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Magic fans hope Dwight Howard stays, but the hip downtown scene of this metropolis isn’t going anywhere.

By Amy Drew Thompson

With the NBA strike over, a basketball-starved nation is relieved, but fans of the Orlando Magic have a new worry: Superstar center Dwight Howard may be leaving to find fortune elsewhere. Many believe Howard has helped fuel Orlando’s downtown renaissance; devotees have even started a campaign to keep him: Will he? The question remains. But for now, guests at Orlando hotels can still catch Howard at the brand-spanking-new Amway Arena while enjoying the sophisticated spoils of that aforementioned revitalization.

Eola Wine Company serves some 70 wines by the glass. Can’t decide? Choose from among its “flights,” samplings of four wines in 2-ounce pours (reds, whites and even bubblies). Pair them with cheese platters or other nibbles and enjoy the Central Boulevard location, just across from Lake Eola Park. Find one you love? Buy it; it’s a retail shop, too!

Walk that Magic ticket stub over to Ember after any home game and your second drink at this trendy nightspot’s on the house. Enjoy it in the expansive open-air courtyard as you peruse an eclectic menu. Four service bars stand ready to pour you anything from craft beer to Dom Pérignon. Friday’s after 11 p.m. the DJ starts spinning and drinks go two-for-one.

Orlando Brewing Company always has more than a dozen of its beers on tap, and since it’s made on premises, it doesn’t get any fresher — or more natural: Thisis Florida’s only certified organic brewery and locals say you can taste the difference. How do they make it? Stop in for a free tour, offered Monday-Saturday at 6 p.m. Or just pop in for a pre- or postgame taste.

Where to stay: Crowne Plaza Orlando Downtown is walkable to the Amway Arena and all the perks of its cosmopolitan locale; the Embassy Suites Orlando Downtown sits steps from Lake Eola Park in the heart of the city. For something different, the Veranda Bed & Breakfast in the beautiful Thornton Park neighborhood dates to the early 1900s. And lest you forget, the theme parks are just minutes away.

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Freelance travel writer Amy Drew Thompson is a Knicks-loving New York expatriate who finally came around to adopting a new team. So for the record, she really hopes Dwight stays.

Tagged: Florida, Hotels

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