A Night on the Town: Downtown Sanford, FL

Downtown Sanford, FL
Downtown Sanford, FL

Saturday, February 7th was a hell of a night. Adam, knowing my affinity for all things German, told me a couple days before to plan on checking out this German restaurant he knew about in Sanford. Sanford is about 20 to 30 minutes North of where we live, and in all honesty I was kind of skeptical about how good the food and drink was going to be at a German place in a city which, at the time, I was thoroughly unimpressed with. I mean hell, this is where George Zimmerman is from after all. But nonetheless I decided to trust my good buddy, and dammit am I glad I did. Upon exiting the highway into Sanford we were in redneck Valhalla, with po’dunk pawn shops and bars like “The Barn” popping up left and right. Then we got to old downtown Sanford, which was much better and had a very unique swagger. We park on the side of the road, down the street from the restaurant and were immediately obsessed with a truly authentic barbershop (unfortunately it was closed). After about 5 minutes of fantasizing and obsessing over the place we walk to the restaurant, noticing the very unique nature of the town on the way. Eventually we arrive at the restaurant: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe.

The Willow Tree
The Willow Tree

This place was booming! jam packed inside and out, and unsurprisingly the hostess told us we’d have about a 2 hour wait. I don’t recall ever agreeing to wait 2 hours for any restaurant, but a number of random passerbys assured us it was well worth the wait. We agreed to wait, left our phone number and began hoofing it in search of a drink to distract our empty stomachs. This is when the magic started. As we walked down the main drag we started noticing just how trapped in time the town felt. There were antique shops everywhere, sometimes right next to each other. How all of these places stay in business is beyond me. Then we stumbled upon a bar/record store, and out in front was truly a window into the past. A hand full of leather clad heroes, hair greased and boots strapped stood in front of the shop admiring motorcycles and hot rods. We were staring straight at the 50’s. I’m almost positive one guy even had a “T-Birds” on the back of his jacket. I was right where I belonged. We started walking through, admiring the old school motorcycles and snapping pictures of the 50’s era hot rods. Here’s a few crappy shots just to give you an idea.


These things were sweet, and add the fact that the owners looked like they came from the same period as the cars, and they became even sweeter. We walked around for a good while, envying the Americana and checking out all the shops and bars, when we finally stumbled across what could be my favorite bar ever. Outside was an old wooden podium with a single 5 or 6 item menu on top, which contained a small list of hand-crafted cocktails. These were the day’s specials at a bar called The Imperial. After checking out the list, we all looked at each other and simultaneously said… “yep!”, and proceeded inside. To give you an idea of what this place looks like, here’s a picture of the bar in all its glory.

The Imperial
The Imperial

So after I placed our order with the mustachioed mixologist, we found our seats. The bar is filled with antiques. In fact, every table and chair available was also for sale. The hand made bench we sat at for example was beautiful, but with a price tag of $995 it wasn’t coming home with me. My friends drank The Imperial’s twist on a mule, while I had their Rye Old Fashioned seen below.

Imperial's Rye Old Fashioned
Imperial’s Rye Old Fashioned

The drinks were fantastic, the atmosphere was unique, and the company was top notch as always. It seems fitting for a town, which seems trapped in time, to have a bar so enjoyable you wish time stood still. We reluctantly left after our first drink when the Willow Tree called up our table ahead of schedule. I think we all would have been satisfied just spending the rest of the night at The Imperial, but knowing what I do now, I’m so glad we didn’t.
We finally sat down to the table we had waited an hour for, and immediately hear the majority of our neighbors speaking German. And the waitresses were speaking German. And the old men who were setting up on stage were speaking German. It was fantastic, and the beer was even better. I personally ordered a liter… at first. Let’s just say I had two or three of those before the night was over. And how could I not have? There was authentic German food, authentic German drinking music, and actual Germans singing alongside us getting the whole crowd involved. I would have waited more than 2 hours for this.

The First
                The First
The Second
              The Second

After we all got our fair share of sausage, schnapps, and beer the live music was starting to end and it was about time to mosey. We had a poker game to play after all! Still, I could not have better things to say about downtown Sanford. We only actually experienced two of the town’s establishments, but were thoroughly pleased with our evening. I can only imagine that there are many other venues worth checking out downtown, and I will be making it a point to take the 20 to 30 minute drive to find out for sure.

Cheers, GB

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