BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
Fort Myers and the Gulf Islands that surround the city, offer some of the best nightlife in Southwest Florida. One of the best stops for the party crowd looking for options is downtown, Fort Myers. The brick streets are lined with funky dens, wine bars, pubs and clubs. The area really gets cranking during the monthly Music and Art Walks.
Another hot destination for the bar-hopping bunch is Gulf Coast Town Center. Even though it's extremely popular with the college crowd, there are spots that cater to every age and any taste; from Tequila bars to cigar bars, and sushi bars to piano bars.
Vacationers looking for a more relaxed island-style vibe will enjoy sipping a beer or cocktail at one of the many beach pubs on Estero and Sanibel Islands. If you're looking for a party on Fort Myers Beach, the Cottage Beach Bar consistently delivers a good time. It's directly on the beach with live music nightly, and it is right next door to the Spring Break party mecca of the Lani Kai Island Resort if you're feeling adventurous.
Whether you want to chill to live music or dance to a DJ, you'll find a spot to embrace in this 10Best list.
This is not your average pizza place, it's a haven for karaoke lovers. A longtime favorite for pizza, for decades locals have also gravitated to this bar for late-night fun. Besides the cold drinks and friendly bartenders, karaoke is the main reason. It has become so popular that karaoke contests are often held here and when Broadway touring shows are playing at the nearby Barbara B Mann Performing Arts Hall, the professionals often stop in for a song or two, off the clock. This doesn't mean that every singer who signs up here has talent, but they do have fun. In addition, the kitchen cranks out hot, cheesy pizza pies, New York-style; the perfect accompaniment to a cold beer and a night out.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: A family pizzeria by day, packed bar by night, this is the place to be if you enjoy a good round of karaoke.
Gina's expert tip: Tuesday is half-price pizza day. Check social media and website pages as specials are subject to change seasonally.
One of the first local breweries in the area, this one has grown to become the biggest and most popular by far. Expanding its facility in an odd, off the beaten path industrial park, Fort Myers Brewing Company has more than 20 taps, TV's to watch your favorite sporting events and oversized games like Jenga and the bean bag toss, to keep you company while you sample the award-winning brews provided here. The atmosphere is laid back, people even bring their own lawn chairs to hang outside. Food trucks can be found along the narrow roadway so you can hang out here for hours without the pressure of having to fit into a "scene."
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: A laid back, casual atmosphere awaits at the area first and largest brewery, with games, food trucks and fantastic beer.
Gina's expert tip: Look for a Panther Crossing sign on Daniels Parkway as a marker for the turn to this obscure industrial park
This former Chinese restaurant has morphed into one of the most infamous local bars in the Fort Myers area. You'll know you are in the right place by the giant statue of Buddha, sitting in the parking lot. A couple of things you can be sure of in this bar, the drinks are cold and cheap and the music is loud. Local bands love to rock here as well as those on the touring circuit. There's something about the small dance floor of the Buddha that makes people get a little crazy. It's not uncommon to see partygoers dressed in jeans and a T, jumping around next to someone in a polo or even in formal attire. Everyone is welcomed at the Buddha.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This rock-n-roll joint has cold cheap drinks, loud music and a space where everyone seems to fit in.
Gina's expert tip: You will need to wash or dry clean your clothes as smoking is allowed inside this bar.
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
The Cottage is cool, a favorite spot for locals year-round. As part of the more civilized and recently remodeled Gulfshore Grill, the Cottage is a casual, outdoor beach bar with an unobstructed view of the water. People come by car, by boat and on foot to party here. You'll find live music at The Cottage just about every night. Sometimes the acts are solo and more mellow, other times full bands set up and rock the deck. At times you can also hear the music coming from the neighboring Lani Kai Resort, a Spring Break magnet. It's fun to watch the madness from the safety of the Cottage deck, but also easy to walk next door and join the raucous celebration.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: One of the most consistently popular party spots on the beach, no matter what time of year, for location, entertainment and the beach views.
Gina's expert tip: Be wary of the "no parking" signs when looking for a spot here, beach towing is aggressive. Opt for the valet.
The owners of the Roadhouse have connections and they use them, to the extreme delight of music lovers. The family of famous trumpeter Louis Colombo, opened the cafe in 2007, inspired by their successful restaurant in Cape Cod. Colombo had quite a career, performing with legends the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Tony Bennett. He spent the winter months in Fort Myers where he loved to get on stage at the Roadhouse, his famous friends did too. Colombo passed away in 2012 but his friends still come back and play in his honor. This is a great place to both dine and dance, catering to the over 40 crowd. Once inside this beautiful cafe, you'll forget you're in a strip mall in Florida, you'll think you're in the big city and have just hit the musical jackpot.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The Roadhouse is known for booking world-renowned jazz musicians in this classy, cool nighttime spot.
Gina's expert tip: Make plans to eat here, the food is excellent and the menu wide-ranging.
Photo courtesy of Art Walk
The Downtown River District of Fort Myers really comes alive during the monthly Art Walk (first Friday of the month) and Music Walk (third Friday of the month). Galleries, museums and shops stay open late, with special exhibits, activities and lots of music. During Music Walk performers and bands take to the streets and to dozens of venues, playing jazz, rock and roll, top 40 and everything in between. Just as fun as the street party is the extended bar hopping at popular watering holes like the World Famous Cigar Bar, Gotham, Ford's Garage, Space 39, The 86 Room, Club Indigo, City Tavern, Downtown Social House and more. You'll find a bar downtown to match almost any mood.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: It's the best free party in the city, on the doorsteps of some of the most popular bars and clubs in the city.
Gina's expert tip: Street Parking is free after 5 pm.
You don't have to wear cowboy hats and boots to get into this country-themed club, but you will fit right in if you do. You'll also do well if you like to, and know-how to line dance. However, the Dixie, as locals call it, wants everyone to join the fun so they offer free line dance lessons at the beginning of the night. Dixie boasts the biggest hardwood dance floor in the area and also has plenty of room for live bands and other special events. If you don't think you can handle country music all night long, then you'll be happy to know that the DJ's here love to spice things up with hip hop and dance mixes. In addition, there are drink specials and freebies almost every night of the week.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: You'll find more than just country music here, DJ's, live concerts and lots of dancing has locals flocking here.
Gina's expert tip: Have a designated driver if you plan to imbibe as police in the area have a fierce reputation.
Gulf Coast Town Center (GCTC) is one of the hottest dining and drinking destinations in Fort Myers. The sprawling village-like layout has watering-holes in every corner making it a one-stop party shop. No matter what the crowd or what your mood, you are bound to find a suitable place to play here. Enjoy live music, cognac and premium hand-rolled cigars from The "World Famous" Cigar Bar, top-shelf tequilas at Cantina 109, or dealing pianos and dancing at The Keys Bar & Grille. You can even catch a movie here. GCTC is close to Florida Gulf Coast University so it's a popular place for the college crowd, but with the sheer number of restaurants and bars, any age will find something enticing.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Gulf Coast Town Center has dozens of bars and special events, to make this a one-stop party place to suit any mood.
Gina's expert tip: Check the website for free concerts and movie nights.
The Firestone is a four-story entertainment and restaurant complex in a historic building, facing the renovated waterfront in downtown Fort Myers. An express elevator at the entrance leads to the rooftop, the Sky Bar where some of the area's hottest DJ's keep the party going until the wee hours of the morning. The Martini Bar on the third floor is known to locals as the "Brick Bar", with space for live bands as well as DJ's. The bar has been renovated, and while it still has some of the old rustic feels, it is definitely posher. Check the website for an updated list of bands and expect to wait in line on a Friday or Saturday night .
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The four-story Firestone has something for everyone; dining, dancing, live music, DJ's and a chic rooftop bar.
Gina's expert tip: Parking can be a challenge so take advantage of the free valet service in front of the building.
At nearly 15,000 square feet, Society is a big open space with a cool vibe. You'll find several bars, both indoors and out, with a 360-degree video wall system in the dining room. While much attention has been given to the dining and cocktail program, it's the entertainment that seems to be hitting the spot with locals. You'll find solo acts downstairs for happy hour and DJ's later in the evening. The rooftop Treehouse Bar is where most of the action is found. The drinks up here are Tiki inspired and there is an herb garden for fresh garnishes. The stage hosts live bands, and DJ's, many of whom have a national following. On these nights it's a capacity crowd.
Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Centrally located at The Bell Tower Shops, this high energy lounge and restaurant is known for booking big name DJ's and entertainers.
Gina's expert tip: A private dining room is available for special celebrations.