphy said.

Both of the store owners have backgrounds in other fields – Murphy has worked for years in corporate marketing, while Ramsay has a background in retail.

“My husband and I got into it initially because I wanted to take Tantra yoga lessons,” Murphy said. But she needed a way to pay for the lessons.

“I actually came across selling romance enhancement products to help pay for the Tanta lessons,” she said. “I started selling this at home.”

She quickly discovered that women calling for information about these products had a lot of questions – far more than Murphy initially expected.

“Many of the women were hungry for information, and I was able to sell the products by giving them information as well, on how to get in touch with their sensuality,” she said.  “That’s when I came across this concept.”

Romance boutiques, she said, are easy to find in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, but the concept was unheard of in Florida until last October, when a similar boutique opened in Miami. Murphy and Ramsay opened their shop at 1810 N. Orange Ave. at the same time, and it turned out to be the perfect location, she said. It’s a neighborhood that includes the Rock N Roll Heaven used record store, the White Wolf Cafe, Theatre Downtown, and the Savoy gay nightclub.

“This area is just very eclectic, very down to Earth, and they seem more receptive to this concept,” she said.

Did they have a difficult time opening a romance boutique in a conservative Southern state? Murphy said Orlando city officials never gave them a difficult time.

“We worked with the city for about a year to get a clear and defining line about what we can and can’t do,” she said. “We were very open about it, saying “This is what we want to do,’ so the city worked with us. Other parts of the area wouldn’t work – we wouldn’t be going to Winter Park. But we find that we’re bringing a resource here.”

It’s also important to keep in mind, Murphy noted, that her boutique is not the same thing as a store selling pornography.

“Romance boutiques are different,” she said. “None of them have offensive packaging. We don’t sell porn. Many of them have an art gallery as well, as we do.”

Rather than explicit DVDs and magazines, Blissful Lotus has an art gallery for adults.

What’s more challenging for them is dealing with the fact that sex remains one of those subjects that everyone wants to hear about, but at the same time it makes so many people very uncomfortable.

“We have a very schizophrenic view of sex,” Murphy said. “We use it to sell everything, but we don’t want to talk about it.”

Sex is so popular, though, that the subject matter saturates the media, she noted. Murphy said she got a laugh recently when she saw a television commercial about pest control.

“They were using sex to sell it – ‘The roaches are doing it,’ “ she laughed. “We try to give this subject a different face – something very educated.”

The key to making it work, she added, is to help people walking through the door feel comfortable talking about their feelings and desires.

“The biggest feedback I get is because we’re very relaxed, it makes people comfortable with us,” she said. “You’ll have a woman that says, ‘You know what I’m talking about, his … his …’ And we say, ‘We know what you’re talking about – his Love Wand.’ And they say ‘Yeah,’ and that helps make people feel comfortable.”

Murphy said Blissful Lotus shouldn’t be confused with a medical office that deals with physical issues requiring medication or surgery, and it isn’t a sex club, either.

“In our society, we’re either too clinical or too crass,” she said. “We try to bridge it in the middle.”

To learn more, call Blissful Lotus at 407-704-3357, email or log on to

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