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Best Jacksonville Nightlife

AOL PICK from our Editors

Despite a strong claim as the birthplace of Southern Rock, Jacksonville has never had a raging nightlife scene. It has managed to grow more options in the past few years with the addition of the King Street District and Plush. Most of the larger hotels do have lounges for a pre-dinner drink or nightcap, but for music and dancing, you’ll need to venture out. Try downtown Atlantic Beach for ultra-casual beachfront boozing or, if you’re feeling a little more uptown, The Casa Marina Hotel or the Leopard Lounge.

The King Street District

Neighborhood: Downtown

Every city worthy of the designation needs a place for urban pioneers and self-styled hipsters to hang, and this is Jacksonville’s. Located north of the river on the fringe of the established Riverside neighborhood, the block of King Street between Post and College has been the focus of redevelopment for several years. While parts of the block are still a little sketchy, the restaurants and bars that have congregated here are solid. The latest, entry, The Rogue, even promises a slightly more upscale appeal. It bills itself as a “rock ’n roll speakeasy” with decor that harks back to Prohibition. Since the buildings along this block were built in 1925, during Prohibition, that was a natural. The interiors of places like Walkers, Kickbacks and The Loft feature a lot of exposed brick and wood. It feels very yuppified, but in a familiar and comforting way. Expect crowds at the sidewalk tables most weekends if the weather is cooperative, but that just makes it a more interesting place to walk and mingle.

Penthouse Lounge at Casa Marina Hotel

Neighborhood: Jacksonville Beach

The Casa Marina is a rejuvenated 1925 vintage resort hotel that was once the belle of Jacksonville Beach. It reopened after decades of neglect in 1991 and a rooftop lounge overlooking the ocean was added. It’s become very popular for weddings; during spring and fall the weather is generally spectacular, with cool, dry evenings and crisp starlit skies overhead, making it a great place to end a day or wind up your evening. The kitchen churns out delicious tapas—the BBQ pork wings (a mini shank basted in barbecue sauce and served with tobacco onions and fried sweet potatoes) are both unusual and outstanding—and there’s an extensive list of martinis. If you have a sweet tooth like we do, the Tiramisu martini (Stoli vanilla, Disaronno Amaretto, Starbucks coffee liqueur, Baileys and Godiva) is like drinking dessert. There’s generally live music, a small combo or duo.

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Penthouse Lounge at Casa Marina Hotel  

Plush

Neighborhood: Southside

Jacksonville’s nightlife runs to cut-offs-and-flip-flops beach bars and the occasional hotel martini terrace, so the opening of Plush, a South Florida style music club, added something new to the mix. The interior is appropriately underlit and the sound system appropriately overloud. The music depends on the theme of the night; in that past that’s included bikini-clad bodies competing in a Hawaiian Tropic style pageant, a Daisy Dukes night, the weekly Thursday Latin night and the every-Friday dance blowout. The Leopard Lounge has a slightly more restrained, VIP feel. The location near Jacksonville University ensures plenty of younger attendees, but the club draws a cross section of the city’s partiers.

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Atlantic Beach Pubs

Neighborhood: Atlantic Beach

For those who’re confused about where to find the party, head over to the corner of First and Atlantic in Atlantic Beach. From there you have your choice of at least four places, all with that casual beach-bar atmosphere but in varying degrees of sophistication (or snobbery, depending on your point of view). Pete’s Bar is the patriarch; the bar’s first owner sold moonshine from his nearby grocery store during Prohibition. Nowadays his granddaughter owns the and absolutely no attempt has been made to gussy the place up. It’s straight up beer-shots-and-billiard for the locals who congregate here. The Sun Dog is a diner-style restaurant and pub serving up food and local craft beers to the beat of up-and-coming area bands. Ragtime Tavern is more gastropub than pub, putting a heavier emphasis on food, especially local fish and shrimp. They still know how to party, with their own craft beers and house-blend cocktails such as the SoCo Cherry Limeade (Southern Comfort, fresh squeezed lime juice and cherry syrup topped with Sprite). Island Girl Cigar Bar is more than carefully crafted cheroots—it also serves beer and wine. If you want to drink in a place that’s a little more upscale, this is it. There’s a dark wood floor and nice plush chairs surrounding four-tops with views of flat-screen TVs.

Ocean Club

Neighborhood: Jacksonville Beach

There are two sides to this club. Late afternoon into evening, there’s a nice patio bar overlooking the ocean. Sure, the facade could use some stucco and the cleaning crew ought to work a little harder, but it’s a great place to cool down with a beer when you’ve been out walking around in the heat. If you’re just there for the view and a drink, stay through happy hour. Past that and you’re into lounge lizard territory. No, it’s not an invasion of polyester-clad salesmen, but rather hordes of youngish partiers who’re woefully underdressed. Of course, if that’s what you’re looking for, by all means, stay on. Inside there are two bar areas that play a mix of Top 40 and Hip Hop and the Thursday ladies nights attract a determinedly raunchy crowd.

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Freebird Live

Neighborhood: Jacksonville Beach

Named for the most famous song by the city’s most famous band, Freebird is a live concert venue. Check the website for what’s on during your visit. Alternative bands like Killer in the Workplace, Sick Puppies and Vices are the most frequent acts, however, they have had Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon), Hank Williams III and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, so there’s variety in the booking. The place is owned by Judy Van Zant, (widow of Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant)—hence the name.

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