South Beach? Clematis Street? Las Olas Boulevard? Key West?
For Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue, with its free parking, its welcoming small-town ambience and its bevy of beautiful people is so right for now.
The array of dining, sipping and dancing choices make it like pre-CityPlace Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. You could also compare it to a busy night on Las Olas Boulevard if you also tossed in the Himmarshee strip.
In a seven-block stretch of Atlantic, less than a mile east of I-95, there's a good chance you'll find something to like.
For live music, there's the down-home Elwood's just at the tracks, where longnecks and tight-shirted waitresses hold sway.
There's the sprawling inside-outside bar City Limits just off the avenue, where a six-piece rock band plays in a wide-open, Key West-style setting. At midnight at Dakota's restaurant, the tables are cleared away, the velvet rope is up and the DJ is setting the menu. At the Bull Bar on the corner of Swinton Avenue, the alternative rock crowd fills the narrow room.
Here's a rundown on these and other nightlife options:
City Limits. A half-block off Atlantic, this is downtown's largest live-music venue, with room for a few hundred people inside and out, with patio bars and a band-shell stage. On a recent Saturday night a six-piece band was doing a lot of hard-edged Beatles tunes as well as Jethro Tull's Aqualung, with a mean flute. This has a totally laid-back atmosphere -- you can dance, sit at tables or at three or four different bars, or just stand around watching the action and the stars. 29 SE Second Ave. 561-279-8222.
Dakotah. When the dining is over, the dancing begins. Weekend nights see the transformation of the chic restaurant into a dance club just about midnight, with velvet rope outside and lines forming instantaneously. Inside, the Top 40 DJ keeps the action moving, and also plays sax as the dance floor rocks until closing at 2 a.m. 270 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-274-6244.
Mancini's. They don't wait for midnight to dance in the bar section of this restaurant, as up to a dozen couples dance to Madonna, with a wine-rack backdrop. 290 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-272-7300.
Dada. A block off Atlantic on Swinton is this wonderfully unique space, kind of like being in the parlors of a trippy Dadaist art collector who allows in magicians and local bands, mostly of an independent stripe. 52 N. Swinton Ave. 561-330-3232.
Delux. This is one of the more striking and versatile nightclubs, which also has the subtitle "lounge," appropriate for a place where you can literally lounge around on ingeniously designed couches that look like beds. This is South Beach on Atlantic, with its VIP cribs, its strange, high-tech videos surrounding the front bar, its throbbing techno and dance music and its calmer open-air back patio. 16 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-279-4792.
Elwood's . Down-home, open-to-the street spot across from the tracks, features barmaids whizzing around with long-necks, "Dixie barbecue" plates, a band playing Dire Straits, or an Elvis impersonator and a distinctly non-SoBe feel. 301 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-272-7427.
Sopra. As the diners in the spacious restaurant finish off their pastas and pizzas and head into the night, the loungers stream in, and the dance music inspires those so inclined to groove. 110 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-274-7077.
Bull Bar. If grunge or alternative is your game, this has your name. This is a no-pretense bar with just a few tables, seats along the wall and many folks standing around. Sounding pretty remarkable recently were a vocalist and guitarist from a local band named Downside, performing numbers from Green Day and Three Doors Down. 2 E. Atlantic Ave. 561-274-8001.
John Dolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4726.