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Bloomington tends to be a conservative city, and historically its nightlife has reflected that leaning. However, in recent years, the city has been growing rapidly, and nightlife options have increased. Additionally, area colleges and universities have almost 30,000 students, so there are many establishments that cater to twenty-somethings, as well as a growing number of places for younger workers at several larger corporations that are headquartered in the area.
Although most of the university students are located in nearby Normal, that town is smaller and does not allow taverns (although there are several restaurants that seem like taverns late in the evening), so the two main nightlife districts are in Downtown Bloomington. Younger people tend to frequent taverns along a three-block stretch of North Main Street. That area is busiest after 10 p.m. on Thursdays-Fridays, and can be packed when the universities are in session. Several establishments in that area offer live music on the weekends.
Downtown has a second nightlife district about six blocks south, along Front Street extending into the museum square. This area is closer to the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, and establishments there tend to attract a slightly older crowd. After concerts and sporting events, the bars in this area can be crowded. Although there are some exceptions depending on the entertainment, this area tends to attract fewer college students. Between the two areas downtown, there are about 25-30 bars, clubs, and late-night restaurants that serve liquor. The downtown area is considered relatively safe, even at night. There are several well-lit parking garages in the downtown area that offer free parking after business hours, so it should not be necessary to walk more than 2-3 blocks at most. If you arrive earlier, there might even be some on-street spaces available.
There are a number of bars and restaurants located along the main commercial area of Veterans Parkway; however, they tend to be scattered along a 7-mile stretch rather than concentrated as they are downtown. There are also a few clubs, restaurant bars, hotel bars, and taverns, including neighborhood taverns, around the City of Bloomington. Some of these offer live music, especially on weekends.
There are two clubs that feature live comedy performances: the Treehouse Lounge at Veterans Parkway and Mercer Avenue, and the Funnybone on Washington Street in Downtown Bloomington. There is an off-track betting parlor located next to Swinger's Restaurant on the west side off Martin Luthur King Drive just north of the West Market Street hotel-restaurant district.
Most live music performances are rock and occasionally jazz. One country music venue is The Last Lap, which features some lesser-known Nashville performers and a large dance floor. The Last Lap is located on Wylie Drive just north of the West Market Street hotel-restaurant district, and is planning a second location called Six Strings in Downtown Bloomington.
Several sports bars feature multiple large -screen monitors and satellite broadcasts of sporting events. Buffalo Wild Wings near the airport and Show Mes in Downtown Bloomington are chain establishments that offer more extensive food menus and do not require customers to be 21 except later in the evening.
The drinking age in Illinois is 21. Underage people are not allowed in taverns, except when with a parent or legal guardian, but cannot consume alcohol in any case. Liquor laws in Bloomington allow the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink or by package starting at 7 a.m. each day except Sunday, when sales start at noon. Sales must end by 1 a.m. Monday through Friday mornings, and 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. There are no 4 a.m. licenses. It is illegal to carry an open container of alcoholic beverage out of a tavern, while on the street, or in the passenger area of a vehicle, and this is enforced.
Smoking is banned in indoor public places, including restaurants, taverns, pool halls, and bowling alleys, in both Bloomington and Normal, but not in rural areas of McLean County. Many establishments offer outdoor serving areas where smoking is allowed.
The college town area just east of the Illinois State University campus in Normal features a growing number of small, casual restaurants. One pub, Maggie Miley's, occasionally features live Irish music, and another, the Pub II, features live rock bands on weekends when the university is in session
Concerts featuring nationally-known performers are periodically scheduled at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts (both in Downtown Bloomington), and on the Illinois State University campus. Alcohol is served concerts and minor league sporting events at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum and at events at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts, but not at events at Illinois State University.
There are 55 motion-picture screens existing or under construction in Bloomington-Normal, including one mega-screen. There are several bowling alleys around Bloomington-Normal. Some bars feature pool tables, and Ride the Nine is a pool hall at 503 N. Prospect, just off East Empire Street, in east Bloomington.