“When that evening sun goes down, yeah, you’ll find me hangin’ around. Because the night life, it ain’t no good life. But it’s my life.” ~ Willie Nelson
Is there any chance that Willie Nelson ever waxed lyrical about Eugene’s nightlife?
For a blink in time, there were those storied episodes of after-hours naughtiness during the Animal House era, when John Belushi lit up the stage at the Eugene Hotel. And the decades since have certainly seen a fair number of classic, late-night clubs and grand entertainment venues come (and go). Toss in a smattering of all-night, underground, pop-up dance parties that still survive (occasionally) in west Eugene warehouses. Or the champagne-imbued, tux-and-gown evenings that sometimes play a coda to big-name performances at the Hult. All are legitimate, textbook examples of nightlife in Eugene.
But truth be told, history and current events suggest that when it comes to neon splash, a celebrity-caliber club scene, and Hollywood-style parties that bump and shimmy into the early dawn, well, Eugene is rather small potatoes.
Small potatoes, however, can make for rather tasty, late-night nourishment.
Laugh it off
Fans of the funny bone celebrate Eugene as a community of comic riches. Stand-up comedy, skit comedy, comic burlesque acts, and touring professional comedians can be found most any night of the week—there’s opportunity for plenty of public belly laughs.
Leigh Anne Jasheway, a local comedy writer and performer, is a well-known mover and shaker on the local scene. Her weekly shows at Sam Bond’s Garage, for example, feature comedy workouts that rotate open-mic showcases with curated stand-up acts and improv performances.
There are also open-mic shows at a host of other venues: The Green Room at Joggers, The Wandering Goat, Luckey’s Club, Old Nick’s Pub, and Blind Pig Bar and Grill. The Brickwall Comedy Club features stand-up competitions, local comic showcases, and touring professional acts. And even the UO Stand-Up Society provides open-mic nights and other comedy events on and around campus.
Carry a tune
Eugene after dark is very karaoke friendly. It offers plenty of opportunities for showcasing even the most modest vocal talents. And if you can’t muster the moxie to step into the limelight, there’s still a lot to be said for sharing a night of songs sung on stage by friends and neighbors.
The list of local bars that host karaoke nights is impressive. At the moment, venues include The Cooler, Black Forest, The Barn Light, Driftwood Bar, Happy Hours, Doc’s Pad. . . . Crowd tastes vary from place to place. Some lean toward contemporary pop songs; others favor golden oldies. Many places—for example, Cornucopia and Agate Alley—attract a cozy family of regulars; other places cater to specialty crowds, like Izakaya Meiji’s cowboy karaoke fans or El Tapatio’s latin music lovers.
Dance without the stars
So you think you can dance? Or you dance like nobody is watching? There’s hardly a shortage of possibilities in Eugene after dark.
The HiFi Music Hall and WOW Hall are pretty much sure things, their emphasis tending toward hip hop and contemporary, beat-driven band sounds. If blues or funk fills your groove, you’ll likely find the dance floor at Mac’s at The Vets to your liking. Other possibilities include a potpourri of danceable rock shows at Luckey’s, Sam Bond’s, Old Nick’s Pub, Whirled Pies, or the Black Forest.
On the other hand, Eugene has several mainstay DJ dance venues that guarantee the rhythm is gonna get you. They offer the full dance club experience: disco lighting, rumbling beats, body friction, and liquid libations. Seekers of hot, sweaty joy meet up at Cowfish, The Davis, Level Up Arcade, Wayward Lamb, Old Nick’s, and a few other spots most weekends and on the occasional weeknight.
The upstairs hall at the Vets Club lounge is the place for salsa, tango, and swing fans. And Dunn School out on Willamette Street is the Saturday night home of folksy dancers, mostly of the Contra style.
Play some games
Take a chance, toss the dice. Eugene after dark includes a curious mixture of social games, board games, arcade games, and small-time casino action.
The popularity of video and arcade games has embedded itself in Eugene’s nightclub scene. Level Up Arcade, for example, offers a hybrid mix of alcohol, social intercourse, music, dance, and stand-up video and arcade games. Blairally Vintage Arcade holds much the same appeal for the music and party crowd—though its banks of vintage arcade games hold greater favor among blue-collar patrons. The Shoryuken League’s downtown regulars lean less toward dance music and more toward beer and geekery.
Bingo anybody? Sam Bond’s rotates the cage of numbers for enthusiastic Monday night crowds. Cheap drinks, cheap talk, and cheap thrills rule the evening.
Weekly trivia contests? How about the Geeks Who Drink competitions at the Wayward Lamb? This involves general knowledge and audio questions for individuals and teams competing against other pubs across the country. Or the Elliot Martinez Tuesday night trivia shows at Blairally? The events are modeled after ’70s-era TV game shows complete with vintage costumes and props. And amazing prizes.
Just looking for lower-key trivia games? Check out the schedule for New Max’s Tavern, 16 Tons, Rennie’s Landing, The Starlight, First National Taphouse, Highlands Brew Pub, and others.
Pick a place
Nightlife itineraries can often be serendipitous. If your taste in nighttime fun runs eclectic, there’s a literal handful of venues that, taken together, have the potential to turn an uncharted night on the town into something special.
When it comes to live music smorgasbords, Sam Bond’s Garage plays to a variety of tastes. Touring bands and local talent rotate through Sam Bond’s seven days a week—but the club’s schedule also boasts popular Irish music jams and blues jams weekly on fixed days.
Whirled Pies’ live music offerings are equally diverse, and the shop’s early evening music series is a great companion to a pizza dinner. Arrive later in the night and you might catch anything from Middle Eastern dance to magic shows to the OMSI Science Pub to a Hawaiian ukulele jam session.
Old Nick’s music menu tends toward edgier sounds like punk, goth, and metal—but the historic pub also caters to fans of reggae, ska, and other Caribbean dance hall styles. Toss in “scary movie” screenings, vaudeville and circus-style performers, and the popular Gong Show variety nights and you’ve got plenty of reasons to expect some offbeat fun.
The Wayward Lamb has created a niche for itself with its schedule of locally unique entertainment, including Glamateur Hour (“Queens, games, and more!”) and Friday night Glamazons drag shows. Other attractions include the weekly Lip Sync Battles and Black Rainbow dance party.
Yes, Blairally Vintage Arcade features vintage arcade games and action that includes “Pinball Knights” competitions and women’s “Belles & Chime” tourneys. But the arcade has also been tagged Rip City South for its rousing, big-screen Blazer basketball events. And true to its nostalgic ambiance, the arcade regularly hosts “Church of the ’80s” get-togethers and weekly “Soft Rock” dances featuring the band Candy Apple Bleu.
Izakaya Oyazi has live music and DJ offerings Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. You can find jazz music during the dinner hour (5 pm to 9 pm), and DJ beats from 10 pm to close. A happy hour menu is offered 9 pm to 11 pm.
Go uptown downtown
Never let it be said that Eugene after dark dares not embrace lifestyles of the rich and famous. The Hult Center for the Performing Arts is a grand resource for sophisticated, world-class entertainment, including the likes of local opera, ballet, and symphony performances. Jazz and classical music are savored in many local settings. The UO School of Music and Dance produces an amazing range of evening musical performances on campus. And attendance at the Shedd, the Wildish, or even the Matthew Knight Arena often inspires a taste for the better life.
Fancy cocktails in the center of the city. Sublime appetizers and desserts near the downtown mall. Izakaya dining in the Whiteaker or Market districts. Four-star meals on the north, south, east, and west ends of the city, in vineyard settings, or a stone’s throw from the rivers. . . . They all play to the finer tastes that often surface in Eugene after dark.
It’s all part of the glow of the Emerald City.