The wonderful world of nightlife opens its doors when you're 18. Sometimes even younger. But not all of it. So it's important to do your due diligence before making plans for the night. Orlando has a considerable number of dance/club venues that welcome the under-21 crowd. Some are always 18+, others only on certain nights and if you're new to the club scene it's best to learn early that the rules change often. New venues spring up all the time; rules can change. Do your research before making the drive. That said, the City Beautiful offers many dance dens -- small and intimate to loud and wild; EDM to pop, reggae to '80s; gay, straight, you-name-it -- in which to see and be seen with friends who are old enough to drink and those among you who, for now at least, are the mandatory designated drivers. Some on the list, like Venu 578 offer live music on some nights, dance nights on others. Favorites like the Independent and Backbooth are popular with a wide demographic, spinning 80s, alternative, dance -- the whole jukebox -- while Suite B gears more toward pro-DJ-spun dance parties. Pulse caters to the LGBT scene -- and the straight people who love them, of course -- and is 18+ nightly. Check their website for nightly themes or specials -- college, Latin, live performance -- offering runs the gamut.
With three levels and some seriously ample square-footage for a downtown Orlando nightclub, Vain caters to a big 'ol crowd of predominantly young 20somethings, though it's open to partiers 18 and up. Each night brings something new, from "WildOut Wednesdays," where there's no cover and free drinks'til midnight to Latin and Reggae parties on Friday nights, to XCess Saturdays which often feature heavy-hitter performers such as Nas. Indeed, VIP tables and bottle service is available for the high rollers in your group; check their website for details. Ladies coming en masse can take advantage of Vain's generosity; groups of five enjoy complimentary champagne before midnight. Legal drinkers only, of course. ((407) 318-4668)
The Beacham began its life in the 1920s as a showcase for vaudevillians. These days, following some extensive and relatively recent renovations that preserve its character, it does double-duty as a live music venue and dance club, featuring both national touring acts and DJs alike. House music fans will be happy to know that the likes of Tiesto and David Guetta have entertained the dancing throngs inside this historic building. The Beacham and the Social -- one of Orlando's premier live-music venues -- share space on occasion; Wednesday nights you'll get two clubs for one price. Saturday's at the Beacham night club you'll hear Top 40, dance, hip-hop and old school all night long. (407-648-8363)
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)
Gilt brings with it a pretty impressive upgrade to the space that housed the Roxy for many, many moons. And its new regulars are pleased. A 1,200 square foot main floor is the center of this nightlife universe with several bars serving as satellites thereto. Its multilevel space keeps things interesting, as does a flashy, high-tech multiscreen video wall. An impressive and ornate chandelier (the club is called Gilt, after all) sets the upscale mood in the club's VIP area and even if you're not springing for bottle service, you'll find some impressive craft cocktailing going on at Gilt's myriad bars. (407-504-7699)
Suite B Lounge
With well known local and national DJs spinning and a location in the heart of downtown Orlando, Suite B caters to lovers of house, techno, breaks and Top 40 and is open to club-goers 18 and up on a nightly basis. Its fans enjoy the beats but give extra points to drink specials and a nod for good use of space. Suite B could be called intimate, especially when compared with more cavernous clubs, but seems to make the place work. Crowds do come, but most say the place rarely feels overstuffed, whether hanging out with friends on the couches or out dancing on the floor. ((407) 246-1750)
With more than 20,000 well-appointed square feet of interior space and some seven acres outdoors, Venue 578 -- which locals and return visitors may remember by its previous name, Firestone Live -- hosts near innumerable performers and events year 'round. Despite its 18+ status, Venue 578's clientele cut a swath through the club-going demographic. As such, they don't leave out upscale details such as bottle service; more than 20 tables surround the main dance floor and VIP bar. The venue isn't limited to hip-hop, either; check their busy calendar and you'll find music of all genres filling in the boxes. (407-872 - 0066)
Pulse is an apt name for a club that keeps its finger on the rhythm of what Orlando club-goers want, whether that means sleek decor, hot-bodied bar dancers, drag divas or the simple joys of similarly minded potential dance partners you might want to crush up against. Pulse's scene is largely gay, but all comers are welcome. Check the schedule before heading out if you're picky about what's spinning or who's coming; some nights lean hip-hip or house, R&B or Top 40, some nights are 21+, others 18 and over. Also on tap here, regular drink specials (these include $3 martinis, $1 shots, $2 Long Islands and even blocks of freebies), regular drag shows and even karaoke. ((407) 649-3888)
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)
Consistently voted a favorite live-music venue by critics and locals alike, the Social's laid-back vibe, efficient barkeeps and relatively intimate space draws an eclectic crowd of music lovers, be it blues, folk, rock, metal, reggae.... Really, anything goes. With quality sound and an unpretentious atmosphere, the Social hosts big-name acts along with local and regional favorites, making it an ideal venue not only to catch your favorite acts but discover new ones on the nights your live music craving won't go unsated. The Social also features regular and semi-regular genre-driven nights. Salsa Sundays, for example, feature DJ Frankie spinning salsa, merengue and bachata with an open premium bar for a flat cover. Salud! (407-246-1419)
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 Wednesday night "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.
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