Best Nightlife in Portland

Portland Nightlife: Get ready for fun and variety

Portland's reputation as a commercial and cultural hub is perhaps no more apparent than in its nightlife attractions. The live music and theater scenes are especially strong in neighborhoods throughout the city. Portland has proven to be a magnet for up and coming indie music groups who have built loyal followings as they perform from venue to venue. College students attending such local places of higher learning as the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England account for much of the fan base for these traveling troupes of musicians. Portland's cultural diversity shines in the vast offerings of musical acts which range from blues and soul to psychedelic folk, jazz, country, rock, metal, and punk. Many clubs have carved out their own particular niche among musical genres. For instance, Port City Music Hall is home to many metal, indie and punk performers. Meanwhile, many national folk, acoustic and bluegrass groups have graced the stage of the much beloved One Longfellow Square. True to Portland's roots as a working class city, you'll meet all sorts of music lovers at these destinations – from white collar upwardly mobile types to hipsters and artists and blue collar fans. When it comes to theater, many production companies have found welcome audiences in Portland. The breadth and depth of stage offerings in this city is truly remarkable. It ranges from the traditional Broadway presentations at places like the Ogunquit Playhouse to the daring and insightful stage productions of the Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland. No matter what your tastes in nightlife entertainment, you can probably find what you're seeking somewhere in Portland.


Empire Dine and Dance
Photo courtesy of Empire Dine and Dance

If you're looking to rub shoulders with Portland's hipster community, there is perhaps no better place to explore than Empire Dine and Dance. This venue features diverse entertainment offerings including bluegrass, jazz, blues, folk and soul performances as well as stand-up comedy troupes. Many presentations also have a delightfully refreshing interactive slant such as First Friday Salsa complete with dancing lessons. Meanwhile, Empire's Boston and Maine series combines art and live music stage productions. The atmosphere is funky new wave with some evenings featuring a crowded dance floor, while other shows may encourage laid back enjoyment of the music. For those seeking something different in their evening out in Portland, be sure to check out Empire Dine and Dance.

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One Longfellow Square has become one of the most dynamic, engaging venues for concert-friendly blues, folk and rock performances. Centrally located at the corners of Congress and State streets at the start of Portland's Arts District, this intimate concert destination has become a mainstay of the Portland music scene. Local and national favorites that have taken to the One Longfellow Square stage include blues great Duke Robillard, hard driving harmonica band leader James Montgomery, and Hot Tuna guitar master Jorma Kaukonen. This destination's atmosphere is friendly, laid back and inviting. Often, attending a performance at One Longfellow Square is like enjoying a cozy house concer

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Fans of progressive and indie-type music performances will find much to like about Port City Music Hall. This former Art Deco-designed department store was redesigned into one of the top music venue destinations in Portland. Just about any night of the week , Port City features top names in the punk, indie, heavy metal, and rock scenes. Technically speaking, this venue boasts technically advanced state-of-the-art lighting, sound and special effects capabilities which further enhance the concert experience. Attending these productions, you're likely to rub shoulders with many of Portland's hipster denizens as you enjoy some of the finest hard-driving progressive music offered in New England.

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The Space Gallery is a premier urban arts center committed to presenting new and progressive works to the Portland cultural community. A visit to this destination is a great way to become immersed in the latest and greatest offerings in the cityÂ's arts and cultural scene. Expect the unexpected here such as the Sketchbook Project which featured 10,000 artists from 60 countries who filled a sketchbook with their art and shared it with the world; Cursed New England, a multi-media examination of the regionÂ's legacy of spiritualists and naturalists; and Free Range Planets – an artistic representation of Planet Earth globes. This venue also features evening musical performances with world music themes featuring everything from rockabilly to African jazz.

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Inn on the Blues
Photo courtesy of Inn on the Blues

Blues in nearby York. This legendary live music destination is a magnet for national blues and soul performers touring the New England region. This is especially true during the summer, the top tourist season along the southern Maine coast. Featured headliners have included guitar legend Monster Mike Welch, Jay Geils of the former J. Geils Band, blues legends James Cotton and James Montgomery, and swing blues favorites The Love Dogs. This club's atmosphere encourages up close and personal enjoyment of the music – the stage is within close proximity of the audience – with an expansive dance floor. It's also possible to make a full evening of it with dinner and drinks at this entertainment mecca.

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The Portland Symphony is legendary for providing a diverse array of performances throughout the season (typically Sept-May). Their versatility and high degree of musicianship enables members to perform music ranging from pops concerts to Mozart. Half of the orchestra is comprised of native Mainers, the other half come from across New England but each one of them is well regarded for their talent and dedication to their craft. Summer visitors should consider a Portland detour the week of July 4th, when the "Independence Pops" performs (weather permitting) around southern Maine, including the grounds of the Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth. Also look for special Christmas shows.

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As Maine's largest professional, non-profit theatre company, Portland Stage has earned a well-deserved reputation for presenting original, cutting-edge productions as well as their own twists on stage classics and favorites. Many of these plays also feature original set designs and construction, costumes, sound and lighting design. This vibrant theatrical troupe also features a black box theater for experimental works that invite a more intimate audience experience. Recent productions have include Henrik Ibsen's “Peer Gynt.” William Shakespeare's classic “Julius Caesar,” Frederick Knott's “Wait Until Dark,” and D.L. Coburn's “The Gin Game.” A recent production, “Trouble Is My Business,” a compilation of Raymond Chandler's classic hard-boiled detective stories, reflects the Portland Stage's refreshing commitment to trying new or unusual works.

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For generations, the Ogunquit Playhouse has been bring professional theater to MaineÂ's southern seacoast with outstanding results. This is classic theater that was once a mainstay of summer beach vacations. The Ogunquit specializes in musicals that feature stars of the stage and screen. For instance, their recent production of Â"Legally BlondeÂ" had actress Sally Struthers of Â"All in the FamilyÂ" fame in the cast while their presentation of the classic Â"The Music ManÂ" starred Peter Scolari of the Â"Bob Newhart Show.Â" Other recent stage presentations have included Â"The Buddy Holly Story,Â" as well as Â"Damn YankeesÂ" and Â"Always Patsy Cline.Â" The playhouseÂ's atmosphere is always lively and festive – a great way to relax following a day spent enjoying the Maine seashore.

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If you're seeking theater that provokes thought and emotion, look no further than the Mad Horse Theatre Company in nearby South Portland. This dedicated, professional theatre ensemble specializes in presenting compelling, even daring productions that have gripped audience members' interests and intellect for years. The company maintains that its works focus “on areas of social concern, personal transformation and the building of lasting community relationships” and it frequently delivers on its promise. Recent products have included “The Pillowman,” about an author who is accused of inciting violence in a tolitarian state; Eugene O'Neill's “Long Day's Journey Into Night,” and the stage production of John Steinbeck's classic “Of Mice and Men.” If evocative stage productions are your thing, then don't miss Mad Horse Theatre Company.

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Big Easy Blues Club
Photo courtesy of The Big Easy Blues Club

Looking for the best in independent music in New England? Then the Big Easy should definitely be included on your list. This intimate nightclub setting welcomes some of the leading lights in blues, soul and rock music to be found in the region. Theme nights such as Monday Funk and Wednesday Rap are big draws for the locals at the Big Easy. Seating is always close to the stage, creating an exciting and welcome personal concert experience. The atmosphere is energetic and festive – don't expect a laid-back evening of music here. However, if you're looking for an evening out of raucous, hard-driving performances, then the Big Easy is definitely the place for you.

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