While Orlando ’s nightlife scene is heavily weighted toward the downtown area, there are a number of great places only a few minutes’ drive from downtown that greatly expand the palette of offerings. For the most raucous action and the highest concentration of dance clubs, downtown is surely your best option, but to catch interesting live music or knock back a pint or two of hard-to-find beer, you’ll want to get away from the crowds on Orange Avenue and head to some of Orlando’s other nightlife spots.
Downtown Orlando ’s biggest centers of nightlife gravity—in terms of body count, at least—are the bars in the Church Street (Church St. at S. Orange Ave.) area and Wall Street Plaza (Wall St. at N. Orange Ave.), both of which cater to a demographic mix of just-legal college kids and young businesspeople. Think 4-for-1 drink specials and body shots.
However, as a brief glimpse at the crowds on Orange Avenue will tell you on any given night, there’s much more to the downtown scene than that. With a few dozen bars and clubs scattered throughout the 10-square-block area, you’re more than likely to find something to fit your taste.
For live music, the best options are Back Booth (37 W. Pine St., 407/999-2570, www.backbooth.com ) and The Social (54 N. Orange Ave., 407/246-1419, www.thesocial.org ), both of which regularly host Orlando’s best local bands as well as touring indie, punk, and alternative bands. Back Booth also has late-night indie dance parties, and the Social’s long-running “Phat ’n’ Jazzy” night on Tuesdays is a haven for fans of underground hip-hop, acid jazz, and R&B.
For those intent on dancing the night away, Tabu (46 N. Orange Ave., 407/648-8363, www.tabunightclub.com , 6 p.m.–3 a.m. Tues. and Thurs.–Sat., 10 p.m.–3 a.m. Wed. and Sun.) is housed in a gorgeous old theater and focuses on streetwise hip-hop.
Club Firestone (578 N. Orange Ave., 407/872-0066, www.clubatfirestone.com , 10 p.m.–3 a.m. Thurs.–Sun.) is a few blocks away from the main club area, but routinely brings in well-regarded underground techno, grime, and hip-hop DJs.
If you’re determined to relive the alternative ’80s, the DJs at Independent Bar (70 N. Orange Ave., 407/839-0457, www.independentbar.net , 9 p.m.–2 a.m. Wed.–Sat., 10 p.m.–2 a.m. Sun. and Tues.) manage to weave New Wave, industrial, and synth-pop into a mix of contemporary indie hits and classic alternative.
Just looking for a drink? Lizzy McCormack’s Irish Pub (55 N. Orange Ave., 407/426-8007, 2 p.m.–2 a.m. daily) has fantastic happy-hour specials, a great selection of microbrews, and outdoor tables that are perfect for watching the night unfold on Orange Avenue.
The Matador (56 E. Pine St., 407/872-0844, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Sat.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.) plays everything from soft-rock hits to obscure punk rock, and occasionally hosts DJs; a comfortable upstairs area has couches and chairs to relax in.
Located outside of what’s normally considered downtown, Eola Wine Company (500 E. Central Blvd., 407/481-9100, www.eolawinecompany.com , 4 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Mon.–Wed., 4 p.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Fri., 2 p.m.–2 a.m. Sat., 2 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Sun.) in the nearby Thornton Park neighborhood is a pleasant alternative to the buzzing debauchery along Orange Avenue.
Similarly, the Orlando Brewing Tap Room (1301 Atlanta Ave., 407/872-1117, www.orlandobrewing.com , 3–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., noon–midnight Fri.–Sat., noon–9 p.m. Sun.) is only about a mile from the action at Church Street, but the relaxed atmosphere, semi-industrial location and occasional live music combine with the brewery’s selection of organic beers to make it feel like a world away.
Still centrally located but well away from the downtown hordes is Will’s Pub (1040 N. Mills Ave., 407/898-5070, 2 p.m.–2 a.m. daily). Will’s is an Orlando  institution and something of a home away from home for most of the city’s musicians, thanks to its expansive and inexpensive beer selection and the wide variety of top-shelf rock and punk bands that play here. The current location is new and is neatly subdivided into three rooms: a bar, a pool and game room, and a music room, so casual patrons can enjoy a pint without having to shout over the din of the music.
The Peacock Room (1321 N. Mills Ave., 407/228-0048, www.thepeacockroom.com , 4:30 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Sat.–Sun.) specializes in inventive martinis and lethally effective cocktails. It also doubles as one of Orlando’s best hidden art galleries, with works by local artists adorning nearly all the wall space. Music is quite literally a crapshoot here; although it is almost always of high quality, any given night could bring avant-garde electronica, rowdy punk rock, a singer-songwriter, or an indie band. Not to worry, though: If the current act is not your thing, the music room is quite separate from the bar area.
Orlando beer fans celebrated when Redlight Redlight (745 Bennett Rd., 407/893-9832, 7 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) moved from its original location in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square area , as local restrictions forced the bar to close far too early. Now, with its new late-night hours, hop-heads are able to indulge themselves with Redlight’s exceedingly well-curated selection of microbrews and imports. Cask ales and small-batch craft beers are the specialties, and thankfully the bartenders are as helpful as they are knowledgeable. There are three things to remember about this place: no Bud or Miller products, no smoking, and no credit cards are accepted.
While downtown Winter Park  isn’t exactly known for its raucous after-hours scene, there are a couple of interesting places. The Wine Room (270 Park Ave. S., Winter Park, 407/696-9463, www.thewineroomonline.com , 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., noon–7 p.m. Sun.) utilizes the Enomatic wine-dispensing system, meaning patrons can indulge themselves in over 100 different wines—one ounce at a time. Of course, an extensive selection of full bottles is available, ranging in price from reasonable to ridiculous. A handful of imported beers are also available on tap, and a well-stocked cheese case is staffed by folks knowledgeable about pairings.
Tatáme Lounge (223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 407/628-2408, www.tatamelounge.com , 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.) caters to the Rollins College crowd, but it’s far from your typical college bar. In fact, it’s not really a bar at all. Guests sip premium sake or boba tea while local musicians—typically adventurous DJs or acoustic artists—perform. The dimly lit environs are mellow and modern, but the crowd is boisterous and chatty.
The Copper Rocket Pub (106 Lake Ave., Maitland, 407/645-0069, www.copperrocketpub.com , 2 p.m.–2 a.m. daily) is situated in a Maitland  strip mall, but inside it feels like a well-worn roadhouse. Billiard balls click around on a single pool table, and a tiny stage hosts an array of Orlando  bands playing everything from rockabilly and country to punk and soul music. The pub grub here is basic, but the beer list is extensive.