Best Nightlife in Orlando

Chic to Cheeks & Games for Geeks: Orlando's Best Nightlife

You love the nightlife? You got to boogie? Well, Orlando’s got plenty of haunts for the beat-driven (check out our 10Best Dance Clubs list for even more) but not everyone’s idea of nightlife involves throwing down to house or techno. For those don’t care as much about the dance floor as they do the incredible music and warm, unique atmosphere, the unparalleled Timucua Arts White House should suit.

Those who prefer more of a $2.50 PBR dance party will feel right at home in their sneakers at downtown’s “everyone’s welcome” dance hall, the Independent. Depending on which night you go, the floor may be shaking to Motown or 80s, top 40 or disco classics, but the vibe is “un-sceney” and no one will mind your ripped jeans. How about something cheekier? At the Venue, you may get a literal dose if Orlando’s resident burlesque troupe is performing. If not, you might find dance, song, experimental theater. The Venue serves it all and with a cozy bar in which to prep for your culture injection. You’ll be well prepared to take it in stride. 


What began as a two-show project conceived by a few local theater professionals in 1997 has since grown into something so big, it recently moved from its longtime downtown digs into a brandnew second-floor space on Church Street. Mad Cow, which runs everything from intimate cabarets to dramatic plays to musical productions, is an Orlando staple, well-known in the Central Florida arts community and beyond. Whether your preferences run melodic ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Dreamgirls" are among recent musical runs) or dramatic, from Anton Chekov to Tennessee Williams to the Bard Shakespeare himself, you'll likely find a Mad Cow production worthy of an evening out in the city's ever-growing downtown nightlife district.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Orlando has more performing arts venues than most people realize. Mad Cow Theatre is among its more intimate gems.

A.D.'s expert tip: Make it a night out. Literally, dozens of restaurants and bars are within mooing distance of Mad Cow.

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You may have seen this "chill" venue on the Travel Channel, where it was featured as a top selection in the Extreme Bar series. And unless you're a polar bear, ICEBAR is pretty extreme, 50 tons of ice extreme, to be precise. And if you usually keep your vodka in the freezer, you'll find it tastes even smoother when you drink it in one (and out of sculpted-ice glasses to boot). It's 27 degrees inside the ice portion of the ICEBAR, they're happy to provide coats and gloves and you can upgrade to fur for $10. Chilled enough? Head over to the adjacent Fire Lounge, admission here is free, and warm back up as you move to hot beats.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: It's a chill spot in sizzling central Florida where you can see more than 70-tons of hand-carved ice.

Michelle's expert tip: Cold feet: 27 degrees is CHILLY. Consider closed-toe shoes (or cute boots!) to maximize your time at ICEBAR.

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An Orlando fixture since 1991, The SAK Comedy Lab features a variety of nationally and internationally recognized comedians. The SAK Comedy Lab is all about improv, and they do it well. One of Orlando's most popular comedy clubs, they recently relocated to the trendy CityArts Factory, in the heart of downtown. The SAK Comedy Lab brings different themes to different nights, including the popular improv competition "Duel of Fools" (Thursday through Saturday) and Saturday's late-night "Early Show." For those wanting to pursue the trade or just bring some A-game to the water cooler, classes and workshops - check their site or call for more details. Casual attire is suggested, as are reservations.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Because laughter is universal and SAK Comedy Lab's performers are edgy enough for the grown-ups, still cool for kids.

A.D.'s expert tip: The Comedy Lab offers discounts for groups of 15 or more. Call the Group Sales Department to book your group tickets.

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This treasured central institution is getting an upgrade from its original digs, which opend in the 70s. It's technically closed at the moment, but it's shiny, new doors will open in a new location in 2022. The new 18,000 square-foot space, will be even more fabulous than the original, which hosted celebs like Chaka Khan, the Miss Gay Orlando pageant and the Lady Gaga concert after party. The atmosphere is will continue to be festive, and promises to still appeal to the gay demographic and everyone, young and old, will feel right at home. The new space will include a bar, restaurant, theater and of course massive dance floor.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Parliament House could be declared a National Historic Gay Landmark. It's worth a visit just for that.

A.D.'s expert tip: PH is closed for a move and renovation, but plans to reopen in 2022.

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The Imperial at Washburn Imports (Orlando)
Photo courtesy of The Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden

Located amid Orange Avenue's hip strip of Ivanhoe Village, the Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden should really be on everyone's list. Why? If you've ever pondered the potential joys of having a bar inside your favorite store, you won't ask. This unique haunt, nestled inside Washburn Imports (a phenomenal home furnishings showcase with pieces from the far-flung corners of the world) seems decorated for Bacchus himself. And yes, everything is for sale. Pull up a stool fashioned from centuries-old railroad ties or some such thing and enjoy the wine and microbrews. What's more, the Imperial's full menu provides excellent pairings for hungry patrons. And let's face it: If you're going take anything home against your better judgment while under the influence, it may as well be a gorgeous, $1,500 reclaimed-wood bookcase.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Wines and beers here number 40+ each. Add to that elevated eats, live music and a lush atmosphere you'll want to take home (and can!).

A.D.'s expert tip: Washburn Imports' sister store/drinking emporium, the Imperial Sanford, boasts a FULL LIQUOR BAR and some pretty expert mixologists. Check it out!

Read more about The Imperial at Washburn Imports (Orlando) →


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, 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 mix of '90s tracks) are ever-evolving, but always indicative of the venue's convivial vibe.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The Independent places "10Best" in multiple categories because it hits that sweet spot where you just want to dance and don't care who's watching.

A.D.'s expert tip: Drink specials and cheap beer ($3 PBRs and rum wells on Mac & Cheese night, for example) are essentially a given.

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What happens when a world-class musician converts his beautiful downtown Orlando home into an amazingly intimate performance space? Find out at the Timucua Arts White House, a gorgeous venue that hosts musicians and artists from all over the world in, well â€" a living room. What's more, often these exhibits and performances come free of charge! This is a special venue, an exceptionally unique performance space that really showcases the incredible artistic reach of the Orlando community. Bring a dish or a bottle of wine to share and spend the evening amid the intimacy and warmth of the Timucua Arts White House.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Timucua is a venue unlike any other. It's a jazz club in your best friend's living room. It's a must-do.

A.D.'s expert tip: Get on the mailing list for a head's up on the well-known international, national and local talent on tap.

Read more about Timucua Arts White House →

Mills 50

Serving up drinks and live music to Orlando locals thirsty for both for 15-plus years, Will's is something of a petri dish for indie music, a come-as-you-are joint if ever there was that has played host to burgeoning acts of all stripes. Recent improvements to the joint have only bolstered its ability to musically baptize all comers. Bands love playing here. People love seeing them. And if you're looking for reasons to come by before showtime, how do pool, drink specials, 16 taps flowing with microbrews and free WiFi sound? Important to note: Will's Pub isn't just about touring acts; they also host open-mics, hip-hop nights, poetry slams and more.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Hands down one of the best live music venues in town, and very much a local favorite.

A.D.'s expert tip: For a mellower, smoke-free alternative, check out Will's Pub offspring Lil' Indies right next door. More great music to pair with beer and wine.

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The Edison

Take a step back in time at The Edison, themed to look like a 1920s electric company. The staff dresses the part in flapper-type dresses, suspends and newsboys caps, and many of the guests do as well adding to the fun atmosphere. Located in Disney Springs, this is the place where you'll find Aunt Mindy from Pittsburgh breaking it down on the dance floor while a live band plays swing music. Locals also love this place for its unique vibe. There are intimate tables surrounding the dance floor as well as tables lining a second-floor balcony overlooking the action. In between dance sessions, guests can enjoy a full bar and menu of food with throwbacks to the 20s.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: There aren't many places like the Edison. You'll feel like you've been transported to a 1920s speakeasy.

Michelle's expert tip: Guests arriving after 10 p.m. must wear venue-appropriate attire. Men may wear slacks, jeans or dress shorts. Jackets are optional. No ball caps, sleeveless shirts or flip-flops allowed. While guests of all ages are welcome during the day, you must be at least 21 to enter after 10 p.m.

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The H

This new dining experience combines a Mediterranean steakhouse with live entertainment. Fridays and Saturdays the place is only open to those 21 and up from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. Starting at 10 p.m. each night, a DJ plays live music mixed with some surprise entertainment. While the tunes are spinning, you can dine on dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood and specialty Italian pastas. There's also plenty of fine wine and fun cocktails. This is the place you want to hit up when you want to get all dolled up for a fun night out. The dress code is elegant chic. You won't be admitted if you're in beachwear, hoodies, flip flops, caps, hats or gym clothes.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: It's new. It's different. It's fun. This is the place to enjoy good food and good music.

Michelle's expert tip: Reservations are recommended.

Read more about The H →


Meet Michelle Spitzer

Michelle Spitzer grew up in South Florida taking many family vacations to the Orlando area. For the past 14 years, she's called central Florida home.

A journalist for more than two...  More About Michelle