Orlando’s reputation as a spot for fun-seekers isn’t entirely based on its International Drive allure – at least, not if you ask a native. Our bars, clubs and live music venues offer a more distinguishing palate a variety of environments for a spectrum of tastes: a tour of the world’s best craft beers, a speakeasy time traveller’s fantasy, a game geek’s dream dance floor, budget-blasting arena rock, intimate performances by budding musical talents and so much more. You can discover a different world on any given night by dedicating time to these exciting haunts.
Accidental Music Festival
November, various venues
Especially for music lovers, this festival focuses on inventive avant-garde music with pleasantly surprising performances, educational activities and a special showcase of international performers.
Florida Music Festival
April 24-26, 2014, various venues
FMF is the longest-running music festival in Orlando and is coupled with industry conferences that offer an opportunity to network and discover new music while pub-crawling downtown.
Fall, various venues
This treasured celebration of local music brings together mostly local bands across several genres to provide a little something for everyone, acting as a true cornerstone for our local scene, just as the Orlando musician it strives to memorialize did.
Total Bummer Fest
Summer, various venues
A trippy dance party of electronic bands who do much more than stand behind a laptop, this festival ensures that the town is painted in shades much more psychedelic than simply red.
October, Audubon Park
The AP Garden District encourages you to dress as a zombie – including full, gory makeup – then parade down Corrine Drive to enjoy live music, horror films, a costume contest and local food trucks and vendors.
400 W. Church St.
The biggest national pop stars stop at Amway, making this our city’s one-stop shop for arena rock on downtown’s biggest stage.
929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
For fans of open-mic nights, this establishment hosts some of the best amateur nights for music and comedy. It’s a friendly launch pad for a variety of budding talents that also happens to serve some of the best iced coffee in town.
37 W. Pine St.
Along with hosting one of the city’s best metal nights, this downtown club is religious about its popular dance night, Midnight Mass. Notably home to a variety of Norse Korea shows, Backbooth offers their intimate stage to a wide range of touring acts.
46 N. Orange Ave.
Downtown was sorely missing a large venue, and the Beacham came along just in time to ease the pain. With balcony seating to escape the frequently sold-out show crowds below, the Beacham saves us from trekking to the theme parks any time we want to see a burgeoning touring act like Black Angels or Sharon Jones.
12777 N. Gemini Blvd.
Don’t discount this venue just because you’re not a student – CFE Arena books mainstream rock and hip-hop artists, invites national comics to town and holds many special events that are a huge draw for community members to come down to campus.
The Copper Rocket Pub
106 Lake Ave., Maitland
For fans of rock and blues, Copper Rocket is a mainstay, with excellent local shows and the occasional surprising national band stopping through. And you really can’t beat their trivia nights.
578 N. Orange Ave.
Is it a venue or a club? Firestone still seems to be making up its mind, but with some of the best EDM nights in town, it doesn’t matter which way Firestone swings. There’s no other place like it in Orlando, with its winding layout and fun-filled outdoor shows held in the back lot.
Hard Rock Live
6050 Universal Blvd.
Located in Universal Studios, give yourself plenty of time to park and haul ass through CityWalk to see shows at the Hard Rock, which often includes nostalgic tribute shows in its Classic Albums Live series, the nation’s best touring comedians and the type of big-name bands that form the venue’s longstanding legacy.
House of Blues
1490 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista
This Downtown Disney venue is where you’ll find your mascara-caked pop-punk acts, as well as the occasional ’80s reunion tour. But enough good can’t be said about the venue itself, which is cozy, inviting and offers great vantage points. It’s worth the drive to see your favorite band.
The Peacock Room
1321 N. Mills Ave.
Fans of experimental music would be wise to frequent the Peacock Room, where you can guzzle Key lime martinis while enjoying unique shows coordinated by some of Orlando’s most invested and inventive music community members.
The Plaza Live
425 N. Bumby Ave.
For live sound, the Plaza rules all in Orlando, whether you wind up in the big room or the small room. When you see acts booked here, join the rush to reserve front row seats for the best folk, country, hip-hop and classical music you’ll hear performed within our city’s walls. Bonus: the venue doubles as a practice space for the Orlando Philharmonic.
54 N. Orange Ave.
Locals bands strive to perform on this stage, the one shared with most of the Pitchfork-worthy bands that come through town. It’s a smaller room, which means nine times out of 10, you’re shouting the lyrics shoulder-to-shoulder with similarly impassioned fans.
Stardust Video and Coffee
1842 E. Winter Park Road
The Stardust main room welcomes all the weird ideas its devoted community cooks up in terms of live music performances, original plays, performance art, or weekly DJ sets leaning toward indie, chillwave, goth pop and shoegaze.
100 S. Orange Ave.
One of the few bars downtown you can depend on for live music every night, Tanqueray’s provides all the funk, jazz and blues you can handle, including a talented crop of locals like Thomas Wynn or RJ Harman performing regularly.
Timucua White House
2000 S. Summerlin Ave.
The family home of Cirque du Soleil conductor Benoit Glazer is also home to stellar jazz and world artists, and Glazer opens the doors of his self-made venue for free, once-in-a-lifetime shows.
1042 N. Mills Ave.
If you are a fan of punk, metal, garage, folk or all of the above, you need to get down to Will’s Pub. This grizzled venue provides stacked lineups, stocks a huge beer selection and is home to the much-loved Southern Fried Sundays. As of 2014, it’s also a nonsmoking venue!
DRINKING and DANCING
64 N. Orange Ave.
Located at the start of downtown’s heart, Bar-BQ’s porch provides great people-watching, and while the quarters are tight inside, if you can land a booth, you’re in for the sort of warm, inebriated night typically reserved for backyard hangouts.
1205 N. Mills Ave.
Combine classic arcade games, campy ’80s movies and a cooler full of craft beer, and you’ll get Bart, the Mills 50 bar/art gallery/arcade. They pack a lot of fun into the small space they have, with mostly free arcade gaming and a lounge area for those not interested in the nostalgic allure of Frogger or Missile Command.
3001 Corrine Drive
It’s either your dream or your nightmare: a karaoke night with an attentive audience who will hang on every squeaky note as you eke out your rendition of “I Touch Myself.” But that’s what you get at Big Daddy’s, which serves beer and liquor for liquid courage.
CityWalk at Universal
1000 Universal Studios Plaza
Whether you’ve been dragged there by visiting friends and family, know someone who works out at Universal or are just out on some tourist-inspired whim, CityWalk has its own merry lure for locals in Rising Star karaoke, Pat O’Brien’s and Margaritaville. Although there’s no cover to get on the strip, you will have to pay to park.
114 N. Orange Ave.
Orlando is not trying to be Brooklyn, but the Courtesy Bar’s theming does transport you a little bit, although their craft cocktails pay homage to local ingredients and include an inspired riff on a classic in the Florida Sour. Go for happy hour to enjoy the punch of the day.
819 E. Washington St.
In Thornton Park, this art bar provides a hip alternative setting amid burger joints and sports bars with original concepts that form the basis of both art shows and DJ nights; it’s a fun escape on certain nights and otherwise divinely low-key. Don’t miss out on their music-themed brunches, either!
Hanson’s Shoe Repair
27 E. Pine St.
A lavishly designed throwback to speakeasy culture, Hanson’s asks that you call ahead to get the password, then ascend the stairs to a warm den for classic cocktails mixed the old-fashioned way. Be prepared to wait, and be prepared for it to be so worth it.
The Hideaway Bar
516 Virginia Drive
In a loud building done in Miami Dolphins colors, you wouldn’t expect to find a dive bar that feels delightfully small-town, but that’s the Hideaway, where people are serious about pool, sports and strong drinks. It’s also a great greasy-food joint in the morning to cure your hangover.
68 N. Orange Ave.
I-Bar is hipster central. There’s no other way to put it, which makes it a target for teasing, sure, but it also means that you always have a story to tell after a night there.
1036 N. Mills Ave.
This new spot has quickly become a favorite among locals looking to nestle into the wooden booths, rock some free songs on the jukebox and escape from the smog at sister bar Will’s Pub. But it’s also where you’ll find a really energetic ’90s R&B dance night weekly.
Little Fish Huge Pond
401 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford
You never know quite what you’ll find going on at this trippy hangout: intimate soul performances, pirate parties, hookah-passing, maybe even cheese-inspired art shows or Mexican holiday movies. End your all-nighter here, and you’ll swear the whole thing was a dream the next morning.
55 N. Orange Ave.
Drunken camaraderie marks this Irish pub with one of the longest happy hours in downtown Orlando and one of the best atmospheres, to boot. You don’twant to be anywhere else for St. Patrick’s Day.
Player 1 Video Game Bar
8562 Palm Parkway, Lake Buena Vista
Go overboard as a game geek at Player 1, where there are 30 classic arcade games, modern consoles, a motion gaming dance floor, and cash tournaments. It’s the best reason to head to Lake Buena Vista, other than visiting the Mouse, of course.
2810 Corrine Drive
If Orlando was famous for something other than Mickey Mouse, it’d be Redlight Redlight. Their exhaustive beer list and impeccable taste make it tempting to take up residence on a barstool in the much bigger space they now inhabit in Audubon Park. Plus, as of 2014, they have begun brewing and serving their own independent craft beers.
Wall St. Plaza
19 N. Orange Ave.
Special occasions, from New Year’s Eve to Oktoberfest, belong to this cantina-themed meeting place for the masses. Located at the epicenter of downtown Orlando, and always throbbing with music, booze and vitality, Wall St. Plaza and its eight venues take up an entire city block, but it’s easy to navigate, heavy on the drink specials and stocked with eye candy for all.
Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors
1001 N. Mills Ave.
Wally’s is the only place in town as committed to your drinking habit as you are. It’s open at 7:30 a.m., meaning you can find a good, strong drink at pretty much any hour. Plus, you will not find a better spot to marvel at Orlando’s celebrities in full drunken splendor. Just remember, it’s cash only, and ATM fees add up!
World of Beer UCF
3402 Technological Ave.
Craft beer finally infiltrated the east side of town in the worthy vessel that is World of Beer. With a seemingly endless selection of great beers on draft and the occasional live show, WOB offers a steady temptation to keep UCF locals drinking in the neighborhood, instead of cabbing it downtown.
Sometimes Orlando’s best live music can be difficult to come across, especially if you aren’t already familiar with our most active promoters. To make sure you never miss a show, here are some of our favorite tuned-in folks to follow:
The Civic Minded 5
This highly music-minded cultural group frequently delivers free shows featuring the world’s leading talents.
Notable 2013 shows: Jaap Blonk, Mary Halvorson, Zs
If you’re into garage and punk, you need to keep an eye on the shows billed by Floridas Dying/Total Punk.
Notable 2013 shows: Cheap Time, Nobunny, Shannon and the Clams
Mostly specializing in hardcore and metal shows, they’ll blister your ears regularly – and sometimes in unique locations.
Notable 2013 shows: Centuries, Downfall of Gaia
Norse Korea Presents
Fans of indie music, your Facebook calendar will thank you for following along with these creative bills featuring up-and-comers and nostalgic talents alike.
Notable 2013 shows: Lemuria, Diarrhea Planet, Davey von Bohlen
Relief in Abstract
This is actually an artist collective, rather than a booking force, but the electronic music lineups they craft around their leading label talent are not to be missed.
Notable 2013 shows: XXYYXX, Fortune Howl
These tried-and-true dance nights soften our shoes with an excuse to dance every night:
DJs spinning trap, indie, electro, pop, free PBR keg, $3 wells
10 p.m. | Backbooth, 37 W. Pine St. | 407-999-2570 | backbooth.com | free-$3 | 18 and up
Grits ’n Gravy
Throwback dance night rocking ’50s, ’60s and ’70s Motown, soul, funk and rock, $2.50 well whiskey
10 p.m. | Independent Bar, 68 N. Orange Ave. | 407-839-0457 | free-$3 | 18 and up
Mac and Cheese Wednesday
The cheesiest music from the ’80s, ’90s and later, plus nostalgic guest celebrity cameos, $2.50 well whiskey
10 p.m. | Independent Bar, 68 N. Orange Ave. | 407-839-0457 | free | 18 and up
Take Off Thursday with Dizzle Phunk An all-vinyl classic hip-hop DJ night, plus drink specials
10 p.m. | Bullitt Bar, 33 E. Pine St. | 407-839-0999 | bullittbar.com | free
DJs spin club hits, plus go-go dancers perform, with dollar drinks from 9-11 p.m. and surprise drink specials after 1 a.m.
9 p.m. | Brink, 47 W. Amelia St. |
407-388-4384 | brinkorlando.com | free | 21 and up
A mix of indie, hip-hop, electro and bass that starts promptly at midnight
midnight | Backbooth, 37 W. Pine St. | 407-999-2570 | backbooth.com | free-$4 | 18 and up
Get down to club hits, plus enjoy guest performers and drink specials
until 9 p.m., no cover all night | Parliament House, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail | 407-425-7571 | parliamenthouse.com | free
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