In the heart of Orlando, those in the know snicker at the fools who believe theme parks are our city's main draw. With bars, clubs and live music venues that go above and beyond the moment the sun goes down, locals know the truly treasurable Orlando experiences are encountered in more genuinely fun spots – during a legendary guest DJ night at Bullitt Bar, at the lip of the stage at the Social, on Player 1 Video Game Bar's interactive dance floor, or even at the bottom of a punishingly strong double at Wally's. Go beyond the norm, and you'll see Orlando's underground fosters so much more than our pre-packaged reputation suggests.
400 W. Church St. | 407-440-7000 amwaycenter.com
The biggest national pop stars stop at Amway, making its calendar our city's one-stop shop for finding arena rock, in addition to detailing sports and other major events occurring on downtown's biggest stage.
929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park | 407-975-3364 austinscoffee.com
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.
46 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | thebeacham.com
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 flourishing touring act like Father John Misty or Refused.
37 W. Pine St. | 407-999-2570 | backbooth.com
Dedicated to packing as much fun into one night as humanly possible, Backbooth often hosts trending national bands for early shows that are followed by some of Orlando's favorite dance nights, like Shake 'n Bass and Midnight Mass.
5405 Edgewater Drive | 407-730-3999 | bombshellstavern.org
If you're looking for live music in the Edgewater Drive and Lee Road area, Bombshell's provides an awesome alternative venue for fans of modern hard rock.
12777 N. Gemini Blvd. | 407-823-6006 | cfearena.com
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 events that are a huge draw for community members to come down to campus.
The Copper Rocket Pub
106 Lake Ave., Maitland | 407-636-3171 | letsmakeitathing.com
With new owners and a spruced up interior, the Copper Rocket remains Maitland's most diverse neighborhood pub, hosting open mics, comedy, DJs and live music.
Hard Rock Live
6050 Universal Blvd. | 407-351-5483 | hardrock.com/live
It's located on Universal Studios property, so 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 | 407-934-2583 hob.com
This Disney Springs venue is where you'll find your mascara-caked pop-punk acts, as well as the occasional '80s reunion act. But enough good can't be said about the venue itself, which is cozy, inviting and offers great vantage points.
The Plaza Live
425 N. Bumby Ave. | 407-228-1220 | plazaliveorlando.com
For live sound, the Plaza rules all in Orlando. 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 boundaries.
The Smiling Bison
745 Bennett Road | 407-898-8580 | thesmilingbison.com
The foodie favorite transforms into a jumping music club on select nights when the jazz, country, folk and rock styles of seasoned local musicians take the stage and admirably push the Bison's notably excellent menu to the background.
54 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | thesocial.org
Local bands strive to perform on this stage, the one shared with most of the Pitchfork-worthy bands that come through Orlando. It's a smaller room, which means nine times out of 10, you're shouting the lyrics shoulder-to-shoulder with similarly impassioned fans. Get there early and snag a table in front of the pit.
St. Matthew's Tavern at the Orlando Beer Garden
1300 N. Mills Ave. | orlandobeergarden.com
When much-loved but now-defunct dive the Peacock Room closed, St. Matthew's Tavern quickly picked up the creative concert calendar that often features intriguing one-off shows by hip punk and rock bands on the really chill outdoor stage.
Stardust Video and Coffee
1842 E. Winter Park Road | 407-623-3393 | stardustie.com
The Stardust main room provides a den that welcomes all the weird ideas its devoted community cooks up in terms of live music performances, original plays, performance art and nerdy nights aplenty.
100 S. Orange Ave. | 407-649-8540 facebook.com/tanqueraysbar
One of the few bars downtown you can depend on for live music every night of the week, Tanqueray's provides all the funk, jazz and blues you can handle, including a talented crop of locals like the Groove Orient, Leisure Chief or Ancient Sun performing regularly.
Timucua White House
2000 S. Summerlin Ave. | 407-595-2713 | timucua.com
The family home of Cirque du Soleil conductor Benoit Glazer is also host to stellar jazz and world artists, and Glazer frequently opens the doors of his self-made venue for free, once-in-a-lifetime shows.
Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall
1016 N. Mills Ave. | 407-898-0009
The DIY scene explodes regularly at Uncle Lou's, which houses our city's best punk shows – sweaty affairs that welcome gritty national, international and locals alike so long as you can handle yourself in the pit.
578 N. Orange Ave. | 407-872-0066
As of press time, Venue 578 (formerly Firestone) has been sold, but no details are forthcoming about who bought it or what their intentions are regarding its live music calendar.
1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org
If you are a fan of punk, metal, garage, Americana 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.
DRINKING & DANCING
1205 N. Mills Ave. | 407-796-2522 | bartcade.com
Combine classic arcade games, campy '80s movies and a cooler full of craft beer, and you'll get Bart, the Mills 50 bar/art/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 | 407-644-2844
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'll find at Big Daddy's, where you can get a stiff drink or knock back pints for courage.
The Bull & Bush
2408 E. Robinson St. | 407-896-7546 | bullandbushorlando.com
This charming English pub set smack in the middle of the Milk District offers one of the best comedy showcases in town, real darts, a surprisingly challenging pub quiz and a $3 Scotch egg. Not to mention the best Guinness in Orlando.
33 E. Pine St. | 407-839-0999 | bullittbar.com
Hip downtown watering hole Bullitt Bar parties hard and often hosts DJ nights that, we kid you not, feature legendary rappers like Talib Kweli, who filmed a music video here.
CityWalk at Universal
6000 Universal Studios Plaza | 407-363-8000 universalorlando.com
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, Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom and Margaritaville. Although there's no cover to get on the strip, you will usually have to pay to park.
114 N. Orange Ave. | 407-450-2041 | thecourtesybar.com
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. Go for happy hour to enjoy the punch of the day.
819 E. Washington St. | 407-423-3060 | thefalconbar.com
In Thornton Park amid burger joints and sports bars, this art bar provides a hip alternative setting with original concepts that form the basis of both art shows and music nights; it's a fun escape on certain nights and otherwise divinely low-key.
The Geek Easy
114 S. Semoran Blvd. | 407-332-9636 facebook.com/thegeekeasy
In the expanded bar built in the back of A Comic Shop, you can discover weekly open mics, creative performance pieces and the best nerd rock that comes to town, or just enjoy a beer while you pore over your new favorite graphic novel.
740 Bennett Road | 407-504-7699 | giltnightclub.com
Housed in the notorious Roxy space, Gilt Nightclub expects you to break out your baller threads (there's a dress code) to enjoy national and international DJs in style.
1321 N. Mills Ave. | 407-630-6574
Whoever moved into the old Peacock Room space had big shoes to fill. Luckily, the owners of gone-too-soon downtown institution Bar-BQ-Bar filled them admirably, opening up the space and installing a beautiful central bar-in-the-round where you can get creative cocktails, craft beer and a well-curated wine selection.
Hanson's Shoe Repair
27 E. Pine St. | 407-476-9446 | hansonsshoerepair.com
A lavishly designed throwback to speakeasy culture, Hanson's asks that you call ahead to get the nightly password, then ascend the stairs to a warm den for classic cocktails mixed the old-fashioned way.
Herman's Loan Office
27 W. Pine St. | 407-649-0000 | hermansloanoffice.com
This new craft cocktail bar, tucked into the back of a parking lot on Pine Street, comes to you from the same people behind Hanson's Shoe Repair. Expect the same attention to high-quality cocktails but with more elbow room and no password.
The Hideaway Bar
516 Virginia Drive | 407-898-5892 | thehideawaybar.net
In a loud building done up 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. Incidentally, it's also a great greasy-food joint in the morning to cure your hangover.
70 N. Orange Ave. | 407-839-0457 facebook.com/independentbarorlando
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. | willspub.org
A tiny bar with huge heart, Lil Indies mixes up some of the city's most innovative cocktails and is home to Eugene Snowden's Ten Pints of Truth, a raucous live music night that we strongly urge anyone with a soul to attend at least once. Best of all: There's rarely, if ever, a cover.
Little Fish Huge Pond
401 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford | 407-221-1499 littlefish-hugepond.com
You never know quite what you'll find going on at this trippy hangout: intimate 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. | 407-426-8007 | lizzymccormacks.com
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't want to be anywhere else for St. Patrick's Day.
5101 E. Colonial Drive | 407-704-4757 | obliviontaproom.com
Saved from ... well, oblivion, by a patron with deep pockets, not much has changed at Oblivion. They still offer an impressive beer menu along with creative takes on pub food that would make Guy Fieri blush.
50B E. Central Blvd. | 407-734-5107
Though not as lavish as some other dance clubs, Peek keeps it old-school with DJs focused on house and Florida breaks, recalling the days when Orlando was the dance music capital of the U.S.
Player 1 Video Game Bar
8562 Palm Parkway, Lake Buena Vista | 407-504-7521 player1orlando.com
Go overboard as a game geek at Player 1, where there are more than 39 classic arcade games in addition to modern consoles, a motion gaming dance floor, plus cash tournaments for the truly l33t.
2810 Corrine Drive | 407-893-9832 redlightredlightbeerparlour.com
If Orlando were 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.
2432 E. Robinson St. | 407-421-1670 facebook.com/sandwichbarorlando
Though the days when Sandwich Bar actually served sandwiches are long gone, the tiny Milk District bar does serve up a stacked schedule of underground house and techno nights that rival any downtown club.
64 N. Orange Ave. | 321-245-7730 | 64northorlando.com
In the former Bar-BQ-Bar space, 64 North serves as a before-and-after spot for many attending concerts at the Social and Beacham, alongside sister space Aero, the rooftop bar where you can party in the elements.
63 N. Orange Ave. | 407-425-9908
For a downtown bar, Sly Fox is about as gimmickless as you're gonna get. Stop in to pregame with some of the cheapest drinks in the area, or stick around for eclectic DJs and the occasional free pizza slice.
2428 E. Robinson St. | facebook.com/spacebarorlando
Though small, Spacebar is the heart of the Milk District. Stop in on any given day and you might find comedy, live music, forward-thinking dance nights or the perennial favorite Bring Your Own Vinyl, where you get to be the DJ.
2414 E. Robinson St. | 407-894-6258 | sportstownbilliards.com
What's not to love about Sportstown? Whether you want to shoot pool, play ping-pong, get into a board game or just drink a beer and watch ESPN, Sportstown will make you feel welcome. Check out their daily specials for some ridiculously good deals.
20 E. Central Blvd. | 407-222-9732 | tiernightclub.com
Tier Nightclub is where you go to look good and feel good, with enough debauchery on their dance-packed calendar to get wild any night of the week.
Vinyl Arts Bar
75 E. Colonial Drive | facebook.com/vinylartsbar
This new spot in the North Quarter brings classy decor and an all-vinyl DJ regimen to the neighborhood: a big step up from the sketchy massage parlor that used to occupy the space.
Wall Street Plaza
27 Wall St. | 407-849-1532 | wallstplaza.net
Special occasions, from New Year's Eve to Oktoberfest, belong to this meeting place for the masses. Located at the epicenter of downtown Orlando and always throbbing with music, booze and vitality, Wall Street Plaza's seven 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 Mills Ave. | 407-896-6975 | wallysonmills.com
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.
Whiskey Lou's Lounge
121 N. Bumby Ave. | 407-896-2593
Boozehounds in the Milk District only have one option to get their liquor fix, and that's Whiskey Lou's. The dive bar serves up shots and basic cocktails with a heavy pour. Definitely take a selfie with Elvis and the Blues Brothers, whose graven images occupy the stage in the pool room permanently.