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Highway 50 Revisited

Exploring one of the busiest, yet most overlooked, roadways in our region

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If you walked in a skeptic, you’re likely just as skeptical – if not more so – after walking out. But you’ve become better acquainted with one of the oddities that can be found tucked among the noodle shops, Asian health food stores and boba tea counters that are ubiquitous along this stretch of Colonial Drive. It’s a curious spiritual mile marker that, in its own way, fits in well with this eclectic stretch of businesses, all of which are somewhat mysterious until you walk in the front door.

The Jungle MMA and Fitness

1419 E. Colonial Drive

Justin Strout

This year has been a big one for Mills 50, the approximately 30-block district that takes its name from the intersection of Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive (aka State Road 50). A marketing push to brand the area with “Mills 50” banners has brought new attention to the traditionally quirky, LGBT-friendly area that includes Colonialtown, Lake Eola Heights, Park Lake Highland, Hillcrest and a punchy, second-floor office that houses a certain local alt-weekly newspaper. Business is booming.

The Mills 50 restaurants, of course, have garnered the biggest media buzz, and rightly so. From the flowery Dandelion Communitea Café to the famous Bananas Diner, not to mention the widest selection of Asian cuisine in town, as well as scene staples like Will’s Pub, Wally’s and the Cameo Theatre, there’s no shortage of people-watching pleasure. On any given day, one might see fixed-gear enthusiasts, food-truck prowlers and pub-crawlers galore.

Perhaps only in the Mills 50 area, though, can someone spot, in the same visual horizon, nurses shopping for scrubs, down-on-their-luck DUI class attendees and a capture-the-flag battle royale in a rain-filled ditch behind an auto-parts shop involving sweaty, mud-covered wrestlers. The nonprofit Mills 50 Main Street Co. touts this area as “the intersection of creativity and culture,” but it’s not clear exactly how this kind of spectacle fits in.

Strangely, it’s not as unusual as one might think for the Mills 50 district: The aforementioned wrestlers, often spotted lugging monster-truck tires around a sparsely used parking lot, are part of a brutal conditioning class at the Jungle MMA and Fitness, which is part of a proliferation of martial arts studios in the area – including Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which teaches the style of the world famous Gracie family. So why the concentration of kicks and punches? It’s a natural fit, first of all. The martial arts originated in Asia, and the Mills 50 Main Street Co. calls its Asian community “the cultural cornerstone of our district” on their website. But Patrick Hennessey, general manager of the Jungle, points to a more practical reason: This is where the gear is.

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