Intro to Sarasota Nightlife
Sometimes it seems as if Sarasota's sunshine gets all the credit for the city's reputation as a top leisure destination. However, Sarasota by moonlight offers a vibrant nightlife, including a plethora of Sarasota nightclubs and bars, as well as opera and theatre shows. In this city, there's plenty to do after dark - all in a casual, Florida-chic atmosphere that lets every moment feel like vacation.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Sarasota is the diversity and character of the nightlife scene. Whether you're looking to throw back a craft pint at one of the pubs or breweries, sip on a sophisticated martini at an artsy lounge or a rooftop bar, enjoy a show or simply sit back and people-watch, Sarasota nightlife has something to suit every taste. Rather than being concentrated in one specific area, the nightlife scene in Sarasota sprawls throughout the city in an assortment of "destination hubs," each with its own distinct personality.
Downtown Sarasota - Cultural Hub Behind The Nightlife
The downtown area is the cultural center of the city and its robust nightlife scene reflects Sarasota's artsy, cosmopolitan vibe while maintaining the easy walkability and charm of a small city. Fans of theatre and the performing arts, live music and independent cinema have plenty to look forward to in downtown Sarasota, where the nighttime entertainment options are plentiful. Although the bars and many of the restaurants operate into the wee morning hours, those who seek a theatre fix should plan to get an earlier start on their evenings, as most stage performances begin around 7pm.
The historic Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, affectionately nicknamed "The Purple People-Seater" due to its trademark violet exterior, is a local landmark situated on downtown Sarasota's bay front. The Van Wezel hosts several shows each week, including well known national music acts, renditions of popular Broadway musicals, internationally-renowned dancers and performing artists and side-splitting comedy acts.
Fans of the opera will also enjoy the performances at downtown’s Sarasota Opera House which, in its formative years, hosted the biggest touring acts in the country like Elvis Presley. Today, the historic opera house stages productions from the standard European repertoire, in addition to its unique "American Classics" series that presents American operas written during the twentieth century.
Other downtown performing arts centers include Sarasota's contemporary theatre and improvisational comedy center, the Florida Studio Theatre and the historic Players Theatre, a community theatre that features year-round programming. Fans of independent and foreign cinema may prefer to start off their evenings at Burns Court Cinema, where patrons can sip on wine and beer while enjoying rare showings of international and independent films.
Downtown Sarasota's Nightlife Spots
In addition to the numerous performing arts venues that provide entertainment on a nightly basis, downtown Sarasota is also an area that boasts one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in the United States. From Peruvian tapas bars to Vietnamese noodle houses; upscale steakhouses to adventurous fusion lounges that keep their kitchens open well into the late-night hours, there is a dinner for every appetite in downtown Sarasota.
The casual bar scene in downtown Sarasota thrives alongside the upscale eateries and performing arts centers. Smokin’ Joes is a cigar bar-turned party spot every night, located strolling distance from The Gator Club, one of Sarasota's oldest and most popular casual night clubs which features nightly live entertainment on its lower level and a sophisticated bar, lounge and billiards area on its second floor.
Casual bars like Tavern on Main and Shamrock Pub specialize in craft beers, offering a wide selection of draughts and bottles that patrons can enjoy either inside or in the outdoor patios, which make excellent vantage points for downtown people-watching. Music fans should check out the Blue Rooster's packed calendar of performances that bring in some of the best blues music through their doors. On Ringling Boulevard check out McCurdy's Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute for some side-splitting entertainment featuring comedy giants and legends.
Nightlife on Siesta Key Village
Moving away from downtown Sarasota and into Siesta Key Village, the atmosphere and the dress code are relaxed - think sandals, shorts and other casual beachwear - but the nightlife scene remains dynamic. The Village is a beach-y, family-friendly atmosphere referred to as the "Main Street of Siesta Key" that features myriad options for casual dining, souvenir shopping and cooling off from the warm white sands of Siesta Beach. At night, the Village transforms into a vibrant social hangout geared toward adults with a bar scene that ranges from trendy dance spots to relaxing, Jimmy Buffett-saturated tropical deck bars.
From pizza and hotdog joints to patisseries and ice cream parlors, the Village has a wide array of options for the casual diner or sweet tooth, but its upscale culinary scene is what truly shines after dark. Restaurants like Miguel’s, a continental restaurant with heavy emphasis on French cuisine; waterfront favorite, Ophelia’s on the Bay; the secluded Cottage and the eclectic restaurant and martini bar, The Blasé Café, stand out amongst the surf-themed casual dining spots and bars in Siesta Key. Most restaurants and bars in Siesta Key Village provide outdoor seating - a must to take in Sarasota's delightful evening weather and the people-watching opportunities on the Key.
Full, happy bellies are one thing, but evenings jam-packed with dancing, friends and fun are another - and Siesta Key Village has plenty to offer in the entertainment sector, too. The Beach Club, established in 1947, is one of the longest-standing clubs on Siesta Key and is still one of the hottest nightlife spots today. The Beach House features nightly live entertainment in the form of DJs and live bands, and each day of the week features a different special or theme to guarantee that every night is a blast.
The Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) is a must-visit for oyster connoisseurs. This Sarasota landmark is a favorite among locals, known for not only its oysters, but also its fresh, local seafood, award-winning jerk chicken wings and burgers. SKOB features both an indoor and outdoor bar with late night drink specials and nightly live music entertainment.
Beach bums flock to Siesta Key's world-famous Daiquiri Deck, a spot that is just as popular at night as its frozen beverages are during Sarasota's sweltering hot beach days. The outdoor deck bar features nightly live entertainment in the form of DJs and local musicians, as well as beach-themed events.
St. Armand's Circle's Casual Vibe
The Daiquiri Deck also has a second location in Sarasota's posh shopping district on Lido Key, St. Armand's Circle. During the day, the Circle teems with upscale boutiques and galleries, restaurants and shoppers. At night, the Circle lights up with bars and clubs. In addition to Daiquiri Deck, St. Armand's features one of Sarasota's most popular dance spots, 15 South Martini Bar, a casual Italian dining establishment where the reggae and salsa dancing is plentiful throughout the night.
Gulf Gate's Pub Scene
Sarasota's most up-and-coming nightlife district is located in the Gulf Gate community in the southern part the city. This formerly little-known neighborhood has boomed in recent years with restaurants, pubs and bars piling up along the sidewalks of the two-block nighttime entertainment district. Most bars in Gulf Gate feature nightly entertainment, ranging from live bands and DJs to trivia nights and sports-watching gatherings. Because bars are all located in one small district, many next door to one another, Gulf Gate is the preferred "pub crawl" spot of many locals.
With a rotating selection of 24 brews on tap, Mr. Beery’s is a favorite Gulf Gate hotspot among craft beer enthusiasts. The bar also offers a selection of bottles including unique beers from Florida breweries, seasonal brews and hard-to-find limited releases. Nearby King George Pub is popular among beer drinkers as well, with a great selection of British brews and ciders. The Sarasota Brewing Company, a 20+ year standard in Sarasota, is also located in Gulf Gate and doubles as a popular sports bar. Thirsty Turtle is another popular bar with a quieter vibe than some of its peers in Gulf Gate.
In addition to a selection of bars and pubs that appeal to Sarasota's young and working class crowds, Gulf Gate also features some of Sarasota's best restaurants. If drinking isn't your fancy, perhaps you'd prefer to grab a meal at Vizen is one of the most popular sushi joints in town, or Monk’s Steamer Bar, a favorite Sarasota raw bar among fans of oysters and other fresh seafood. Night owls with stomachs of steel must also visit Munchies 420 Café, a Sarasota landmark recognized for its unorthodox nighttime-only hours (open from 4:20pm until 4:20am) and gut-busting fare like the the Peanut Butter Cheeseburger and the "Fire in Your Hole" Wings (featured on the Travel Channel's Man VS. Food).
Something for Everyone
From the cosmopolitan, artsy downtown area to beach-y Siesta Key Village, and from the posh St. Armand's scene to the casual bar scene in Gulf Gate, Sarasota's nightlife has a little to offer everyone - and the only two rules are to be safe and have fun. Where will you be when the sun sets?