Walking into Wreckers, the new sports bar at Gaylord Palms resort, can be mesmerizing. As a college basketball junkie, I was thunderstruck last week by the number of NCAA Tournament games shown and the enormity of Wreckers' main screens.
Picture it: A screen 33 feet wide and 10 feet tall. Above that is a foot-high ticker with scores. And then, above that, yet another 33-by-10 screen.
That's a lot to absorb, especially when both jumbo screens are divided into five subsections of basketball action.
Down on ground level, there are dozens of easy chairs — not recliners, but comfy nonetheless — looking up at the screens and, even farther up, a dramatic light fixture. A cathedral came to mind, until I realized that there's a private skybox up there, too.
The two-story, 24,300-square-foot establishment is new construction at Gaylord, positioned between the hotel and its convention center. It has three terraces, two of which overlook the new South Beach Pool and one that is adjacent to the Coquina Lawn, a grassy event area that was once the site of the main pool of the Kissimmee resort.
But Wreckers? If you've seen its billboards while idling in I-4 traffic, you may have defaulted into thinking its name was tow-truck related. I mean, it couldn't be a home-wrecker reference.
Nope, it's a reference to the Florida Keys of the late 1700s, when shipwrecks were common among the sand bars. Salvagers would loot the vessels and sell their treasures in the Keys.
"They would go to the bars and spend their money on whiskey and liquor," says Jeff Abbaticchio, Gaylord's director of public relations.
The Key West theme is spread liberally throughout the decor of Wreckers, which opened in January. Vintage postcards, maps and photos (Ernest Hemingway alert) are framed in the staircase, fishing nets and buoys flank a chandelier, oyster-harvesting sticks and fishing rods are mounted on walls, Cruzan Rum barrels are a repeated design touch and an overturned canoe hangs from the ceiling.
An upstairs wall is devoted to mounted sea life — swordfish and such — all painted white. A fun-looking downstairs wall is plastered with more than 300 license plates left by travelers, or so the story goes.
Beyond the easy chairs, there are restaurant tables and high-tops upstairs and downstairs. There are bars on both floors, too. It might be hard for nonbelievers to escape the on-screen action: There are more than 50 high-definition televisions, ranging from 32 to 60 inches installed. Hate hoops? Retreat to the patio (and turn your back to the screens out there).
The Wreckers menu is classic sports-bar fare, including burgers, sliders, wings, ribs and appetizers — with a little conch chowder (more Key West) thrown in. There are 22 beers, including eight craft beers.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight, and the bar operates until 2 a.m.
There's no cover charge, and if you spend $25, you receive free self-parking, which normally runs $15 a day.
Although it's a sports bar, special events may also be broadcast to Wreckers crowd. For example, Gaylord threw an Academy Awards party there. The entire bar can be rented out, perhaps to a convention held at the resort. One group reserved all of Wreckers for the NBA All-Star Game in February.
It's worth a call ahead before going to make sure all are welcome. And soon, that information will be available on the Gaylord Palms website, Abbaticchio said.
Kissimmee isn't as far away as Key West, but it might feel like it if you're turned away from Wreckers.
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What: Sports bar at Gaylord Palms resort
Where: 6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee
When: Restaurant open 11 a.m.-midnight daily, bar open until 2 a.m.
Cost: No cover