Salt Lake may have a buttoned-down image, but when visitors experience the local nightlife, that impression melts away with the first sip of an award-winning local brew, a freshly shaken martini, or a night in a dance club with a sound system to rival New York's finest. With watering holes of every size and style, the city's nightlife sparkles with something for everyone. A 2003 rewrite of Utah's liquor laws made it easier to get into clubs and bars, with a $4 cover charge for a temporary membership, good for three weeks. Most restaurants also serve wine, beer, and mixed drinks with the purchase of food. Visitors will find several Wine Spectator Award-winning wine lists at local restaurants.
Here are some best bets for nightly fun in Salt Lake.
Best All Around Bar – Port O' Call
Offering four levels of TV sports, pool tables, live music, a high-tech dance club, and a bustling outdoor patio, the Port has something for everyone. Housed in a historic downtown building, Port O' Call is Salt Lake's biggest all-inclusive party bar. www.portocall.com.
Best Club for Beer Lovers – The Bayou
With more than 150 varieties of beer on the menu, the Bayou is described as "Beervana" by loyal brew enthusiasts. The Bayou serves up a snappy Cajun menu and rollicking live jazz in a casual setting. This is the place for a cold one in Utah. www.utahbayou.com.
Best Brewpub – Squatters Pub Brewery
Squatter’s boasts a female brewmaster and produces several of its national award-winning brews on site in its historic downtown location. Walk through the door, day or night, and the place is buzzing with locals kicking back and savoring a full menu featuring organic foods. When it’s summer in the city, thirsty citizens flock to Squatters mist-cooled patio with an outdoor grill. Squatter’s is a Salt Lake City e2 Business and was awarded environmental company of the year by the Recycling Coalition of Utah. Squatters recently brought home gold, silver and bronze metals from the “Olympics” of beer competitions, the 2006 World Beer Cup. www.squatters.com.
Best Live Music Venue – It’s a Tie!
With two distinctly different personalities, we had to include both of these amazing Salt Lake entertainment hot spots. The Depot – Salt Lake’s newest live music venue debuted at the historic Union Pacific Depot in January 2006, with capacity for 1,200, state-of-the-art sound, great stage visibility, and a lively bar scene, The Depot has been a hit since day one. Look for major touring artists, from jazz to country to rock, including Chris Isaak, The Fixx., Leon Russell and Keith Anderson. Club Sound - One of the largest nightclubs in town, Club Sound has emerged as Utah's live music showcase. Located in the mammoth club setting formerly known as Bricks, Club Sound welcomes genres as diverse as Sonic Youth and The Strokes. www.depotslc.com, www.soundslc.com.
Best Underground Bar – Monk's
In the subterranean world of Salt Lake's after-hours scene, Monk's offers more piercings per patron than any other bar. With voluble live performances of jazz, rock, and blues, Monk's showcases local talent with a laid-back attitude.
Best Retro Funk Bar – Shaggy's Livin' Room
Salt Lake's grooviest bar is also its most comfortable, thanks to dozens of couches and a casual vibe that permeates all four floors. The top level includes a pulsating dance floor where hipsters groove to hip-hop and R&B. www.shaggyslivinroom.com.
Best Piano Bar - Tavernacle Social Club
Dueling pianos take center stage at this neighborhood bar on the border of downtown. Urged on by a raucous crowd, piano masters take on all requests as they compete for laughs and tips. www.tavernacle.com.
Best People Watching - Oyster Bar Downtown and Oyster Bar Cottonwood
Drawn by a high-energy atmosphere, Salt Lake's beautiful people—and those who love them—congregate at these two locations for potent drinks and fresh seafood. The Oyster Bar Cottonwood is located at the base of the two major Cottonwood canyons and features a rooftop deck with stunning mountain views. Restaurants & Institutions named them among the top 100 independents in the nation. www.gastronomyinc.com.
Best Country-Western – Totem's
Wall-to-wall lodge pole pines set the theme for this cavernous institution. A giant stage and lots of room to spread out make Totem's the best place to enjoy live country-western music.
Best Irish Bar – Murphy's Bar and Grill
A shamrock motif, Guinness, and regular corned beef and cabbage specials define Murphy's authentic pub atmosphere. This Salt Lake institution's mid-downtown location makes it an after-work gathering place for professionals and visitors alike. www.murphysbarandgrillut.com
Best Martini Bar – OK, it’s another tie!
Downtown Salt Lake has two chic winners specializing in martinis. The Red Door - The "high octane" martinis are almost as big as the 12-foot mural of Che Guevera that greets patrons as they enter. The sophisticated interior design takes the bar scene up a notch and makes patrons ask, "Is this really Salt Lake?" New to town as of Summer 2005, The Mynt Martini specializes in fresh fruit martinis, served in a sleek, sexy lounge atmosphere, complete with desserts and snacks from the award-winning Metropolitan Restaurant and live or DJ music. www.behindthereddoor.com.
Best Mountain Bar - The Thirsty Squirrel
Nothing feels better than taking off your boots after a day on the slopes and downing a cold one at this upscale bar in Solitude's new village located in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The Thirsty Squirrel embodies Solitude's recent makeover, which is intimate, comfortable, and chic amidst to-die-for mountain views. www.skisolitude.com.
Best Dance Club – The Vortex
Cosmopolitan martini bar meets gyrating go-go girls at this four-story downtown club with an awesome sound system. The basement is reserved for underage patrons (over 18), while upstairs offers grown-up drinks, dancing, and ambiance. A giant dance floor takes up the top two levels. www.slcparty.com.
Best Wine Bar – Panache
Taking full advantage of local wine diva Vicky Martinez’s vast experience as a wine-buyer for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort’s eight restaurants for many years, Panache offers one of the city’s most innovative, ever-changing lists of wines by the glass right in the heart of downtown. Martinez has a knack for discovering boutique wines and pairing them with small plates from the wine-bar’s wood-burning oven and her lists always offer intriguing alternatives to the “usual” varietals. www.panache.net.
Best Margaritas – The Cantina at El Chanate, Snowbird Resort
Serving an array of top-shelf tequilas, the Cantina at El Chanate is the perfect getaway for sipping tequila, south-of-the-border style. This resort bar is a year-round destination in Little Cottonwood Canyon, with cozy winter ambiance and stunning alpine patio views. www.snowbird.com.
Best Sports Bar - SkyBox Sports Grille & Arena
Stadium-style seating surrounds a 16' by 16' screen, making the Skybox the place to catch every big game. Eighty additional TVs even in the expansive restrooms so you won’t miss a minute of your favorite game) team up with dozens of interactive arcade games to make the Skybox a sport lover's dream come true. www.skyboxgateway.com.
Best Establishment Bar – New Yorker
For more than 25 years, the New Yorker has been a focal point for deal-making and celebrations of business acumen and political coups. With its award-winning menu, this is the venue for Salt Lake's power brokers to see and be seen. www.gastronomyinc.com.
Best Gay Bar - Trapp Door
Salt Lake's largest all gay everyday dance club with something new every night. DJ’s “skaraoke,” Inferno House Parties on Saturdays, this is the place to be for Salt Lake’s large GLBT population. www.trappdoor.com.
Best Bar for a Burger – Club Bambara
This chic watering hole is adjacent to Bambara Restaurant, in the Hotel Monaco. When hunger strikes, there’s no better spot for a grilled sirloin burger with chipotle aioli and balsamic caramelized onions with your favorite beverage. www.bambaraslc.com.