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The nightlife is hot in Atlantic Canada

Life in Atlantic Canada happily confirms that old axiom, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Our streetscapes are decidedly more cosmopolitan than they were 25 years ago. There are more chic, upscale dining opportunities to be found, even in our small towns. And when you can find an urbane martini bar in downtown St. John’s, well, you know some things have changed. But the great thing is that just down the road from that Thai-fusion restaurant is the same chip wagon where you got hot French fries in a paper bag when you were a kid. And the bar where you had your first legal drink? Still thriving. That indie rocker you loved in high school, he’s playing a club on the other side of town tonight. And your friends are up for a night on the town—just like always. It’s time for fun in Atlantic Canada, and what follows here is the low-down on what you don’t want to miss at night on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Shore Club in Hubbards, NS, just past the edge of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) is the hip and happening spot where your father and his friends used to party. Going strong since 1946, the Shore Club bills itself as the “last great dance hall.” And even if it didn’t have the kind of live music that keeps a crowd on its feet all night long (Matt Minglewood anyone? Joe Murphy?), it would be worth a visit just to soak up the atmosphere and chat with the bartenders. The music, the food (perfectly delicious hamburgers hot off the grill at 2 a.m.) and the dance floor are drawing both the young clubbing crowd from downtown Halifax and the boomers from the South Shore in a serendipitous assortment of party-goers. You might want to get there early to nab a good table. (Use your own definition of good—by the bar? By the band? Near the back door?) And stay late for that quintessential burger experience. You’ll need a designated driver though—you’re 30 minutes from the city limits and taxis don’t come with the territory.

Downtown, the Halifax scene is hopping with the classic live music venues that you know and love—the Lower Deck for hardcore pub tunes, and the Economy Shoe Shop for its cool vibe and beautiful people, among other things. The Argyle grabbed the 2004 Best Thursday Nightlife title in The Coast’s 2004 Best of Halifax awards—specifically noting their Thursday night martini tradition.

Try Deco on Spring Garden Road, where they have the enviable common sense to serve reasonably priced, respectable sparkling wines by the glass. That’ll set the tone for a groovy night out right off the bat.

In Fredericton, the university crowd has always imbued the town with a particular youthful zest, but the nightlife here has more to offer than just the simple (and popular) concept of cheap beer and loud music. The Lunar Rogue Pub, for example, a long established favourite of those in the know, goes beyond your expectations of a traditional down-home pub in a college town. With nearly a hundred single malt and premium blends in their inventory, and an exceptionally well-educated staff, the Rogue is the preferred haunt of discerning scotch/whiskey aficionados who relish an intimate setting and an interesting crowd.

If it’s a hot band and a crowded dance floor you’re looking for and not quiet conversation over a smoky glass of Speyside, Sweetwaters is still Fredericton’s preferred hands-down, kick-ass, nightclub dance spot. And if recent history is anything to go by, there’s nowhere better to catch the best of Canadian rock, pop, and alternative music. Let’s just say, when the major music labels send an artist to town, they book them in Sweetwaters. Matthew Good’s performance there last summer is still ringing in the memory of some clubbers. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the James Joyce Irish Pub in the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel. Terry Woods, of the legendary Irish band The Pogues, played here when he was in town. You don’t want to overlook an opportunity like that.

What’s the perfect night out for those born and bred in Saint John who want to savour the best of their city? While Saint John has lots for visitors in terms of dining experiences and entertainment, you should check out what rocks the folks who call the place home. In that case, a night to remember starts with dinner at Billy’s Seafood Company at the Charlotte Street entrance to the City Market. That’s because you need a feed of fresh scallops or mussels—you know you do—and Billy’s are excellent. If seafood’s not what you’re craving, try Suwanna’s for some mean Thai. Then it’s off to a show.

The Imperial Theatre presents everything from Symphony New Brunswick to the Juggernaut Jug Band. In the summer months, you can catch buskers doing their thing on a warm summer evening or take in the amazing talent that comes to town with the Festival By the Sea in August (like April Wine in Pugsley Park—does it get any more Canadian than that?). At any time of year, your ideal evening out in Saint John would have to end at O’Leary’s. In a town rich with fine pubs, O’Leary’s is a stand-out for its superb staff (who have been there forever and likely remember things about you that you’d rather have forgotten!), not to mention its cosy, exposed brick and aged-wood atmosphere and its knack for booking the bands you want to hear. Be forewarned though: O’Leary’s, for reasons we’ll never understand, no longer serves Guinness. Good thing they have everything else going for them.

In Moncton, the Capitol Theatre is the salsa on the nachos of nightlife in this city. The Capitol adds the zing, the zip, the colour to your out-on-the-town experience in Moncton. Where else in the world would you find the Amazing Kreskin, Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, and Red Suga, the ECMA-nominated, MuchMusic-hyped rap artist from the Pabineau First Nation in the same calendar of events? If you’re in Moncton, there’s no excuse for not taking advantage of the esoteric offerings of the Capitol, but venues like the Club Cosmopolitan also present fantastic live music in a great party atmosphere.

On Prince Edward Island, those just dying for a night of nostalgia should flock to Brackley Beach. Were you five years old the last time you went to a drive-in movie? Or 25? The Brackley Drive-In is the uber-retro experience of all time, even if you were too young to remember how much fun it was the first time. Fill the car with friends and it’s a party on wheels as you take in first-run blockbusters on a summer night. It’s a bargain too, just 20 bucks for a carload on Sunday nights.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum in Prince Edward Island is Baba’s Lounge in Charlottetown where the whole vibe is so cool the rest of the country hasn’t quite caught up with it yet. Baba’s is located above Cedar’s Eatery (renowned in its own right with a nod from the folks at Where to Eat in Canada) and is the true première music venue in the “Land of Anne.” In addition to Baba’s, Charlottetown can boast of being as cosmo as the next urban capital with the 42nd Street Lounge leading the way with Martini Thursday and its Scotch Club. It leans toward sophistication—well, at least until the martinis start kicking in, that is. If you need to dance, remember that Peake’s Quay down at the waterfront has that open-air dance floor jumping all summer long. Alfresco footwork is such a good idea—more grooving, less claustrophobia.

As good Atlantic Canadians, we all know the fun just keeps getting more fantastic the farther east you go. Those of us from other provinces don’t begrudge Newfoundlanders their international reputation as the funnest people on the planet. We just want in on it too whenever we’re in town. So for those who aren’t from there—head to Trapper John’s in St. John’s before 11 p.m. to get properly screeched in. Then let the rest of your visit to our youngest province unfold as it should. The locals will tell you that the essential Newfoundland remains unchanged: the warmth, humour, and inimitable gift for hospitality. Relatively new, yet wholeheartedly welcome, are Grapevine on Water Street (it’s a marvellous martini bar—Bruce Guthro once performed there spontaneously, moved by either the spirit or the spirits!); Blue on Water is a spot that can only be described as ultra-cool and yet so very reasonably priced; and Magnum & Stein, a top-end restaurant that produces an extraordinary dining experience. If you’re home for a visit this summer, rest assured O’Reilly’s still sets the standard for the traditional Newfoundland pub with the music you keep hoping to hear when you’re stuck on the mainland.

Corner Brook, Newfoundland is in full bloom these days with its vibrant downtown—anchored by the shops, pubs and restaurants on Broadway and environs. Whelan’s Gate Pub is heavy on straight-up Newfoundland atmosphere (no clichés here, just the real goods) with excellent appetizers and good prices for a long night knocking back the good times with friends. And nightclubs like 709 (love the name) and The Studio feed the need for getting busy with a crowd on the dance floor, ensuring that Corner Brook’s menu of fun is full.

If there’s one thing that defines an Atlantic Canadian it’s our whole-hearted dedication to the art of having a good time. It’s a fine thing that there are countless venues for fun—grown-up, after-dark, get-a-babysitter kind of fun—that provide easy outlets for our notoriously social nature.

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Life in Atlantic Canada happily confirms that old axiom, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Our streetscapes are decidedly more cosmopolitan than they were 25 years ago.