I remember it like it was yesterday: New Year’s Eve 19(mumble, mumble). I was in my early 20s, hanging out with friends at a bar in Atlantic Beach that was jam-packed with people — 10 deep to get anywhere near the bar, never mind a drink. But I loved it — especially scouting a target for the ritual midnight lip-lock. I remember seeing a group of “old” people (probably younger than I am now) sitting … at a table … against the wall … far from the fray. I thought to myself right then, “I will never, ever be like them.”
I’m just like them.
The thought of spending hours, elbow-to-elbow in a sardine-crammed bar with music blaring way too loud, waiting an hour for a drink, makes me want to beat someone with one of those obnoxious tin horns they give out at these things. But if you’re like me, if you’d like to ring in the New Year without being side-eyed by a lovelorn 20-something on the prowl or pushing through a crush of human debauchery and sadness to score a watered-down rum and Coke, you’ve got options — lots of options, none of which involves assault with a party favor.
Make Walter Sobchak Proud
With “extreme” flashing, colored lights on each alley and the explosive sound of 10-pound balls crashing into bowling pins, Batt Family Fun Center is kind of like an indoor fireworks display, where cocktails are served in plastic cups and everyone wears hideous shoes with the germs of 100 strangers. In other words, perfection. In addition to bowling, guests can play in the arcade, hit the 18-hole glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course or relax in the lounge. Lane rental includes snacks, party favors and a champagne toast at midnight. New Year’s Eve ain’t on Shabbos this year; go ahead and roll. 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Batt Family Fun Center, 1838 Cassat Ave., Westside, lane rental $75 for as many as six people, $100 for VIP lanes, 389-2360, battfamilyfuncenter.com
Alhambra Lang Syne
Following the old dinner-and-a-show date model, the Alhambra Theatre & Dining hosts its annual New Year’s Eve celebration. For $125, you’ll get pre-show champagne and hors d’oeuvres, a special New Year’s Eve dinner menu created by Chef DeJuan Roy and a performance of Pump Boys & Dinettes. Following the show, enjoy live music and dancing, a balloon drop and champagne toast at midnight, as well as an after-midnight breakfast buffet. In keeping with this year’s theme, guests are encouraged to wear denim and accessorize with diamonds (or at least look sparkly), which is perfect if you’ve been looking for a reason to wear those bedazzled jeans. Doors open at 6 p.m., performance at 8 p.m., Alhambra Theatre & Dining, 12000 Beach Blvd., Southside, $125, 641-1212, alhambrajax.com
That Times Square Experience
Costume parties aren’t just for Halloween. Consider hosting a New Year’s Eve-themed soirée where guests come as someone with a connection to the holiday – Father Time, Baby New Year, Dick Clark or, for you old-timers, Guy Lombardo. (Kids: Google it.) More daring types could couple up as Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, who host CNN’s live coverage from Times Square. Dress up as Cooper and you can stand around all night giggling every 15 seconds, but to impersonate Griffin, you’ll need to insult Vice President Joe Biden and talk about pap smears and penises. If you really want to capture the New York City/Times Square experience, throw the party in a small closet and turn the A/C down as low as it will go so everyone’s slammed up against each other, freezing their asses off with no access to a bathroom for four hours.
Happy Blues Year
If bluesy, swampy rock with a dash of country is more your thing, check out Gregg Allman and J.J. Grey & Mofro at The Florida Theatre. Allman, you’re probably aware, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and named one of the best singers of all time by Rolling Stone, not to mention once being married to Cher. What JJG&M haven’t reached in fame they more than make up for in dirty-funk-blues-soul riffs and whiskey-soaked awesomeness. They’ve also changed venues from their usual New Year’s Eve gig at Freebird Live. The show is a homecoming of sorts, too, because both The Allman Brothers Band and Mofro formed in Jacksonville. 9 p.m., The Florida Theatre, 128 E. Forsyth St., $53-$103, 355-5661, floridatheatre.com
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra rings in 2014 with the annual “Toast! To the New Year.” Led by conductor Stuart Chafetz, the program includes symphonic favorites and features Mike Eldred – who, for those of you not up on these sorts of things (guilty as charged), is something of a rock star among the operatic tenor set. Following the performance, guests can get their party on with live music and dancing overlooking the St. Johns River. By “party,” of course, I mean sip champagne, preferably with your pinky raised, with polite applause following each song. Glow sticks won’t be necessary. 8:30 p.m., Times-Union Center for Performing Arts, 300 W. Water St., Downtown, $75-$150, 354-5547, jaxsymphony.org
Have kids? Good luck finding a sitter. But before you resign yourself to an evening of carbonated apple juice and sparklers and falling asleep to Ryan Seacrest’s clawing voice on your television, here’s another option for making the little bastards someone else’s problem for the night. After all, this is your holiday – your chance to get liquored up and clothes-free with your significant other (or a complete stranger; I don’t judge). Drop the kids off at Skate Station Funkworks night. Both Skate Station locations host a New Year’s Eve shindig and all-night skate party for the 15-and-under set. For $25 ($30 at the door), the rug rats will enjoy unlimited skating, dinner and breakfast, party favors and a midnight balloon drop for cash and prizes. And here’s the best part: you don’t have to pick them up until 7 a.m. 7:30 p.m.-7 a.m., Skate Station Funworks (3461 Kori Road, Mandarin, 880-7703; 230 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park, 272-5600) $25, $30 at the door, funworks.com
Happy New Yucks
Comedians Tim Statum and Karen Mills want you to spend Dec. 31 at The Comedy Zone in Mandarin. They would also like to suggest you purchase the New Year’s Eve celebration package featuring GiGi’s famous all-you-can-eat buffet because it would be really cool if they made you laugh so hard a crab leg came out of your nose. Dinner is served at 8 p.m., followed by the show, dancing and a champagne toast. Please note that the $65 ticket price does not include mints, which you may need to mask your prime rib breath before the kissing hour comes. There are two other deals available; check their website. 8 p.m., The Comedy Zone, 3130 Hartley Road, Mandarin, $65, 292-4242, comedyzone.com
Or Just Stay Home
So you want to stay in for the night – this is, after all, the epitome of amateur hour – but don’t want to abandon the holiday altogether? Make it movie night, but only New Year’s movies. Check out The Poseidon Adventure, a disaster film where a tsunami capsizes a luxury ocean liner during a New Year’s Eve gala; or 200 Cigarettes, a widely cast dramedy that follows various characters on NYE in 1981. Or you could just watch what Entertainment Weekly calls “possibly the greatest New Year’s scene of all” – Billy Crystal’s character kinda-sorta proposing to Meg Ryan’s in When Harry Met Sally – on a loop.
Or Don’t Do Anything, Because Really
And then there’s my personal favorite way to celebrate New Year’s Eve: not celebrating it at all. By simply pretending like it’s just another day of the year, because it is, you’ll avoid the stress of deciding what to do, save money and lessen your chances of getting a hangover. Observing anti-NYE is also very easy. You simply decline all invitations to watch a clock strike 12; avoid any TV station with live coverage of the “event,” especially those broadcasting from Times Square (sorry, Seacrest); abstain from making even one New Year’s resolution; and, most important, make sure you are asleep before midnight. Of course, this means coming to grips with the fact that you’re now officially old and boring.