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Travel Guide > North America > USA

USA Nightlife & Entertainment

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Drinking customs in America are as varied as the backgrounds of its many people. In some rural areas, alcohol is mostly served in restaurants rather than dedicated drinking establishments, but in urban settings you will find numerous bars and nightclubs where food is either nonexistent or rudimentary. In very large cities, of course, drinking places run the gamut from tough local "shot and a beer" bars to upscale "martini bars".


While most American beer drinkers prefer light lagers - until the 1990s this was the only kind commonly sold – a wide variety of beers are now available all over the U.S. It is not too unusual to find a bar serving a hundred or more different kinds of beer, both bottled and "draft", though most will have perhaps a dozen or three, with a half dozen "on tap". Microbreweries – some of which have grown to be moderately large and/or purchased by one of the major breweries – make every kind of beer in much smaller quantities with traditional methods. Most microbrews are distributed regionally; bartenders will know the local brands. Nowadays all but the most basic taverns usually have one or more local beers on tap, and these are generally more characterful than the big national brands. Some brew pubs make their own beer in-house, and generally only serve the house brand.


Wine in the U.S. is also a contrast between low-quality commercial fare versus extremely high-quality product. Unlike in Europe, American wines are labeled primarily by the grape (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, Riesling, etc.). All but the cheapest wines are usually also labeled by region, which can be a state ("California"), an area of a state ("Central Coast"), a county or other small region ("Willamette Valley"), or a specific vineyard ("Dry Creek Vineyard"). (As a general rule, the narrower the region, the higher quality the wine is likely to be.)

All 50 U.S. states now support winemaking, with varying levels of success and respect. California wines are some of the best in the world, and are available on most wine lists in the country. The most prestigious American wine region is California's Napa Valley, although the state also has a number of other wine-producing areas, which may provide better value for your money because they are less famous. Wines from Oregon's Willamette Valley and the state of Washington have been improving greatly in recent years, and can be bargains since they are not yet as well known as California wines. Michigan, Colorado's Wine Country, and New York State's Finger Lakes region have recently been producing German-style whites which have won international competitions. In recent years, the Llano Estacado region of Texas has become regionally renowned for its wines.

Sparkling wines are available by the bottle in up-scale restaurants, but are rarely served by the glass as they often are in western Europe. The best California sparkling wines have come out ahead of some famous brand French champagnes in recent expert blind tastings.

The wines served in most bars in America are unremarkable, but wine bars are becoming more common in urban areas. Only the most expensive restaurants have extensive wine lists, and even in more modest restaurants wine tends to be expensive, even if the wine is mediocre. Many Americans, especially in the more affluent and cosmopolitan areas of the country, consider themselves knowledgeable about wine, and if you come from a wine producing country, your country's wines may be a good topic of conversation.

Hard alcohol

Hard alcohol is usually drunk with mixers, but also served "on the rocks" or "straight up" on request. Their increasing popularity has caused a long term trend toward drinking light-colored and more "mixable" liquors, especially vodka, and away from the more traditional darker liquors such as whiskey and bourbon that older drinkers favor.

Although laws regulating alcohol sales, consumption, and possession vary somewhat by state and county, the drinking age is 21 throughout the U.S. except in most of the outlying territories (where it is 18). Enforcement of this varies, but if you're under 30 you should definitely be prepared to show photo ID when buying alcohol in a store or entering a bar (which often refuse admittance to "minors" under 21). In some states, people who are under 21 are not even allowed to be present in bars or liqour stores. A foreign passport or other credible ID will probably be accepted, but many waiters have never seen one, and it may not even be legally valid for buying alcohol in some places. As a Driver's license is the most ubiquitous form of ID in the US and have a magnetic strip for verification purposes, some supermarkets have begun requiring them to purchase alcohol. In such cases, it is the cash register not the cashier which prevents such purchases. It's worth noting that most American ID's have the date of birth laid out as month/day/year, while frequently other countries ID's use year/month/day or day/month/year which may cause further confusion. Using false identification to misrepresent your age is a criminal offense in all 50 states, and while most alcohol vendors will simply refuse to sell or take a blatantly fake ID away, a few also call the police which may result in prosecution.

Selling alcohol is typically prohibited after a certain hour, usually 2 AM. In some states, most stores can only sell beer and wine; hard liquor is sold at dedicated liquor stores. Several "dry counties" – mostly in southern states – ban some or all types of alcohol in public establishments; private clubs (with nominal membership fees) are often set up to get around this. Sunday sales are restricted in some areas.

Most towns ban drinking in public (other than in bars and restaurants of course), with varying degrees of enforcement. Almost all communities have some sort of ban on "drunk and disorderly" behavior. Drunk driving comes under fairly harsh scrutiny, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% considered "Under the Influence" and many states considering 0.05% "Impaired". If you're under 21, however, most states define a DUI from 0.00-0.02%. Drunk driving checkpoints are fairly common during major "party" events, and although privacy advocates have carved out exceptions, if a police officer asks a driver to submit to a blood-alcohol test or perform a test of sobriety, you generally may not refuse (and in certain states such as New York it is a crime in its self). Penalties for DUI ("driving under the influence") or DWI ("driving while intoxicated"), can include thousands of dollars in fines and a jail sentence. It is also usually against the law to have an open container of alcohol within reach of the driver. Some states have "open bottle" laws which can levy huge fines for an open container in a vehicle, sometimes several hundred dollars per container.


Nightclubs in America run the usual gamut of various music scenes, from discos with top-40 dance tunes to obscure clubs serving tiny slices of obscure musical genres. Country music dance clubs, or honky tonks, are laid fairly thick in the South and West, especially in rural areas and away from the coasts, but one or two can be found in almost any city. Also, gay/lesbian nightclubs exist in nearly every medium- to large-sized city.

Until 1977, the only U.S. state with legalized gambling was Nevada. The state has allowed games of chance since the 1930s, creating such resort cities as Las Vegas and Reno in the process. Dubbed "Sin City," Las Vegas in particular has evolved into an end-destination adult playground, offering many other after-hours activities such as amusement parks, night clubs, strip clubs, shows, bars and four star restaurants. Gambling has since spread outside of Nevada to a plethora of U.S. cities like Atlantic City, New Jersey and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as to riverboats, offshore cruises and Indian reservations. State lotteries and "scratch games" are another, popular form of legalized gambling. However, online gaming and wagering on sports across state lines remains illegal in the U.S.

Places to Go Out in USA

Performing Arts Redcat
Redcat is the bold, experimental arm of the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Open since 2003, it has developed a reputation for innovative theater and a loyal following as a launch pad for promising local talent. In addit... more
 1 Fans, Mid Range, in Downtown
Bar Gruene Dance Hall
Site of the dance scene for John Travolta's angel character in the movie, Michael, the Gruene Dance Hall is not only historic but infamous as the place where good hometown music, great beer and friends can spend their time.
 1 Fans, in New Braunfels
Live Music Whitewater Music Ampitheater
With its recently added riverfront patio, music fans at the Whitewater Music Ampitheater will treat all of their senses to a musical masterpiece. Enjoy brews on the patio overlooking the water while moving to big names in rock, country and all that falls in betw... more
ticket prices vary, in New Braunfels
Bar Billy's Ice House
Even if it is a Tuesday night, there is guaranteed to be free live music at Billy's Ice House. They have free live music seven days a week, complimented by great beers, drinks and people. Billy's Ice House fills the e... more
in New Braunfels
Live Music Culver City Summer Music Fest
LIve music on the lawn of Culver City Hall. Every Thursday during the summer months a variety of acts are sponsored by Culver City, from rock and blues to jazz and country. Bring some folding chairs,food and drink...enjoy! See photo for 2013 schedule.
Free, in Culver City
Show Paradise Cove Luau At Ko'olina
Paradise cove is situated on 12 ares of what was once crown lands enjoyed by Hawaiian royalty and as such is one of the most beautiful  beachside settings in the islands. Luau packages can include a Waikiki pick-... more
Mid Range, $80 to $137. packages avail., in Kapolei
Show Waikiki Starlight Luau
Imagine a carpet of stars  to the Milky Way above you.  Your rooftop perch looking out over the Pacific Ocean  is touched by a soft balmy night breeze. Sounds like  a languid  scene. But no. Hold on to your hula skirt sister!&n... more
Mid Range, $95 to $105 child rates avail., in Waikiki
Show "Top Tune" at the Fanatic Salon Theater
L.A. is saturated with multi-talented entertainers who must constantly create ways to stay fresh, noticed, and working. Eclectic collaboration is one avenue to drive new material. Top Tune is a reinvention of songwriter sh... more
Mid Range, $15, in Culver City
Performing Arts Theatre 40
Theatre 40 presents first rate plays throughout the year. The theatrical company is currently comprised of 150 professional actors, actresses and directors. Not all members are in active circulation due to work, out of tow... more
Low Budget, $25, in Beverly Hills
Brewery Angel City Brewery & Pub
In 2013, Downtown L.A. welcomed its first and only brewery. After massive restoration of a 100 year old Art Deco brick building that includes the original floor tile work in the lobby, Angel City added a wavy moustache-sha... more
Varies, in Downtown
These are just 10 of 55 Places to Go Out in USA. Show more.

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