BLUES & BEER
Five O' Clock Club
1930 Hillview St.
The scene: Cool, calm and way too smoky. Plastic patio chairs pass for Florida casual outside on the patio. Longtime locals and Sarasota first-timers line up together at the bar or share the tiny dance floor. Young and old defy generational boundaries and enjoy the same music.
The groove: The music rules, with an eclectic schedule of live blues, rock, jazz and more, including some national comers and ageless icons.
The night: The bigger names often play the weekends, but celebrate the night before Friday with uplifting reggae and ska (fusion of jazz, rock and reggae) by the multi-talented Strangeways.
The drink: Beer, shots and the trendy Cosmopolitan are the big three at the 5-O.
214 Sarasota Quay
The scene: The decade of the Wall Street mogul is back at this club, which doubles as a restaurant (Michael's Mediterranean Grille) and offers plenty of space to cabbage-patch on the tiled dance floor. Wear a tie and penny loafers and prepare to relive the last years of disco with the age group that remembers the first time around.
The groove: Do the Robot to throwbacks from the '80s. There's no live band here, but then again, there weren't any in the '80s, either.
The night: If you plan on snaring a dance partner, go on Friday or Saturday nights. Whenever you go, remember that the disco action doesn't start until after dinner.
The drink: Cosmopolitans, of course, but Joey (he's the owner) favors his seven-layer cappuccino (that's Kaluha, Bailey's crème brulee, steamed milk, espresso, froth and cinnamon).
Down Under Jazz Club
214 Sarasota Quay
The scene: Downstairs from Anthony's, this cozy basement bar makes you feel utterly welcome. The bartenders are friendly, the band members funny and the crowd as mellow as it gets. Take your time-there's plenty of space at the bar to relax and soak in the tunes.
The groove: Smooth jazz and slow blues, with dancing definitely in the "hold-me" zone.
The night: A house band plays Friday and Saturday nights. If you feel like a laugh, every Wednesday night is comedy night.
The drink: Gin and tonic sets the tone of seen-it-all sophistication for this cool and cerebral crowd.
Cha-Cha Coconuts Tropical Bar
417 St. Armands Circle
The scene: With a sidewalk setting outside and rustic wood floors inside, you'll feel like you are on vacation, whether you are or not. Wear your Hawaiian shirt and sandals; you may get sand in your toes. Whether you plan on a late-night walk on the beach (which is a mere quarter of the mile up the road) or just came back from that walk, this is the perfect place to re-fuel.
The groove: Local acoustic, blues, reggae and disco rock. Open to the street, so go easy with the funky chicken.
The night: To slip into something intimate, come Wednesdays and Thursdays a bit for the acoustic guitars of Billy and RPM. On every other Sunday night, things get sizzling with the synthesizers-meet-rock beat of Disco Inferno.
The drink: There's a full bar (and a full menu), but in this setting, tropical fruit and rum must flavor at least your first few drinks. Bahama Mama, anyone?
BEACH BAR BINGO
5151 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key
The scene: After the sun goes down, things heat up at this classic beach bar. College kids, surfer dudes, working stiffs and a smattering of old salts down brews on the outside patio, cruise the rooms inside and gather in the back under a big Florida moon.
The groove: Upbeat and lively, with lots of rock and reggae. Prepare to sweat on the crowded dance floor.
The night: Join the revolution with Democracy every Thursday night, when a multi-cultural crowd with "one love" for great reggae music keeps things jamming. Friday and Saturday nights feature live rock bands; try to catch either versatile Chase Theory or rising star Mind Machine.
The drink: All-American beer is the boss, followed closely by shots of Captain Morgan's rum.
1490 Main St.
The scene: If you're from a big city and you miss the corner pub full of regulars, then this downtown landmark is right up your alley. To feel like a superstar, wander upstairs to the VIP area, where you can relax on a plush couch or pick up a pool cue and still enjoy the music downstairs. It's not Cheers, but it's the closest thing in Sarasota.
The groove: Rock, rock and more rock. Tuesday through Saturday the rotating house bands Ozone and Eclipse saturate Main Street with a healthy flow of good guitar-driven music.
The night: For some folks, every night is Gator night, from quitting time on, but let's not go there. If you're looking to elevate rather than drown your spirits, the good news is this place rocks five days a week. Any one of these nights is a good night, and the thought is, what else is rocking on a Tuesday night?
The drink: A full bar and a full range of drinkers, many of them committed to Crown Royal, which is why there's always a cab at the curb outside.
Classic Wax Cafe
2119 Siesta Drive
Okay, it's a dive, but stop by anyway to catch the band Bottom Feeders. Their name may suggest otherwise, but they are one of the best local bands around, mixing blues, funk and rock and featuring a singer that sounds strangely like Van Morrison. They play a sporadic schedule, so it's worth sitting at the bar here to hear them.
1377 Main St.
Just another hole in the wall six days a week, serving domestic beers and never crowded to capacity. But if you head out around 9:30 on a Tuesday night you can catch open mike night, with some of the up and coming local stars. True, you may have to sit through four horrible acts to get to the good ones, but usually it's worth it.
5250 Ocean Blvd.
Right across the street from the Beach Club, this is a good stop before heading over to hear some live music. Although the Daiquiri Deck's own live music is provided next door in the Speak Easy, the Deck gets crowded with kids as the night goes on. Stop by early, before the cover charge, and get your night kick-started with-what else?- a daiquiri.