BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
Nothing completes a great night out, quite like live music. You'll find some kind of live music at almost every beach bar and island restaurant. You'll also find it outdoors at many of the areas premier shopping and dining destinations. But it's mostly background, which serves an entirely different purpose.
If you prefer watching a band, really listening to the music and perhaps even dancing to it, you need a different venue. The owners of The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers are from Chicago and have a passion for music. They manage to snag Grammy Award-winning artists in route from Miami to Tampa to play here.
As far as the beach goes, one of the most popular places for both locals and tourists is known as The Cottage; it's part of The established Gulfshore Grill on Fort Myers Beach. The space is small but the setting is perfect for both acoustic and small bands.
A few rock-n-roll legends and big band greats have ties to Fort Myers (think ACDC, Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd for a few) and they often bring their famous friends to town. You just never know when they might show up at some of these 10Best spots to watch and/or play!
At nearly 15,000 square feet, Society is a big open space with a more chic vibe. The rooftop Treehouse Bar is where most of the action is found. The drinks are Tiki inspired and there is an herb garden for fresh garnishes. The stage hosts a variety of live bands, as well as DJ's, many of whom have a national following. When one of these performers show up, it's a capacity crowd. You'll find several bars, both indoors and out, with a 360-degree video wall system in the dining room. Entertainment downstairs includes solo acts during happy hour and DJ's later in the evening.
Recommended for Live Music because: It's the only rooftop bar in south Fort Myers that has live bands, solo artists and well-known DJ's, attracting a diverse crowd.
Gina's expert tip: Reserve a private room inside or the fire pit area on the roof for a special celebration.
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
It's easy to spot the roof of Doc Ford's when driving over the Estero Bay via so-called "big bridge" or Matanzas Pass. Doc's is on the mainland side of the beach, under that big bridge. Resembling a sprawling stilt house, the rum bar and grille has a cool (as in temperature) inside bar as well as ample dining space. However, the biggest parties occur downstairs, along the dock. Here you will find all kinds of live music, every day and or night of the week. There are two dockside bars and a large dance floor for when the music moves you. It's a fun, casual spot where partygoers can also arrive by boat.
Recommended for Live Music because: Come by land or sea to this waterfront bar that offers a huge deck for dancing to live music provided every night.
Gina's expert tip: If you want a dose of AC, dine inside before then make your way to the outdoor stage.
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Dixie is on the so-called 'back bay' of Fort Myers Beach, rather than on the Gulf of Mexico. The music runs the gamut from relaxing to gritty, and always good. Sundays are popular for locals and the crowd is quite diverse. Undercover, yet all open-air, this rustic spot has an expansive, circular bar as well as a dining bar facing the water, offering great views of the fishing charters and tour boats headed out for the day or night. This bar offers a lot more than 'bar food' with things like a low land seafood boil, oysters, shrimp burger, and killer B.L. TAE: bacon, fried green tomatoes, fried egg and avocado sandwich. Dock space is available if you are boating.
Recommended for Live Music because: A waterside, alfresco restaurant and bar, Dixie is known for providing a variety of live music nightly, and even during the day, especially Sunday.
Gina's expert tip: It's under, not over the bridge to Fort Myers Beach.
A brewery, restaurant and music venue, Big Blue has a lot under one giant roof. Housed in an old bingo hall, the owners paid special attention to the materials used on the ceiling when remodeling the expansive place, keeping the acoustics in alignment for the bands playing here Thursday through Saturday. The schedule can change seasonally so always check ahead. This is a big space, with a large patio where you can still hear the action, without being right in front of it. Beers on tap are either brewed in-house or in the state and the chef puts gourmet twists on everything that come out of the kitchen.
Recommended for Live Music because: One of the newest entertainment spots in downtown Cape Coral, this spot has plenty of space and great acoustics to accommodate live music.
Gina's expert tip: Book a brewery tour while you're here.
FORT MYERS BEACH
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
The Cottage is cool, a favorite spot for locals year-round for its great view, food and entertainment. As part of the more civilized Gulfshore Grill, the Cottage is a casual, outdoor beach bar with an unobstructed view of the water. People come by car, by boat and by 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 Live Music because: This cozy casual bar is in the heart of Fort Myers Beach, offering live music nightly; the dance floor is almost always full.
Gina's expert tip: Be wary of the "no parking" signs when looking for a spot here, beach towing is aggressive. Opt for the free valet
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 Ts, jumping around next to someone in a polo or even in formal attire. Everyone is welcomed at the Buddha.
Recommended for Live Music because: The Buddha is a hot, late-night, rock-n-roll spot that welcomes everyone, wearing everything from jeans to formals.
Gina's expert tip: You'll need to wash your clothes in the morning as smoking is allowed inside this bar.
The Cigar Bar has been a hotspot in downtown Fort Myers for more than fifteen years. A family-owned establishment, the bar was originally known for its large humidor, a superb selection of spirits and its masculine, yet cozy lounge. Owners took over an adjacent space as a way to accommodate the crowds and increase the bar's entertainment capabilities at the same time. This is a compact but good spot to hear mostly local bands light it up. In addition, you can enjoy more than just beer with your live music, as the bar has a huge selection of scotch, bourbon and whiskey.
Recommended for Live Music because: The Cigar Bar has the best of both world's, a sophisticated lounge and a no-frills live music space with an impressive humidor.
Gina's expert tip: Additional locations are at Gulf Coast Town Center and in Cape Coral.
The Buckingham Blues Bar has been open since the 1950s in the middle of nowhere, as some might say; the Buckingham community is about twelve miles east of downtown Fort Myers. You might expect a blues a bar to be a bit gritty and it is. That's one of the things that attracts music lovers and fantastic artists from all over the country. The bar is open seven days a week and food is available. There is a dark, indoor lounge, an outdoor stage and a backyard beer garden. You can REALLY see the stars at night here and listening to that soulful music seems to make them twinkle even brighter.
Recommended for Live Music because: The Buckingham Blues Bar is "out in the country." Gritty and entertaining it books an impressive weekly line-up and draws a fun crowd
Gina's expert tip: Getting here is a bit of a hike, it's in a more rural area off the beaten track, so keep an eye on your consumption.
The owners of the Roadhouse have connections and they use them, to the extreme delight of music lovers. Inspired by their successful restaurant in Cape Cod, the family of famous trumpeter Louis Colombo, opened this spot in 2007. 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. Once inside this beautiful café, 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 Live Music because: The Roadhouse is known for booking world-renowned jazz musicians and serving superb food in a classy, cool nighttime spot.
Gina's expert tip: Make plans to eat here, the food is excellent.
Adjacent to Twisted Vine Bistro, this bourbon and blues bar has brought a new level of "cool" to downtown Fort Myers. The space is cozy, with reclaimed wood, low lighting and a small stage that has been home to some of the best jazz and blues musicians in the area. The owners also have a knack for booking big names and Grammy-winning artists looking for a venue traveling between gigs in the bigger cities of Tampa and Miami. You'll not only find an extensive selection of whiskey, wine and other spirits but also a gastropub menu with the kitchen serving until midnight. The Barrel Room is a hot spot with sophisticated fun in Fort Myers.
Recommended for Live Music because: A cool spot with a Chicago vibe offering more than just world-class jazz and blues acts, but also outstanding food and drinks.
Gina's expert tip: Interested in listening to music over brunch? Check out the Jazz Brunch every Sunday