Surprisingly, there are only a handful of places in town that provide a great live music experience—Common Grounds is the best of these. It’s a rather large venue (350 or so people can squeeze in there) and attracts quality, high-caliber, nationally renowned, and touring bands although there are plenty of great local bands who play there as well. The stage is deep, wide, and high: accessible to fans and perfectly suited for stage diving. I have had varying experiences regarding sound quality; perhaps this is expected due to the wild diversity of musical styles performed there, e.g. Vallient Thorr vs. the Cool Kids. On average, the sound is clear and well-mixed with vocals generally out front making lyrics at least mildly discernable—a rarity at most local music venues. Because Common Grounds consistently provides quality live music, it is one of two places in town (the Atlantic is the other) that I would consider going to a show on a whim, having never heard of the bands. There is a very real possibility that the show will be awful, but compared to every other venue in town, chances are far better that it will be at least a mildly enjoyable experience.
The crowd is reliably trendy due to a permanent installation of regulars, so be sure to wear your skinny jeans and black tee shirt; however, there is often a good mix of folks depending upon who is performing. The bar proudly does not serve Budweiser products—a service for which I, personally, and grateful. Unfortunately, the PBR flows so freely there that they may as well be serving Bud Light. Common Grounds does provide full liquor options; I ordered a Manhattan once and the bartender lit up, shocked that I was ordering a Manhattan amid the scenesters slavishly opting for PBR and well-whiskey and diet coke. She (the bartender) informed me that the Manhattan was her specialty drink and that no one had ever before ordered one from her at Common Grounds. It was one of the best Manhattans I had in a long time. I have not since been able to locate that bartender and duplicate my experience, and the other bartenders are quite mediocre Manhattan mixers, so I can’t fully recommend making the order, but maybe it’s worth the risk. Keep in mind that there is a $10.00 limit on credit cards, so if you’re just ordering a beer and plan on paying with a card, you may have to buy a round of Jameson shots for the bar in order to close out your tab.
Common Grounds possesses a secret weapon that is unique among Gainesville venues—The Porch. Sometimes, when the music is just horrible or the room is overheating, you just need to step outside for a few moments. Usually, stepping outside means standing on the narrow sidewalk avoiding cars, but at Common Grounds, it means stepping onto The Porch. The owlish mascot that broods quietly behind the thinly yet appropriately stocked bar is a welcome sight for thirsty show goers. Also, The Porch regularly hosts eclectic DJs and nightly specials; often, you can enter the bar via The Porch and opt to drink outside for no cover if the inside music is not appealing.