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Bring on the night

The sun’s setting on another beautiful, breezy day on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, and the glitter along Casino Row and beyond is lighting up the darkening sky, signaling that the nighttime tempo is kicking in along the Boulevard.

It’s a great night to take it all in, so guss up, hop in and let’s take a ride. The Boulevard beat is calling.

At Watson’s Piano Bar in the heart of downtown Gulfport, soft music is playing as friends gather on plush sofas. In the center of the bar, a couple lounge at a small table, occasionally turning their attention from one another to focus on the piano player, who is softly tickling the ivories of a baby grand in the corner.

Watson’s is a slice of London — with everything but the fog. Merlot- and cider-colored walls are adorned with cricket gear, kerosene lamps and artwork depicting British icons Winston Churchill and The Beatles. Need to phone home to the States? There’s even a working 1950s-era London telephone booth.

In keeping with the British theme, loungers mix do-it-yourself Bloody Marys. With a shot of vodka in a glass, they complete their drink with a veritable buffet of mixes and garnishments. Let’s cap ours with Zing Zang, a pearl onion, three spicy green beans, a garlic-stuffed olive and a kosher pickle spear. It doesn’t hurt to try new things.

One might think the bar’s name is a reference to the British sleuthing sidekick of Sherlock Holmes, but it is actually named for owner Donald Welch’s dog. Watson is a wire-haired Dachshund-terrier mix whose image is engraved in the mirror behind the bar and imposed on the body of Ringo Starr in a Beatles picture altered by local artist Marty Wilson.

As we finish the last sip of our Bloody Mary, we make a note to come back next week for Little Black Dress Night — an evening when any woman wearing a “little black dress” (the name of the house wine served at Watson’s) can drink free from 7-10 p.m.

Welch says the bar has seen impressive turnouts since opening in October 2009. He attributes the attraction to the smoke-free environment and an atmosphere that remains quiet and relaxing even when the bar has reached capacity.

OK, time to hit the road. There’s a “little” place in D’Iberville that I’d like for you to see. You’re driving, right?Just across Biloxi Bay is Guitars & Cadillacs, a bar so big that one might expect to find it in Dallas rather than D’Iberville.

Guitars & Cadillacs stakes claim to being the Coast’s largest nightclub, utilizing 16,000 square feet of a former grocery store. As we walk inside, guys and gals are stretched across the spacious dance floor as they kick their heels and swagger their way through a lively line dance. Some of the dancers have obviously perfected their moves, while others are trying to keep up, but with free dance lessons offered on Friday nights, anyone can overcome their fear of joining the rolling motion on the dance floor.

Yes, it’s a little bit country, but you won’t find saw-dust covered floors at Guitars & Cadillacs. In fact, it’s top-notch decor with a large stage that has hosted live acts from rock to rap. Greg Miller, general manager, says the club’s goal is to offer the best to everyone.

“It’s part of trying to be the largest, nicest, best nightclub on the Coast, something where everybody from any race and any genre can go out and have a good time without any trouble,” Miller says.

With almost 400 feet of bars lining the perimeter and ample service, bellying up to the bar has never been easier.While we’re nearby, let’s head to Ocean Springs for something a little different. I could go for a light meal and a fine wine right about now.

At Maisano’s By The Glass in Ocean Springs, light jazz plays over the sound system as we enter a cozy setting that is made even warmer with a welcoming smile from the bartender.

Right away, the bartender can tell that my tastes are expensive, but my wallet is light. Luckily, Maisano’s uses a preservation system that prevents opened bottles of wine from being exposed to oxygen, allowing expensive bottles to be sold by the ounce or glass. Prices range from $1 to $10 per ounce, so we can both taste a $100 wine without making a visit to the ATM. The wines offered tonight are different than the ones on the menu the last time I came. A helpful staff member tells me that selected wines change every six weeks.

Not in the mood for wine? Maisano’s offers exceptional liquors as well, including more than a dozen single-malt scotches, eight small-batch bourbons and a selection of cordials. Ah, but we came for a bit of food, didn’t we? It’s hard to choose one thing from the menu, so we finally select one of the fresh dough flatbreads and a roast pork tenderloin with a bourbon-cider glaze. Now that we’ve dazzled our palates with fine delights, let’s liven up.Further down Beach Boulevard in Ocean Springs, the dance club Wolf Moon is inconspicuously tucked away in a strip mall.

Walking through the doors, we find action taking place at the pool tables, and the sound system is pumping out something that is new to my ears. Is it Latino, salsa, bachata, reggaeton, cumbia or merengue? Lively is what it is, and the dance floor is smoking with action accordingly. Making our way through the crowd, we spy an empty seat in the tiered seating area on the edge of the dance floor. Nearby, a large screen syncs music videos to the dance tunes. It looks like we’ve scored the perfect spot for immersing ourselves in the scene.

Since opening in April 2009, owners Cesar and Sandra Rodriquez have offered many different attractions, including free salsa lessons and various shows and competitions, including local music acts. Sandra says the diversity in culture is one of the bar’s greatest draws.

“We’re the only nightclub that has salsa and bachata and more, and so many military personnel bring their significant others who are from other countries to enjoy the music,” she says. “We draw visitors from Mobile to Hattiesburg to New Orleans.”

Speaking of dancing, a night out certainly would be incomplete without enjoying the neon and pulsating rhythms of casino action on the Boulevard.

Walking into Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi always feels special, and tonight is no exception as we walk past the walls of displayed music memorabilia. Tonight our destination is not the blackjack tables or a concert; tonight we are checking out two bars under the same roof that rival each other in popularity while contrasting in style. Making our way to the gaming floor, we walk up the ramp to The Center Bar, where couples are mingling, relaxing and drinking as a four-piece group plays low-key tunes at the edge of the venue. What is so cool about the Center Bar is the openness of the area and the ease offered as we maneuver through the crowd.

See anyone you know? Don’t worry; there are friends we haven’t met yet all over this place.

Right next door at Beau Rivage is another great spot for live music. At Coast, guys and girls have come to dance, and tonight is a good night for it. As is standard for Coast, the entertainment is high quality — Pop Vinyl is in town from Los Angeles, and the singer and players are banging out hit after hit from the 1970s and 1980s, and occasionally beyond, in grand style.

If you didn’t come to dance, you might find a cubbyhole along the exterior wall, but Coast is a premier spot for lively action with quality entertainment, so don’t stand idle for too long. You have to appreciate the capacity dance floor, extensive lighting and quality sound system. Oh, and just when the band takes its due break, there’s a DJ and go-go dancers to fill the musical and visual gap until its return. What a great spot!

From Biloxi, we step away into the glitz of Bay St. Louis’ newest nightspot, the Stage Bar at Hollywood Casino.

The Stage Bar fits into the casino’s Hollywood theme with lots of neon and tasteful accent lighting. It is a great place to wind down for the evening over a cocktail. We’re told we missed a great show by local jazz great Pete Fountain, but the good news is he’ll be back in a few days for a repeat performance.

We’ve wandered into the wee hours of Saturday morning already. With so much to do on the Gulf Coast, one night just isn’t enough.

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