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Palm Trees & Honky-Tonks

Whiskey Park

3380 Mercantile Ave Naples, FL

For those of you who have been to Nashville prior to say...2013 and then any time within the last few years you'd know about the extreme growth that city has undergone. You'd also know that prior to this explosion, an explosion where Nashville outpaces Vegas for bachelorette parties (business idea: Nashville erotic gag gift store right next to the cowboy boot store) the Lower Broadway honky-tonk tourist area that is part of Nashville's draw, wasn't the insane Bourbon Street meets 'Bama vibe that it is today. It was crowded, especially on a weekend, but you could easily belly up to Tootsie's, or the local favorite Robert's Western World, order a drink, watch any number of talented cover bands play, and have a perfectly enjoyable evening. Now there's usually gaggles of folks downing Smirnoff Ice elbow to elbow. The long-standing honky-tonks now have a lot of new neighbors. If you've had a country music hit in the last 30 years, it seems like you now have a 3-story bright neon signed establishment. Kid Rock, Alan Jackson, Florida-Georgia Line, etc have all brand spankin' new joints down there with a revolving door of sunburned folks going in and out from place to place.

I will confess that this modern version of Nashville is not my cup of tea. I love the city, one of my three or four favorites places, but my version is a little more sedate. Nashville in these years has also become a much more sophisticated city with some terrific and unique restaurants like Husk, Peninsula and Fifth and Taylor to name a few of several. There's a reason why Nashville is frequently referred to as countrypolitan with its mix of comfort and culture. Of course, locals also refer to it as Nash Vegas, so it checks a lot of boxes for whatever you are looking for in your travels.

This brings me to Whiskey Park. Why all the monologuing about Nashville and what does that have to do with this particular watering hole? Whiskey Park reminds me of a cross between what those honky-tonks were probably like in the 70s when George Jones was stumbling around complaining about whatever wife he was married to at the time and your favorite corner bar.

It is about as unpretentious a venue as you will find pretty much anywhere and the fact that it is in Naples is all the more remarkable. I'm not trying to slag on Naples "fanciness" as so many do, I really have grown to like it here, but every great place has its issues. New York is a cultural mecca, but it can be overwhelming. Los Angeles has great culture and some amazing topography and access to nature, but the traffic is brutal and it can be really dirty and frustrating at times. Tulsa, Oklahoma means you have to be in ...Tulsa, Oklahoma (joke inspired by and or lifted from Wayne's World (c) 1992 Mike Myers, but since he was horrific in "Bohemian Rhapsody" I am comfortable stealing it as penalty). And Naples is the same. Just because you order a Napa Cab with three digits next to the name, doesn't mean you know your wine.

Whiskey Park is a respite from all that. Signs advertise any number of spirits. It's got terrifically high ceilings. You have pool tables, golden tee and apparently even axe throwing some nights. Alcohol and sharpened woodsman's tools...great idea! Your servers and bartenders are whip-smart, incredibly accommodating and engaging, with just enough attitude to curl a smirk (as long as it's not headed in your direction. My recent visit was karaoke night (every Tuesday and Thursday) and when one particularly tone deaf patron was destroying a song that was rendered unrecognizable, Becca, one of the best, screamed "Last Call." It was 7:45.

They also have some pretty good cover bands on the weekends. I will warn you though, during off-season, pickings for acts are slim and you may be subject to someone's first time performing with his buddies and the reverb will be used so liberally that you can literally see the sound waves.

For you whiskey snobs, they also have a list of about 70 that run the gamut. They have both my favorite Irish whiskey, Green Spot, as well as my favorite bourbon, EH Taylor. Unfortunately they don't have my favorite Japanese, but hey, you can't have it all.

In some ways, the food is irrelevant as Whiskey Park because it's just such a good easy hang, but it's actually quite good. The menu leans towards the New Orleans vibe (as the co-owner cut his teeth cooking down there) and it also has come great southern classics like Fried Green Tomatoes, Chicken and Waffles (special occasions) etc.

For this visit, and I've been here plenty, so I've pretty much had much of the menu, I had my always tasty gator bites and a homemade chicken patty sandwich.

Before you freak out over eating gator or start saying the cliche' "tastes like Chicken," gator bites can actually be very delicious. It takes a TON of marinating to get out the toughness, but once that's done think of them, not like chicken, but like a deep fried bit of pork tenderloin. They can be hit or miss, because you ARE eating a frickin' dinosaur, but when it's on, it's as good a nugget as you'll find.

The patty I had was good but nothing special. Just a simple good grilled chicken burger with fries. Hey, not every night's gonna be coq au vin or chicharones. I do have one issue with the fries. Why can't people just do a simple french fry, or a steak fry (the king of all fries). Why do we have to mess with seasoned curly, or those weird double fried things with the stick on spices?

Despite this fry crime, There are other really tasty things on the menu. The pork belly sliders may be one of the better, if not best sliders in town. The fried ravioli are great. I vaguely recall fried pickles being tasty (ranch water..*shrug*) and so on.

Again, the food is only part of the Whiskey Park experience, but don't take my word for it..experience for yourself...and this is probably the only place in town you can say "Mr. Bites sent me" and they'll actually know what you're talking about!

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I agree with your comment that Whiskey Park just doesn’t fit Naples ! Its a nice change & very down to earth, the last time I was there there were around 6 people with German Shepherds, the dogs were extremely well managed & I enjoyed watching them.

Your comment about a place up in Bonita having a NASCAR ambiance may be true (I have never been there) but Whiskey Park sure would fit that bill ! I have had the wings & my favorite Gumbo , definitely a place worth checking out.

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