Ever since John Ringling made it his home in the 1920s, Sarasota Florida has had more than its share of culture. Few towns its size can boast an opera house, a symphony orchestra, and a well-respected theater festival. There’s something going on almost every night during the winter season.

But Sarasota nightlife isn’t all highbrow. There are plenty of other things to do in Sarasota at night, like listen to music, dance, or enjoy a well-made cocktail or a pint of beer in the revitalized downtown area. Main Street especially is packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs – many with entertainment.

When the weather’s nice – and it almost always is – the tiki torch-lit patio at Mattison’s City Grill is a good place to start your evening. There’s live music nightly, and the pizzas from the brick oven make a great appetizer.

Housed in a refurbished building that’s nearly 100 years old, The Gator Club is the most popular dance club in town with live music seven nights a week. Private Reserve, on the second floor, has a nice selection of Scotch whiskeys. Esca is another hip spot downtown for techno and house music. The roof-top dance floor has views of downtown.

For cocktails and music with a view, Mattison’s Riverside at the Twin Dolphin Marina has a big deck overlooking the water.

Five O’Clock Club and Gecko’s Grill and Pub in the Landings Shopping Center are other good bets for live music. And Siesta Key Oyster Bar has a variety of acts. Nightlife on the Key dates back to the 1940s when the Beach Club first opened. Also on Siesta Key, the Blasé Café has designer drinks, great food, and a pretty patio.

The First Friday Art Walks on Palm Avenue offers gallery shows, music, food, and dancing.

The Asolo Theatre Festival presents drama, musicals, and ballet in a 19th-century playhouse that was relocated from Asolo, Italy. A second, turn-of-the-century was moved from Scotland in 1987. And a third, smaller theater was also added to the complex. You can see everything from classics like Twelve Angry Men and Two Gentlemen from Verona to modern play by less well-known playwrights.

The recently renovated Van Wetzel Performing Arts Hall hosts touring Broadway shows, ballet, and symphony, jazz, and pops concerts. The Opera House, which opened in 1926 as the Edwards Theater presents several operas each season. And the Florida Studio Theater has a new play festival each May.

In April, the Sarasota Film Festival shows independent films and hosts special events with celebrities like Geena Davis and Christopher Plummer and directors. The Sarasota Music Festival in June brings some of the best young musicians from all over the world.

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