A sleepy little state? Hardly Take a quick tour of Manchester, Nashua, Keene, Portsmouth and Plymouth to get a sampling of the after-dark adventure that awaits night owls around the state. You can start with a nice meal or appetizers at the bar of a hip restaurant, move on to a venue with entertainment and finally get a late night snack. We’ve barely scratched the surface, but part of the fun of New Hampshire’s nightlife is in discovering bright new places to go. To do that, first you need to head out into the dark.PortsmouthIt might be officially nicknamed the Port City, but one might also dub Portsmouth the Eat, Drink and Be Merry City. The quaint harborside town vies for the distinction of having the most restaurants per capita, so there is no shortage of options for a night out.Start the EveningDining becomes an adventure in Portsmouth, whether you choose the local flavors of Four on State Street or the cozy intimacy of Cava Tapas and Wine Bar on Commercial Alley (Kitchen open until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays). The latter features an open kitchen where diners can watch their creations come together. The former (named for the French word for “oven”) presents a steakhouse menu and four-course fixed price menu. The Brazo Restaurant on Pleasant Street heats up the restaurant scene with Latin and South American cuisine and lively Cuban, Spanish and Latin music.A little music from the baby grand piano goes well with a Friday or Saturday night dinner at Rudi’s, 20 High St. Here you can stay long into the night after the dishes are cleared — Rudi’s also boasts a late night bar and lounge. Piano and fine dining is also the recipe at the Oar House, 55 Ceres St., which is seated at the edge of the city’s old harbor. Fresh seafood is on the menu all year, and deck seating provides a fabulous water view in the warmer weather. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.At the edge of downtown the Blue Mermaid Island Grill, 409 High St., (Kitchen open until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays) combines Caribbean flavors and live entertainment. Come for live pub trivia on Monday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., or enjoy a rockgrass, funk and soul from local bands such as Elizabeth Lorrey, Todo Bien or Dan Blakeslee.Dolphin Striker, 15 Bow St., serves New England comfort food topped off with a healthy portion of folk, blues and rock. Find an eclectic menu of local musicians such as fiddler Joyce Andersen, local blues legend TJ Wheeler and the soul-tinged rock of Dave Gerard in the restaurant’s Spring Hill Tavern. The kitchen here also extends hours until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and offers a lighter fare menu until 11 p.m.Keep the Party GoingThe Red Door, 107 State St., is marked only by a bright red door leading out onto the avenue. The dimly lit lounge and martini bar is a mecca for hipsters. Some are drawn to the dreamy Hush Hush Sweet Harlot series on Monday nights, which features intimate musical performances by artists such as Lucy Wainwright, Elsa Cross and John Nolan. Local DJs spin tunes Tuesday through Saturday.While The Red Door is mellow and cool, Ri Ra on Market Square is raucous and rowdy. The Irish pub features refurbished marble floors showcasing the building’s past as a bank and boasts an impressive carved wooden bar. The acoustics make it a bit loud at night for conversation, but when the live Celtic music is reeling, there is no need for small talk.Music is perhaps the major focus at The Press Room, 77 Daniel St., where each night of the week brings entertainment by local jazz, folk, R&B, Latin jazz and blues artists. The bulk of the menu is devoted to wraps, sandwiches, burgers and salads, as well as a hefty selection of pub fare appetizers — as unpretentious as the easygoing atmosphere. Tuesday through Sunday the kitchen stays open until 11 p.m., though the festivities don’t stop until 1 a.m. Expect nothing but the best in local music, with familiar tunesmiths such as Shagbark, Larry Garland and Truffle taking the stage.Late, Late-night bitesWhile the best place to drink or dine is up for debate, the king of late-night fare in Portsmouth is unquestionably Gilley’s PM Lunch, 175 Fleet St., which is open until 2:30 a.m. most nights. The dining car has been a fixture at its current location since 1974, serving hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and fries to the evening’s worn out and hungry revelers.ManchesterAgainst a backdrop of the red brick mills, the Queen City’s nightlife has kicked it up over the last several years, welcoming a bevy of new businesses that thrive when the sun goes down.Start the EveningFine dining is perhaps at its finest at the Mint Bistro on Elm Street, which designs many of its dishes around seasonal ingredients and serves them in a warm, friendly and decidedly sophisticated setting. Chefs George Bezanson and Michael Dussault’s fusion fare is intended to be savored, so each culinary influence is enjoyed to the fullest. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. with a late night menu until 11 p.m. Fri.–Sat. The bar is open until 1 a.m.Relative newcomer XO on Elm Street has already made its mark on the downtown scene, as well. Offering metropolitan nouveau cuisine with a New England flair, like Shrimp and Brie Crostini, Potato Croquettes and Grilled Vegetable Napolean served on crisp white linens and dinnerware. The thoroughly modern restaurant cheekily adds an “XO” signature to everything from its soup to the foam in its cappuccino. Enjoy food and drinks on Friday and Saturday night until 1 a.m.Firefly American Bistro & Bar on Concord Street has become a destination for inventive cocktails like the Blood Orange Cosmo and Chamomile Teani. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., and the bar and lounge stay open until midnight.Tucked away from the crowds on Elm Street, the Commercial Street Fishery is an unexpected delight of savory seafood in a cool, funky atmosphere. The restaurant is situated in a former mill building, a quick walk from Merchantsauto.com Stadium, where the Fisher Cats play in warmer weather. Chef Justin Lyonnais adds his distinctive creative spark to seafood classics.But CSF isn’t the only game in town when it comes to hip restaurants in the city’s former mills. Situated on Arms Park Drive, Cotton’s chef Jeffrey Paige puts a twist on comfort food with offerings like Retro Meatloaf and Buttermilk Herb Fried Chicken. The portions at Cotton are generous and the drinks — served from a blue-lit bar — are inventively divine. In warmer weather, patrons can dine on a patio shaded by grapevines and lit by twinkling white lights. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.Brick-oven-fired pizza and cold beer mix with live music at 900 Degrees, 50 Dow St. The pizzeria hosts a trio of acoustic artists on Tuesday nights and a blues jam every Sunday night.The Shaskeen, 909 Elm St., blends the food, flavor and beer selection of a traditional Irish pub with the festive air of live music. The front bar keeps in step with the Celtic atmosphere, offering traditional tunes and jam sessions. The back room features an ever-changing lineup of area musicians on the weekends. The Shaskeen even schedules occasional open-mic comedy nights to break up the week.Keep the Party GoingFor a bit of blues with your beverage, nothing beats the everybody-knows-your-name collegial atmosphere of the Strange Brew Tavern, 88 Market St., where the only thing more extensive than the draft list is the list of performers on its calendar. Weekly blues jams and regular appearances by well-loved local musicians, such as the Les Moore Trio, Lex Romaine and Howard Randall heat up the Brew on even the coldest winter evening.Penuche’s Grill, 96 Hanover St., provides pool tables and dart boards to keep patrons occupied when live local bands are not tearing up the club. A weekly trivia contest (and the famous fried pickles) also brings a loyal following.Comics come home to Boynton’s Taproom, 155 Dow St. Are comedians such as Greg Boggis, Brad Mastrangelo and Mark Bedard let the witticisms fly. The recently opened venue also features live music once a month. Catch The Push Stars’ Chris Trapper in a solo gig there this February.Late-night bitesAs the only 24-hour diner in town, Red Arrow has been feeding late-night revelers for almost a century, filling them with homemade Twinkie-like snack cakes called “Dinah’s fingers,” juicy burgers and blue-plate specials. The line on Lowell Street is almost always out the door, while hungry patrons await a free table or perch at the long counter.Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., has joined the late-night game, keeping its kitchen open until 1 a.m. serving pub fare and twists on Celtic classics alongside any of the bar’s 24 drafts on tap. Live music and comedy keep the joint jumping most nights.NashuaAlthough only an hour from the bright lights of Boston, the Gate City offers an array of big-city dining options closer to home. Restaurants in Nashua are a featured attraction, but only one ingredient in a night out.Start the nightTucked off the main strip, the Black Orchid Grille, 8 Temple St., keeps fresh and local at the heart of its menu of new American cuisine, such as Local Georges Bank Cod in Parchment and Crispy Duck Breast with Confit Leg. Live music greets guests on Fridays and Saturdays (dinner is served until 10 p.m. those nights), and monthly wine and martini sampling evenings bring customers back again and again.Understated elegance is the theme at chef Michael Buckley’s Michael Timothy’s Urban Bistro, 212 Main St. One of the first standard-setting restaurants in Nashua’s dining scene, it offers gold-star service for a truly fine dining experience and an extensive wine list by the glass.Dinner and drinks are the main attraction for some Nashua locales. Master mixologist Jared Bracci keeps the creative cocktails flowing at Stella Blu on East Pearl Street, specializing in hot drinks to warm up the winter crowd. The imaginative tapas menu draws inspiration from Italy, Asia, the Latin Quarter and all-American flavors. Open until midnight Tuesday–Saturday.About a block away, the vast windows of Unums overlook East Pearl Street. Inside, patrons may also opt to try one of the restaurant’s signature drinks, such as the Pearfect Storm or the Blueberry Basil Old-fashioned while partaking of Executive Chef Constantine Brianas’ mad-genius culinary concoctions of fresh, local ingredients. The kitchen may close at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, but no one’s kicked out until the evening is done.That’s entertainmentThe barely year-old Studio 99 boasts live music or spoken-word performances almost every night of the week in its brand new Main Street location. Concerts are reasonably priced from $5 to $12, and audiences at the art space’s acoustic, bluegrass and jazz jams attend free.Owner Elise MacDonald, a talented multi-instrumentalist in her own right, aims to create a space where listening is the priority. The venue serves nothing stronger than coffee, but brings in a wide variety of genres and acts to discuss over a late-night drink at a neighboring establishment. Recent performers have included Spider John Koerner, Ameranouche and Sit Down Baby!The music continues to flow at The Peddler’s Daughter on Main Street, an authentic-style Irish pub known for its 18 draft beers, live music and Celtic inspired (if not always strictly traditional) meals. A highly competitive trivia contest heats up every Tuesday night and Wednesday brings the Guinness-soaked music of Revels Glen.Late-night bitesLive music is also often on tap into the evening at the mighty Nashua Garden, a two-level Main Street mainstay that serves beer and fat, Boar’s Head deli meat sandwiches amid eclectic décor of primarily sports memorabilia.ConcordBeneath the glittering dome of the Statehouse, nightlife bustles and hums in Concord. The political business of the day gives way to the gentler pursuits of good food, good music and good times.Start the nightAsian cuisine also takes center stage at Ichiban Japanese Steak House, 118 Manchester St., which marries Art Deco elements with Japanese concepts in a singular dining experience. In addition to sporting an impressive selection of sushi, the restaurant’s hibachi chefs cook up their own entertainment with your meal. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.Hermano’s Mexican Cocina, 11 Hills Ave., serves an eclectic combination of jazz and Latin cuisine on Sundays-Thursdays. Live bands in the lounge on Saturday night complement the venue’s spicy menu. The restaurant and lounge are open until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.Unwinding is a pleasure at the Granite Restaurant and Bar at The Centennial. The tastes of the Caribbean and Pacific Rim meld with Latin flavors in an atmosphere that feels as if it fell out of Manhattan and landed on Pleasant Street. Chef Matt Lee earns praise for his skill at preparing vegan and vegetarian options that move beyond pasta and vegetables. Even a simple cheese plate with a glass of Albariño becomes a memorable event. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.Lingering over dinner is encouraged Sunny’s Table, 11 Depot St. The eclectic menu adds an Asian twist to most of its items. A locavore’s dream, one of the restaurant’s key decorations is a chalkboard above the kitchen entrance that touts the origins of many key ingredients, including Butter’s Fine Food and Wine, Bread and Chocolate bakery and White Mountain coffee. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. Fri.–Sat.Keep the Party GoingThe Green Martini Restaurant and Lounge, 6 Pleasant St. Extension, is a popular hangout open seven days a week, with live entertainment scheduled Wednesday-Sunday. An acoustic open mic gives local musicians a stage on Wednesdays and Thursdays, while Friday and Saturday brings in acoustic artists such as Crazy Chester or the Shady Rill Band. The Pleasant Street restaurant serves primarily pub fare until 10 p.m. Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, while the bar portion is open until 1 daily.Perhaps no nighttime destination is as well known and loved as the Barley House, 132 N. Main St. Beer and hard cider is on tap at street level, where the live music plays to crowds jammed on the dance floor. The popular establishment also offers weekly pub trivia contests and “Barleyoke,” its own take on karaoke. Couches, pool tables and a second bar on the lower level cater to the patrons who want to sip a pint, shoot pool and enjoy each other’s conversation.Late-night bitesDos Amigos, 26 N. Main St., is a good bet for late-night eating. The restaurant, which makes made-to-order burritos with fresh ingredients, is open until 10 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 11 p.m. Thursdays and 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Generous portions and reasonable prices provide a tasty coda to a night of revelry. The local chain is also found on Central Avenue in Dover and its original home on State Street in Portsmouth.PlymouthRecently named one of National Geographic’s 50 great adventure towns in the United States, Plymouth is a hub of recreation. When it’s time to put away the climbing gear and skis for the evening, the funky college town hops.Start the nightFor an intimate meal, the Six Burner Bistro on Main Street cooks up delectable homemade treats such as lobster macaroni and cheese on its ever-changing dinner menu. Whatever chef Rob Kelley is cooking up in the kitchen, you can bet it is made fresh, with local ingredients. The cozy red dining room is an added plus. Don’t forget your favorite wine — this bistro is BYOB.The Common Man family of restaurants provides three popular nighttime destinations — The Italian Farmhouse and Foster’s Boiler Room in Plymouth, and the flagship Common Man in Ashland. In Ashland, comfort food is always on the menu, served in the cozy bar and grill where guests can relax on comfy couches in front of a wood stove and play games — Lighter fare is served until 11 p.m. in the Bar ‘n Grill. In Plymouth, the familiar American fare can be enjoyed by the fireplace in the Boiler Room Lounge. Brick-oven pizza and classic Italian favorites like chicken Parmesan are served in the rustic Italian Farmhouse.That’s entertainmentPlymouth State University’s Silver Center for the Arts frequently features the college’s students in ensemble performances, as well as music by guest artists, such as Natraj, the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Canadian singer John McDermott. Free readings by internationally renowned writers take place as part of the Eagle Pond Authors’ Series, which began in 1998. Galway Kinnell and Oni Buchanan are slated to read in the Smith Recital Hall this spring.Plymouth’s bar scene doesn’t get better than at the Lucky Dog Tavern and Grill, a two-level landmark on Main Street with a casual restaurant upstairs and “The Pound,” a downstairs tavern featuring pool and HDTVs. DJs spin tracks for a mix of college students, year-round residents and visitors can shake their moneymakers or listen to live music.Late-night bitesLate-night snacking can be satisfied by the appropriately named Late Night Pizza and Subs on Main Street, where hungry bar hoppers can grab a slice until 1 or 2 a.m., depending on the night and the demand.Peterborough and KeeneBest known for its annual record-breaking pumpkin extravaganza, the Elm City and surrounding area have plenty of options all year to keep locals and visitors busy at night.Start the nightLive music is a major part of the menu at Armadillo’s Burritos, 82 Main St., Keene. In addition to its tasty hand-rolled, build-your-own burritos, the restaurant hosts tunesmiths such as Catie Curtis, Mark Erelli, Brooks Williams and lesser-known talented newcomers in concerts every weekend. The kitchen is open until 10 p.m., unless a band is playing — then the kitchen closes at 9 p.m., but they remain open until 1 a.m.In nearby Peterborough, Harlow’s Pub, 3 School St., combines a hefty schedule of folk, rock, blues and bluegrass with hearty sandwiches and succulent dinner specials. Locals pack the pub on Friday and Saturday nights for the food, music and friends. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m., but last call depends on how large the crowd is — on weekends it often goes until 12:30 a.m.That’s entertainmentAlmost every visitor downtown sees the sparkling marquee of the Colonial Theatre overlooking Main Street. January concerts ahead include singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile and the rock-funk-boogie of Little Feat. But another bright spot downtown is The Starving Artists Collective, 10 West St. In addition to monthly gallery exhibits, the space brings in poets and musicians for intimate performances, and hosts the occasional dance workshop. Past featured performers include 2009 New Hampshire Poet Laureate Walter Butts, The Alternate Routes and Horse Feathers.Mixing music with paninis, burgers, imported beer and, of course, fries is Fritz Belgian Fries, 45 Main St. The popular downtown joint hosts live music on Fridays and will bring back its famous open mic nights in 2010.Late-night bitesIf you’d rather shoot pool or play some foosball into the wee hours, the pub charm of Lab N’ Lager on Main Street in Keene is tough to beat. It’s open until 1 a.m.
This article appears in the January 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine