WINTER GARDEN — At the end of the day, when the tourists are gone, Disney performers head out to their favorite spot to keep on singing after their shifts are over.
Every Thursday, they perform at open-mic night at Pilars, a Winter Garden martini bar that’s developed a loyal following the past five years.
Joey Fatone of *NSync fame might show up — or the original Belle who opened up Beauty and the Beast Live at Hollywood Studios. Others are retired from performing but want a moment on stage again.
Host Billy Flanigan, a 35-year Disney performer, once played Barbie’s famous boyfriend at Epcot. Kelly Richards, known for his piano-playing at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Epcot’s Rose and Crown pub, provides the music.
The mood is light.
If a police officer walks in, Richards spontaneously bursts into YMCA.
Flanigan introduces singers with fake biographies, like, "This woman is a nun," or, "Here is Miss Winter Garden 1959."
Yet the talent can be serious.
Winter Garden is a bedroom community for the people who perform at the nearby theme parks, says Pilars owner, Becky Roper.
"You’ll hear people who sang for decades entertaining thousands and thousands of people. They come out and sing a song and you think, ‘Wow. They have something really special,’" said Juan Cantu, a performer and director who sang in Disney’s Tarzan show at Animal Kingdom.
The regulars, who don’t like change so they sing their favorites over and over again every week, cheer her on.
They scoff at the word "karaoke" — no, call it open-mic night. Broadway songs tend to be favorites.
Even in a room full of Disney enthusiasts, you won’t ever hear Let It Go, the song from the movie Frozen that is on repeat for little girls everywhere.
Let It Go is notorious for its difficult-to-hit high notes. A screechy singer who could be heard down the street was partly responsible for the bar owner’s permanent ban.
On a recent night, Shari Skaling sets down her Bud Light and then nails a high note in a Phantom of the Opera song, All I Ask of You.
Flanigan gives the microphone early in the night to a real-estate agent who isn’t intimidated by the Thursday traditions. He is here for the first time and confidently sings a Spanish song.
A 94-year-old who sits in the corner with his cane gets up and performs a Glenn Miller big-band-era song.
And What a Wonderful World serves as a go-to for Joy Andersen, who interacts with guests at Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, an attraction at Magic Kingdom.
She calls Pilars her "safe place."
As Andersen, 51, mourned her husband’s death, her friends coaxed her to go out on a Thursday night. Andersen kept coming back, sometimes bringing her tap shoes or a strawberry pie to share.
"It’s become Winter Garden’s version of Cheers," Flanigan says. "Everybody knows everybody and if they don’t, I introduce them."