Put on your walking — or rather dancing — shoes because not only does this pedestrian-friendly downtown cater to the sophisticated tastes of foodies, it also has a rock ’n’ roll vibe that will have you hootin’ and hollerin’ as you show off your moves on the dance floor. So, from vim-inducing cocktails to wind-you- down night-caps, here’s our play-by-play of a great — and slightly wild — night on the town in Sarasota.
Rooftop Sunset - 6:30 p.m.
The vibrant sounds of new flamenco and gypsy guitar music travel across the open-air rooftop lounge at Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant. Housed in a 1925 Mediterranean Revival building, this hot spot is packed before the sun even begins its descent. The band, Los Listos, has set the mood, and pitchers of red and white sangria flow freely. Bartender John is whipping up the best mojitos around, swearing by Barbados’ Mount Gay rum and insisting on only fresh lime juice and mint leaves. From the cold tapas menu comes the house ceviche, a mix of shrimp, scallops, squid and fish marinated in lime juice, tossed with fresh tomatoes and seasoned with cilantro and Peruvian pepper paste for a kick. On warm evenings, guests in stylish shirts with jeans and sexy sundresses cluster in groups at high-top tables. Insider Tip: To catch the sunset, arrive early and stake out a spot on the right side of the bar facing the bay; it offers the best view of the cityscape at dusk.
Exotic Meets Hip - 8:00 p.m.
After cocktails, walk a couple of blocks to Main Street’s Mozaic. Tucked in a small space brightened by lime-green and tangerine walls, this restaurant and wine bar has a menu that combines Moroccan flavors with French preparations. A casual-chic crowd disperses to every table, including the quieter, darker upstairs with two tables overlooking the main room. Chef Dylan Elhajoui’s dinners begin with his chilled, curried, pear-scented coconut soup (arguably one of the best items he makes). Order the blue-crab-and-mango napoleon, followed by a roasted Cornish game hen on a bed of couscous with olives, preserved lemon and ginger sauce served in a tagine. The server lifts the lid of the Moroccan cooking dish to release a burst of aromatic spices. Pair dinner with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc Remy Pannier Loire France 2008. Dessert is a sampling of Elhajoui’s sorbets: the orange Pernod, Granny Smith apple and strawberry rhubarb. Request the Moroccan tea serving to wrap your meal. An ornate silver teapot of green tea arrives with two small glasses stuffed with just-picked mint leaves. This refreshing finish provides a much-needed lift for your next stop: the dance floor. Insider Tip: The best table in the house is the only window table. Reserve this prime spot about two weeks in advance.
Rock This Town - 10:30 p.m.
Once back on the street, follow the music to Mattison’s City Grille on the corner of Main and Lemon right smack in the heart of downtown. Shiny hogs are parked out front, and the crowd spills over to the sidewalk. Tiki torches are burning, outdoor umbrella-covered tables are full and the pint-size dance floor couldn’t fit another body if you tried. Perched on a small elevated stage, TC and the Troublemakers belt out “I hear you knocking but you can’t come in…” as servers with trays of drinks and bottles of beer squeeze through the army of partiers. Find yourself a high-top table in the middle of the scene, and hang loose with a crowd that looks like they spent the day on the beach. Soon you’ll be shaking your booty on the dance floor too. Insider Tip: Ask manager Elizabeth Joy, who knows how to get the party started, to set you up with the house Cosmo — vodka, triple sec, a splash of cranberry juice with a lime garnish — made extra strong.
Wrapping It Up - 12:01 a.m.
If you think you’re going to wind things down a bit at the sophisticated Cà d’Zan lounge in the Ritz-Carlton, you’re in for a surprise. Just a few blocks west, the elegant resort on the edge of Sarasota Bay may boast a traditional lounge featuring a handsome men’s-club décor of leather sofas, a heavy wooden bar and beamed ceilings, but the vibe here is decidedly au contraire. Despite its spaciousness, you’ll be lucky to find a seat at the bar or in one of the cozy living-room settings — sofa, chairs and coffee table. Of course, if you still have energy to burn, it won’t matter; there’s another hour to work out on the dance floor before the music stops at 1 a.m. Under flashing strobe lights, Melanie Massell with band Hot Item sings Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” while the well-heeled crowd gyrates to the beat. Locals fill the lounge on weekends, but the overflow of partiers from hotel events keeps this place open till 2 a.m. Drinks are flowing, but the big seller is the house specialty, Peter Whiteley’s chocolate martini, created by a former mixologist. Bartenders are sworn to secrecy, so don’t ask what’s in it; the ganache topping of white and milk chocolate sprinkled with shavings is irresistible. If you work up an appetite from all the dancing, don’t fret, just order from the late-night snack menu of burgers, pizza and desserts like molten chocolate cake. Insider Tip: For a quiet nightcap, head outside to the dimly lit veranda, where a warm breeze soothes and the music fades away. Here you can linger over a sniffer of the quintessential cognac, Hennessy XO.
Too Tired to Drive?
When the urge to sink into a cushy bed or soak your tired feet in a hot tub overtakes you, head to the Hotel Indigo and check in. A few blocks from the downtown Sarasota scene, this boutique property with its periwinkle and white walls, sheer billowing draperies and oversize Adirondack lobby chairs brings the relaxation of the beach indoors. Rooms are nautical in theme with wall murals of seashores sprinkled with beach glass, plus there are huge glass showers. Grab your morning Joe in the lobby coffee shop before hitting the road.