Orlando's Best Dance Clubs: Dress Down or Dress to Impress, Just Dance
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
Ah, to dance is to be free, yes? Few pursuits tap into the primal pleasures of nightlife and release that built up tension more than moving your body to the rhythm. Ready to release, are you? Then by all means, peruse our selection of Orlando’s finest. And since tastes vary, we’ve submitted a range of establishments for your consideration. Parliament House caters to the gay community (though everyone is welcome, to be sure); it’s a veritable historic landmark in gay tourism – and a hell of a place to dance. Vixen, with its exposed brick and sexy art, offers a laid-back, urban oasis in which to give over to the house beats. Blue Martini’s well known happy hour gives way to a sophisticated dance party as the night comes on while the intimate vibe at Sound Bar makes it a haven for house fans (and dance-infused date nights). Sky Sixty boasts a rooftop space, as well, with pretty cabanas to match and folks looking to don their hats and boots – and maybe take in a little NASCAR or live music – will find the ample space at Cowboys to their liking. As always, old favorites like the Independent welcome just about anyone who’s feeling the beat.
10 Blue Martini
Well known for its daily, half-price Happy Hour from 4-8 p.m., Blue Martini is one part upscale lounge and dining establishment with a vibe that morphs into club after sunset. Monday's Industry Night and Wednesday's Ladies' Night are both particularly popular, the latter featuring deep bar discounts for members of the fairer sex. Entertainment here comes in the form of either live bands or DJs -- some nights showcase both (the records usually start spinning around 10). Blue Martini's demographic is impressively diverse; on a packed night you might see multiple generations burning up the dance floor and sipping generously poured cocktails. There are Blue Martini locations throughout Florida and a few others in Washington, Texas, Arizona and Las Vegas, so it's a hotspot with which you may already be familiar. ((407) 447-2583)
9 Cowboys Orlando
Dance club don't just mean house music, y'all. Cowboys Orlando has been bringing country music to town for a good, long while, open Thursday through Saturday and featuring everything from live local and national music acts to state-of-the-art sound and lighting and more than 30 TVs on which to get your NASCAR (among other things) on. Oh, and one other thing: it's huge, a C&W entertainment complex comprised of rought 20,000 square feet. All the better for line dancing! And if your Boot Scoot's not what it should be, fear not: this nightclub offers free lessons every night for cowboys and cowgirls aged 18 and up. (407-422-7115)
Striking pinup art and exposed brick set the tone for Vixen, a smaller, more intimate dance experience in downtown. It's edgy, but purposely infused femininity softens those edges comfortably. Intimate and cozy when compared to some of the city's more cavernous dance halls, Vixen has a decidedly local, broken-in feel but that doesn't mean they don't take the music seriously. DJs vary from night to night, spinning electronica, house, classics and Top 40 mashups and the crowd is eclectic, making for a very chill scene that somehow avoids feeling "sceney." Check the website for nights and drink specials -- they've got some good ones. (407-649-0000)
Vanity is a posh, elegant space with a design that incorporates elements both warm and sleek, pairing exposed brick with glittery chandeliers and walls and sumptuous lighting that comes together quite beautifully. Several distinct atmospheres -- a lounge, nightclub area and spacious balcony overlooking Orange Avenue -- mean guests can move around to suit their mood. With a 5,000-square-foot main level, there's plenty of room to groove to the beats, whether you're out on the floor, grabbing a cocktail at one of three bars or velvet rope'ing it in one of several VIP areas. Multi-tiered seating adds to the perception of spaciousness as the bodies move on the floor. ((407) 602-7462)
With a darkish, pub-like atmosphere, popular Saturday "Midnight Mass" dance party (the DJ spins indie, Motown, pop and more) and a stage that hosts national and regional live acts from roots to metal, Irish to hip-hop, blues to surf rock and beyond, Backbooth remains an eclectic player in Orlando's downtown club scene without the "sceney" atmosphere, a reason many of its proponents say the place rocks. Fancy it is not: a plus for music lovers who like to jam out and/or dance in their favorite thrift-store tee. The flip side? Those with a penchant for exceptionally clean bathrooms or an expensive-shoe habit may find themselves disappointed. Or out a pair of Louboutins on an exceptionally crowded night. (407-999-2570)
5 Parliament House
No one, whether tourist or local, would deny that the look of the Parliament House complex has seen better days (after all this groundbreaking gay resort had its inaugural in the 1970s) but when they call the place "dirty" and "trashy," they're saying it with love. Usually. Whether they're hosting celebs like Chaka Khan, the Miss Gay Orlando pageant or the Lady Gaga concert after party, the atmosphere is always festive. There is on-site lodging, but you don't have to stay the night. Come for dancing, drag or an afternoon by the pool. (407-425-7571)
4 Sky Sixty
Like it up on the roof? On a clear Orlando evening, with a special nod to those of the magical, occasional and humidity-free variety, Sky Sixty is a tough lounge to beat for fresh air and atmosphere. Fans of techno, house, dubstep and that ilk will enjoy the spins while others are content to enjoy the cabana booths, skyline and people watching on Orange Avenue below. Sky Sixty is connected to both Bar-BQ Bar (cheap drinks, good jukebox) and Eye Spy (see elsewhere on this list) at street level below so if you're looking to capitalize on multiple vibes, by all means, feel free to roam. (407-246-1599)
3 Eye Spy
Who says you outgrow hide-and-seek? At this downtown bar/club, you can more or less come as you are, dance, drink and get your general sense of merriment on with little fear of reproach. Intimate nooks and passageways, including shady, out-of-the-way entrances and exits, help carry the espionage theme and patrons enjoy the chill atmosphere and a music selection that runs from 70s and 80s to Motown and more and is most definitely danceable. Stop by sister establishment Bar-BQ (the two are connected, as well as to the Sky Sixty roof lounge up top) and enjoy some cheap drinks before heading inside to get your James Bond on. (407-246-1599, 407-246-1419)
2 Sound Bar
Bass for your face? It's an old hip-hop war cry that makes perfect sense here. Sound Bar has an incredibly potent delivery system for cutting-edge music. In fact, said beat of the bass (in an intimate but well-planned space; capacity here is less than 100) makes this downtown hot spot a haven for fans of house who like their clubs closer and cozier. Enjoy a cocktail and bob your head to the music or pull a friend on the floor and move your body. Music is the focus and Sound Bar offers a more relaxing alternative to more sprawling or multilevel dance dens.
1 Independent Bar
Vintage rock to top 40, indie to 80s new wave, the Independent Bar hits that sweet spot between dance club and dive bar, a place where patrons are welcome to dress to impress or roll in in Chucks and ripped jeans. Seriously man, no one's looking, so relax. Multiple bars make getting drinks a non-issue and a friendly atmosphere makes for a relaxing, no-stress night of dancing and people-watching; patrons might be yuppies or rockers, goths or indie hipsters, it really is that eclectic. In fact, it's even 18+. Special nights like "Mac & Cheese" (DJ Mac spins the cheesiest music mix) are ever-evolving, but always indicative of the venue's convivial vibe. Well specials and cheap beer are essentially a given. (407-839-0457)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
Read more about A.D. Thompson here.