Paint The Town Red

An idiom expression in use since the 1800’s.

Meaning of Paint the Town Red

To paint the town red means to go out and have a lively good time, to go on a drinking spree and visit many bars and nightclubs, to be boisterous and wild.

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“I’m so happy you got your promotion! Let’s go out and paint the town red!”

“Now that summer is here and school is out, it’s time to paint the town red.”


There are many anecdotes about the origin of the idiom “paint the town red,” none of them particularly credible. The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms gives a quite unlikely account, claiming that this idiom possibly started life with a gun-toting cowboy in the old West who would threaten to “paint the town red” with the blood of anyone who dared to interfere with the “macho or drunken revelers enjoying themselves.” Although there are accounts of cowboy’s ‘painting the town red’ as a way of alleviating the boredom of their work, the phrase does not seem to have originated with them.

There is likely a more general explanation in the older phrase “paint it red.” Although we often associate the color red with anger, it has long been associated with excitement, good times, and extravagance.

Just as we celebrate with fireworks, which can seem to ‘paint the sky red’ people used to celebrate with large bonfires (some still do). When many such fires are lit, the hills and sky, indeed the entire town, can seem to have been “painted red.” There may be some connection here with the idiom.

As well, “to paint the nose red” or just “to paint” was old slang for drinking and painting the town red usually involves a heavy drinking spree.

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