Cumbrians love their peace and tranquility in the glorious scenery – but they know how to let their hair down, too. Nightlife comes in many forms across the county, but if you get the chance to check out one or more of Cumbria’s original music acts, please do – there is an abundance of talent here.
Carlisle, the only city in the county, is where most of the life is. The big names play The Sands Centre – its capacity is more than 1,500 and it attracts 750,000 customers each year. That’s including the people who come to play sports in the multi-use building, too. Theatre and variety shows mix on the schedule with stars of popular music, international orchestras, opera and ballet, and there is a steady flow of famous comedians, plus an ever-popular panto at Christmas.
Carlisle has a number of smaller venues for the more intimate show. The Brickyard is a live music venue with a capacity of 320, a great use of a century-old church hall.
The Old Fire Station is exactly what it says it is, and has been building a great reputation over recent years for its programme of live entertainment, from bands you loved as a teenager to cutting edge comedians and plays. It also gives a space to local artists, workshops and exhibitions.
The Venue is predominantly a large comedy club but has also staged everything from dance nights to wrestling. And The Source Collective is a good spot to enjoy local bands and singers, plus the occasional touring act, often for just a few pounds.
Nightlife comes in many forms across the county, but if you get the chance to check out one or more of Cumbria’s original music acts, please do – there is an abundance of talent here
Larger than life
Open Mind, in the city centre, stages singers and DJs in an intimate setting, free of charge. Next door to that is cabaret bar Outrageous, larger than life and occasionally attracting big names from the world of TV and music. Stanwix Arts Theatre is worth a visit – it is the main performance space for the Performing Arts courses at the University of Cumbria, and puts on more than 90 shows a year.
If you’re looking for nightclubs and bars, Carlisle’s Botchergate is still the street with the highest density, although others have opened around Devonshire Street and Lonsdale Street, and in the Historic Quarter.
Botchergate gets very lively on Friday and Saturday nights. The street is closed to traffic from 9pm to let party people wander from one side to the other, and back again, as they visit a number of bars and clubs. A right turn after walking out of the railway station, Botchergate opens with The Griffin pub on the right, a good place to watch live sport on TV, and a cracking little venue, Bar Solo, on the left. Travelling down the street from there, you’ll come across themed bars taking you back to the 70s, or to Australia, along with a few traditional pubs, restaurants and plenty of take-aways.
In Cockermouth, Kirkgate Arts is the town’s main after-hours venue, staging a varied programme of events in the 125-seat theatre, which also acts as a cinema and exhibition space.
The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal is a regular stop on the schedule of many a renowned touring musician, band or theatre company. There are two cinemas, a theatre, galleries and drama studio, not forgetting a welcome bar/restaurant. The Brewery has been the life and soul of Kendal for more than 40 years now, and it must be one of the most beautiful events venues, given the building and the location. It also hosts five major festivals each year, most notably the Kendal Mountain Festival, which is pulling in more and more people and performers from abroad.
If you’re looking for nightclubs and bars, Carlisle’s Botchergate is still the street with the highest density, although others have opened around Devonshire Street and Lonsdale Street, and in the Historic Quarter
Top notch gigs
The people of Kendal are spoiled when it comes to buzzing live music venues. Bootleggers puts on top notch gigs every Thursday, Friday and Sunday, plus other gigs throughout the year. There is also a DJ every Saturday night.
In Workington, the Carnegie Theatre and Monroe’s Bar have become a mecca for rock acts. There are a lot of rock fans in West Cumbria, for some reason, but it means the gigs are well-attended. Many plays are also staged at the Carnegie, as well as other touring acts. A lot of people appreciate the fact that this is a real theatre, built in the Edwardian era. It always adds a bit of drama.
The Forum is Barrow’s premier nightlife venue. Again, it puts on a wide and varied programme of music, comedy, theatre, children’s and amateur events – as well as films.
A larger capacity can be found at the Coronation Hall in nearby Ulverston – a real community venue by day which can really put on a show at night. Affectionately called “The Coro”, the venue has been improved considerably with the help of local council and National Lottery funding. The Loft is Keswick’s main late night/early hours venue, with its resident DJs and themed nights.
Many pubs and bars in the region have become regular music venues, among them the Brook Inn, Cleator; Howard Arms, Brampton; and The Navy Club and Captain Nelson Tavern in Maryport.
The venues in Workington have become a mecca for rock acts. There are a lot of rock fans in West Cumbria, for some reason, but it means the gigs are well-attended
Lively night spots
The Old Dungeon Ghyll at Great Langdale, near Ambleside, has live music several times a week, while The Lily in Ambleside has live music most nights of the week. They love showing off local talent.
The whitewashed Britannia Inn in Elterwater stages bands and singers, as well as its own annual beer festival. The Druids Arms is one of the oldest pubs in Penrith and is well known for its gigs, particularly rock nights. Pubs don’t have to serve up live music to be lively night spots, of course, and wherever you travel in the county, you’ll find the pub is the hub for locals and visitors alike, making for great atmospheres.
The Black Bull Inn gets lively at weekends, and that’s in the sedate village of Coniston. It serves great beers, including its own Bluebird Bitter and Old Man Ales.
If you fancy a night out in Penrith (and remember, you’re on the West Coast Main Line there so there may be a late train to Carlisle or Oxenholme), there are several places worth checking out.
The Lowther Arms is a traditional pub in the town centre, also offering food alongside a good selection of drinks, while The Lounge Hotel and Bar has an extensive wine selection, plus cocktails, spirits and beers from across the world.
Pubs don’t have to serve up live music to be lively night spots, of course, and wherever you travel in the county, you’ll find the pub is the hub for locals and visitors alike, making for great atmospheres
The Board & Elbow is known as a friendly pub for locals, but they’ll welcome everyone there. It’s a single room but there is zoned lighting and music.
The General Wolfe is a fine eatery but the venue is better known for its karaoke and theme nights, and its party atmosphere.
The Warehouse is the big one, with five bars, state-of-the-art lighting systems, a Karaoke Pod, live bands and even exclusive VIP booths.
In Ulverston, The Hope and Anchor is one of the main live music pubs, coming highly recommended by the musicians who play there, as well as the punters. And down the road in Dalton-in-Furness, the Black Bull gives regular opportunities to live bands and DJs.
Head further south to Barrow for a barrel of laughs at The Duke of Comedy, a club run from The Vaults at the Duke of Edinburgh. There are two comedy nights each month. On the first Thursday it’s new acts and rising stars. On the third Thursday of each month it’s pro night with a great headliner. The Barrow Arms in Cavendish Street is also a good night out. The karaoke machine is often on, if that’s your thing.
Cinema fans have a great choice in the Lake District and Cumbria, if you’re prepared to travel for what you want. First there are the big cinemas showing the major releases. Vue in Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness have the movie-and-munchies, night-at-the-cinema experience on offer, with the ability to show films in 3D as well. Most of the mainstream movies will be shown on these screens.
Cinema fans have a great choice in the Lake District and Cumbria, if you’re prepared to travel for what you want. First there are the big cinemas showing the major releases
Movie and munchies
Rheged, near Penrith, has a huge 3D screen, the biggest for miles around. Check out the schedule for recent releases and classics like you’ve never seen them before.
The Lonsdale Alhambra Cinema in Penrith has just two screens but does attract many new releases, plus live screenings of events like National Theatre plays and live New York MET opera.
It’s a similar set-up in Keswick at the Alhambra Cinema. This is a theatre-style cinema with a balcony, perfect for watching those mainstream blockbusters.
The Plaza at Workington is an independent multiplex screening the latest big releases, plus arthouse film shows on Wednesdays.
Zefferelli’s in Ambleside also shows selected Art House films and has long been a favourite place to catch a movie. Maybe it’s something to do with the authentic Italian restaurant attached, or the live jazz music it puts on.
The Royalty Cinema in Windermere is a modernised three-screen cinema, but it still retains its stunning architecture and Wurlitzer organ.
Whitehaven offers The Gaiety – one big screen, which is all you ever need at one time. And Ulverston boasts the Roxy Cinema, showing current releases, classics and arthouse movies.
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