New York City Music Clubs and Venues
Most recently updated 8/31/16, this list of over 200 clubs includes pretty much every New York establishment that has music frequently, as well as a small handful who host only the occasional live show. Be aware that New york’s four venues booked by Ticketbastard or owned by Live Nation are not included here, since this is not a blog for corporate music. We update this constantly.
Every year, we pick a new spot, one each from Manhattan and Brooklyn, as “Best Venue of the Year” – keeping in mind of course that our picks from previous years are no less enjoyable now than they were a couple of years ago, other than the half-dozen which are now closed. The winners so far are:
Manhattan: Lakeside Lounge (now closed)
Brooklyn: Luna Lounge (now closed)
Manhattan: Rodeo Bar (now closed)
Brooklyn: Spike Hill (now closed)
Manhattan: Banjo Jim’s (now closed)
Brooklyn: Hank’s Saloon
Brooklyn: The Jalopy
Manhattan: Lakeside Lounge (now closed)
Brooklyn: The Jalopy
Manhattan: Zirzamin (now closed)
104 Ave. C at 7th St.
L to 14th St. or M14 bus to Ave. C/10th St.
Apparently this tourist bar with the balcony stage facing the street has been having music on and off, as it has since it opened around the turn of the century, but the venue does absolutely nothing to promote it and may be involved with pay-to-play scams. The sound is atrocious, drinks ridiculously expensive, staff hostile and clientele loud and annoying. Back in the day the club used to make the tourists line up along the sidewalk and wait til the band onstage had finished playing before they let them in. Go figure.
140 Wilson Ave. (Suydam/Willoughby), Bushwick
J/M to Central Ave.
Refreshingly laid-back beer bar with pub grub and frequent music in the bare-bones backroom, comparable sizewise to the old Cameo Gallery space. The sound is loud and iffy, but who cares, at least you’re not being disrespected or gouged pricewise here. Music runs the gamut from loud and noisy to retro and garagey; some surprisingly popular national touring acts show up here from time to time. Cover is cheap, no more than $10.
16 Beaver St., 4th Floor, financial district
2/4/6/A/C/M/Z to Fulton St., walk south along either Broadway or William to Beaver
Although relatively little-known to the general public, this Arab cultural center is very popular with immigrants from every corner of the diaspora and fills up quickly: early arrival is highly recommended. What CBGB was in the punk era, Alwan is for Middle Eastern music. Booked by brilliant trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar, they don’t have music every night, but when they do, it is outstanding, a mix of traditional sounds, jazz and even experimental stuff, pushing the envelope and creating a genuine scene. The house band, the Alwan All-Stars feature a rotating cast of some of the world’s most electrifying Middle Eastern musicians and play here frequently. The venue also hosts a wide variety of literary and dramatic events and movies seldom screened outside the nations where they were made. Admission is cheap ($10 or $15, typically), considering what you get here, with a student discount available. You come off the elevator and immediately you’re in the space, which is set up like a small auditorium. Seating is not reserved. Beverages or light snacks are available in the office to the left as you walk in. The staff here are uncommonly professional and helpful. This is a great place to see groups or performers with a wide following in the Arab community who may be flying under the radar otherwise.
251 W 30th St just east of 8th Ave
Any train to 34th St.
First it was Downtime, a cruddy blues bar with an open mic. Then it was Albion, which had the occasional goth rock show. Then it was Slake, a horrid tourist bar that took a stab at booking metal bands and then being the new Rodeo Bar bafore throwing in the towel. The latest souls to brave this cursed space are throwing whatever they can at the fan – Dead cover bands, Americana, bluegrass, hip-hop, cheesy corporate singer-songwriters and Jersey emo bands – to see what sticks. Not reviewed as of 2016.
Columbus Ave. at 66th St.
1 to 66th St./Lincoln Center
The weekly free Friday evening acoustic and global music shows hosted by crystalline-voiced Americana singer Lara Ewen are consistently excellent. Performances are in the museum’s echoey, high-ceilinged first-floor atrium which you can see as you enter. Museum admission is also free, and the staff here are nice. Wine is also often available. The sound is better and more cathedral-like than what you would expect. If you’re going, get there as close to five as you can, since the seats fill up fast with a mixed crowd of neighborhood folks and tourists. These shows are a great way to start the weekend if you work or go to school nearby or can get out in time to get here. The exhibits here are also very interesting and feature unknown and undeservedly obscure treasures from across the decades.
253 West 125th Street
Between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd & Frederick Douglass Blvd.
A/B/C to 125th St.
“It’s showtime!” Yeah, besides the televised open mic frequented by hordes of drunk kids booing timid performers off the stage, they have plays, musicals and the infrequent concert, mostly hip-hop or corporate pop. The dingy, multi-tiered interior is actually nowhere as big as the tv cameras would have you believe, in fact smaller than the Beacon. The sound isn’t bad but it isn’t pristine either. But this place is a landmark where pretty much everybody who was anybody, from the 30s through the 60s played at one time or another. Advance tix available at the box office. Compared to the personnel at the other big theatres, the Apollo’s staff seem considerably brighter, more friendly and competent. There’s also an adjacent, pricy cafe with a considerably smaller stage which has occasional hip-hop, soul or corporate performers.
Stanton between Orchard and Ludlow, south side of the street
F to 2nd Ave.
There’s a small bar as you walk in, with the music room to your left and down the stairs. This place has the potential to be an excellent-sounding room but seldom is, more a fault of the sound personnel rather than their excellent system. This isn’t really a hangout (other than the adjacent bar which becomes a tourist trap on the weekends). Drinks are on the pricy side although they have shot-and-shitbeer specials, and the bartenders are nice. The Nazi factor at the door depends on who’s working: literally everything here runs hot and cold. This is a rock joint, and booking here is all over the place – it can be excellent one month, with plenty of good under-the-radar talent as well as frequent national touring acts, and then abysmal the next. And the segues here are ridiculously jarring: singer-songwriter, hip-hop, death metal back-to-back without a thought of how much more money they’d make at the bar if the bands had something in common.
57 Grove St. just west of 7th Ave. South
1 to Christopher St. or any train to W 4th St., walk west on Waverly
Oldschool west village jazz dive. Long-running weekly residencies: vocal trio on Thursdays, blues on Sundays, etc. Cheap cover if in fact there is one, relatively cheap drinks, nice bar staff, extremely comfortable vibe in worn-down, lowlit ambience. Equally popular with budget tourists as well as an aging neighborhood crowd.
496 Morgan St. (Division/Beadel), Williamsburg
L to Lorimer St.
As under the radar as any other venue in town: the front door isn’t numbered, nor would you have any clue what’s going on behind that door with the busted handle unless you knew the band who was playing there. An odschool DIY space, even more spartan than the old Death by Audio or Cameo Gallery: bar in the back, band up front blasting through a couple of trebly JBLs on a makeshift stage. Cover is cheap, the people who work here are refreshingly nice and chill, and a lot of good bands pass through here. Even better, they like theme nights of related bands, which means you can get a good triple or even quadruple bill of punk, noiserock, garage or even outsider jazz. One thing you should know is that it might take you a few minutes to either enter or exit, considering that the front door may or not be manned (you can’t just walk in: knock HARD).
Baby’s All Right
146 Broadway south of Bedford, S Williamsburg
J/M to Marcy Ave.
Overpriced tweetopia trendoid hangout with dubious-looking Midwestern comfort food, pricy drinks and nasty door staff who probably resent the spoiled brats who congregate here, and take out their hostility on anyone who shows up. Bands play in the back on a surprisingly big stage for such a relatively small space, much like Rock Shop. The sound is good. The venue went through a phase where they were throwing all kinds of stuff against the wall – gay meat market nights, jazz and all kinds of rock bills – and seem to have decided to let the Glasslands crowd and the most affluent segment of the old Death by Audio indie/twee contingent gravitate here.
87 4th Ave (Warren/St. Marks), Gowanus, Brooklyn
Any train to Atlantic Ave and walk downhill
Punk, hip-hop and art openings at this multi-purpose space. Not reviewed as of 2016.
1008 Corteyou Rd. (Stratford/Coney Island Ave.), Ditmas Park, Brooklyn
Q to Cortelyou Road
Expensive gentrifier bar with free 9 PM shows, a mix of jazz and Americana with the occasional rock or reggae band, many of them very good. Some of the Jalopy acts pass through here. Music on the little stage in the front window, bar alongside it, booths along the other edge of this long, rectangular space, with more tables and a backyard in the rear out of view of the band. No cover charge; the people who work here are nice enough, but the loud local crowd – a weird and non-interactive mix of local working people and rich white luxury-condo kids – have no interest in the music and bellow over it. And it’s a bitch to get home from here if you have to take the B train any distance.
486 Halsey St., corner of Lewis Ave., Bed-Stuy
C to Kingston/Throop Ave.
This intimate space is like Pete’s Candy Store, but with the bar off to the side of the stage. After taking a shot at being sort of the Bed-Stuy version of Barbes, and then shi-shi Jersey folkie joint, they’re now sort of the Jazz Standard of Brooklyn. Many jazz acts far too popular for a Manhattan room this small are making the shlep out here. It’s a charming little boite, the smell of spices wafting through the room (they serve crostinis and paninis and such). The staff are friendly and seem happy to be here; drinks are on the pricy side, although they have cheap canned beer. The sound is fantastic. A welcome alternative to the gentrifier meat markets springing up in the hood or just another new yuppie puppy hangout? Jury’s out.
129 MacDougal between W 3rd and Washington Square South, right around the corner from the Blue Note
Any train to W 4th St.
A cynic would say that if you’re thinking of going to the Blue Note, you ought to go here instead. Better known as la Lanterna (the upstairs restaurant, which runs this little walk-down joint), it’s a great place to see A-list talent for D-list prices. It also tops the charts among NYC jazz joints for best food (pizzas and pastas are consistently excellent). Small ensembles (usually trios, a mix of traditional and more adventurous jazz styles, heavy on the guitarists since the purist Peter Mazza books the joint) play in the corner by the fireplace. Early arrival is advised because it’s not much bigger than Barbes. You’re pretty much on top of the band. Service is refreshingly oldschool West Village and laid back. Sets at 8:30/10 Sun-Thurs.; 7, 9 and 11 on weekends.
the club’s website is useless
128 Smith St., corner of Dean, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
F to Bergen St.
Owned by the same people who brought you Jules, Le Singe Vert and Cafe Noir, this pricy, popular corner bistro has Belgian beer, mediocre faux-French food and occasionally jazz acts who play in the window by the door. The staff are nice and there are no Nazis at the door, but be aware that in the summer, they frequently leave the door and windows open, so it can get uncomfortably hot here.
***RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2008***
***RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2013***
corner of 6th Ave. and 9th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn
F to 7th Ave. and walk downhill
Believe the hype: there is a good act playing here virtually every night, something no other New York area venue can boast. If you remember Tonic on Norfolk St., Barbes has the same sense of fun and outside-the-box adventurousness. Day in, day out, Barbes books more exciting music than any other venue in town (maybe anywhere in the world), a diverse, rotating cast of jazz, oldtimey, Americana, latin, Balkan and world music acts from every corner of the globe. Barbes’ theme is Gallic, taking its name from Barbes-Rochechouart, a sadly gentrified former Arab ghetto in Paris. The back room here is tiny, smaller than even Pete’s Candy Store and just a tad bigger than the small Rockwood room, and the bands who play here often fill it. Consequently, it’s best to show up early if you want a seat. Since it’s cozy back there, the sound is usually superb. They frequently pipe the music from the back room in over the bar, but it’s generally inaudible, whenever the bar is crowded (like it usually is). Like Tonic, Barbes draws a mixed crowd: jazzcats, trendoids, neighborhood folks and friends of the bands who play here. Drinks aren’t overwhelmingly expensive and as you’d expect from a place run by Frenchmen, they have a good wine list. And the staff are genuinely friendly: everybody who works here seems to be having a great time – no surprise, because you would too. A $10 tip to the bands is very strongly suggested; occasionally, a jazz or global music act will have a $10 cover.
Fulton Ferry Landing, Dumbo, Brooklyn
F to York St.; A to High St. and walk to the water
Chamber music inside a renovated barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, all year long. Expensive, highly regarded as a date spot and accurately so: with the almost imperceptable sway of the boat, the view of lower Manhattan and the marvelous acoustics, this can be a very romantic experience. Early arrival is an absolute must, as the below-decks space is fairly small and sells out fast, especially in the summertime; the box office typically opens about an hour before showtime, when you may buy tickets to the current show as well as later events. The staff are helpful; the seating is a little tight with the folding chairs, but that’s a small price to pay for the quality of the music – an adventurous mix of classical, modern and jazz – and the ambience. They also have frequent free 4 PM Saturday “family ” concerts featuring solo or duo performers.
249 Varet St., Bushwick
L to Morgan Ave.
Just up the block from the Ange Noir Cafe, lots of different stuff here – funk, Americana, punk rock and frequent trendoid bands – in the basement of the hostel. Most shows are free; the weekly jazz jam sessions have a $10 cover. Bar to the left with pricy drinks (no draft beer), seats along the rail to the left, and a red-curtained stage like at the old Slipper Room. The sound is dodgy but the people who work here are very laid-back and non-hostile.
Battery Park Carousel
1/4/5 to South Ferry; R to Whitehall
Frequent Friday night, 8 PM outdoor shows during the warmer months, heavy on the oldtimey jazz and swing sounds.
237 West 42 St
B/D/N/R/1/2/9 to 42nd St., or walk from the A/C/E or the 6
New York’s most underutilized venue. Despite its Disneyland location – and the fact that the King of the Blues has no more to do with this than Roy Rogers had to do with all those fried chicken places – this isn’t a bad place to see bands. It’s easy to get to, the sound is excellent, staff are shockingly laid-back and unobtrusive, minimums are fairly cheap if you want to sit, and if you don’t there’s plenty of room for standing. It’s a pretty big downstairs space, a long bar to your left as you walk in, tables toward the front by the big stage, and usually plenty of standing room between them and the bar. Sadly, while they have occasional soul music, hip-hop, metal and Americana acts, most of the music here is either top 40 has-beens from the 70s or atrocious cover bands that the New Jersey tourists could see at half the price back home. Drinks are predictably pricy and the food isn’t anything special. Although cover isn’t usually more than $25, be aware that some shows are obscenely overpriced (the folks who book the Blue Note also book this place, go figure). The adjacent, smaller Lucille’s bar (use the door on your right) has horrible white blues bands with a cover charge.
74th and Broadway
1/2/9 to 72nd St.
Gilded Age beauty at a price to match. Now part of the Madison Square Garden empire, the Beacon’s steadily decreasing number of concerts don’t justify those prices, considering that most of the acts who play here are aging corporate bands or 70s has-beens (the Allman Brothers do a monthlong thing here once a year). If in fact you can find a show that’s under $75, you’d do best to get tix at their box office, open 11-5 PM Mon-Fri. The sound here is terrific, as you would expect from the ambience. Don’t try to bring alcohol or other beverages in here: you will be frisked. And be discreet when you record the concert – keep that little red light hidden. Don’t waste your money on the tiny drinks they serve in little plastic cups. There is only one way in or out, through the front doors; you might want to station yourself close to an exit at the end of the show to beat the crowd. Be careful not to fall onto the tracks at the 72nd St. subway station: it’s the narrowest platform in the entire system.
710 Myrtle Ave. (Spencer/Walworth), Bed-Stuy
G to Myrtle-Willoughby
Expensive, high-ceilinged, hangarlike new gentrifier bar/bbq joint with a loud, excellent sound system designed by Lakeside Lounge honcho Eric Ambel. After taking a stab at being the Bed-Stuy version of the old Rodeo Bar, the venue seems to have cut back on the music. No cover, but food/drink is as expensive as you would expect: ownership seems to be waiting for the people who’ve lived here for decades to be driven out by the anticipated hordes of yuppies. And it could become a fulltime venue if the venue decided to rearrange the back benches and make more space for standing room.
149 7th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Gowanus, Brooklyn
F/N/R to 4th Ave. (due to construction, the F may not be running – make sure to check mta.info before you leave)
Worth a trip to Gowanus, Brooklyn, not as far as it might seem. This high-ceilinged, midsize club (a tad smaller than Bowery Ballroom) is brought to you by the same people behind Union Hall. They do literally everything here: barbecues, lectures, strip shows and beer-tasting nights as well as concerts. Although the music is often very good – everything from oldschool soul to Asian hip-hop to oldtimey, country and garage rock along with frequent indie touring bands and a lot of 90s nostalgia acts – the other stuff outnumbers the music on the calendar by a factor of about ten to one lately. You enter through the bar on the Red Hook side, which has one of the best tap beer selections of any New York venue. The main room has a big, high stage, little bar on your left and plenty of room for standing. The sound is excellent. As with pretty much all venues of this size, the crowd depends on who’s onstage; the staff are refreshingly laid-back. Discounted advance tickets for more popular acts are available at their box office and highly recommended. Sometimes shows with lesser-known acts are held in the front bar space, which has similarly excellent sound and a more intimate vibe.
25 Ave. A at 2nd St. under 2A, enter thru the door on 2nd St.
F to 2nd Ave.
Small basement space akin to a less swanky take on the downstairs labyrinth at Lovecraft Bar, with vastly better, comparably loud sound. A mix of punk and indie stuff here as the club – younger sister to Niagara Bar – gets a soft launch, which has continued off and on through the spring of 2016. Cover is cheap; the staff were annoying in the early going but have since turned over and are a pretty friendly crew these days; drinks are pricy as you would expect.
315 W 44th between 8th and 9th Ave.
A/C/E to 42nd St/Port Authority
Legendary, pricy restaurant row jazz club named after Charlie Parker. Swanky as you can expect: table service, expensive drinks and mediocre, overpriced food.Slightly cheaper than the Blue Note, with a similarly touristy crowd and less harried waitstaff, along with a more adventurous booking policy including latin and big band jazz. The sound is as good as you would expect for what you pay (the cheaper seats by the door are your best value). The staff are surprisingly nice, but the Vanguard and the Jazz Standard are still your best bet for marquee-caliber jazz in New York.
Bleecker between LaGuardia and Thompson
A/C/E/B/D/F to West 4th St., take the exit on the south side
The prototypical Bleecker Street hellhole: cheap and cheesy. Cheap, meaning that if the band wants to put somebody on the guest list, that comes out of their earnings at the door; cheesy as in Pearl Jam, Dashboard Confessional and Ani DiFranco wannabes onstage, lost in the 90s and cluelessly hoping for a big record label to discover them and make them famous. There are so seldom any good bands here that we don’t even bother to check the club’s concert calendar. The sound is iffy, crowd Long Island and Jersey touristy, drinks are expensive, there’s a minimum if you want to sit and the staff are obnoxious (waitstaff are always trying to round up people standing against the wall so as to extort money from them at the tables). With 200 other places to see music in NYC, we definitely don’t need the Bitter End.
Black Bear Bar
70 N 6th St. (Wythe/Kent), Wiiliamsburg
L to Bedford Ave
First it was Galapagos, then when that place moved to Dumbo it was Public Assembly. This two-room space – smaller and L-shaped with a bar in front, scruffier and more spacious with a bigger stage in back – is throwing as much shit against the fan to see what sticks: hip-hop, Jersey bands desperate for a Williamsburg gig, the works. The venue’s website is barely working – they don’t promote events here. But from the pix it looks intimidatingly expensive. Not reviewed as of 2016.
W 3rd just east of Sixth Ave.
A/C/E/B/D/F to W 4th, take the southside exit
A cynic would ask who’s going to go here after the Fukushima reactor takes its toll on this club’s usual clientele: the sign over the entrance should be in Japanese. This place was a great jazz club, most likely before you were born, and vestiges of that remain: the sound is superb. But the prices are beyond the reach of the average New Yorker: cover, dinner and drinks will set you back over $100 apiece, and the food is lousy. Even “bar seating” – which means that you’ll be on your feet for the duration of the show, and will have to crane your neck to see much of anything – will probably set you back at least $50 if you include the two-drink minimum. And the booking here is a mixed bag, with Pan-American or European performers and the occasional jazz legend interspersed among Lite FM-style elevator jazz acts. Occasionally they’ll have a rock act. On Friday and Saturdays nights after the main acts are done, or for Sunday brunch, they have funk and fusion at reduced prices, but they discriminate against cash customers. Surprisingly, there’s no Nazi factor: the harried waitstaff has a hard enough time squeezing through the crowds of tourists to make sure everybody gets their check.
Delancey St. just east of Bowery
J to Bowery or F to 2nd Ave., walk south and west
New York’s best-sounding midsize venue, a big, high-ceilinged space with a horseshoe-shaped balcony and bar upstairs, a spacious bar with couches downstairs, through which you go to go up into the main room. After the bands are done the downstairs bar is open to the public: it’s a great place to be away from all the tourists in the wee hours. Most of the bands who play here suck, mostly the kind of indie sissy music you’ll find at Pitchfork or Stereogum: once in awhile they’ll have a good singer-songwriter or Americana band on tour. Drinks except for beer are pricy. The door people and staff look imposing but are actually nice. If you have to choose between seeing a band here and a similar-sized venue like Irving Plaza or Webster Hall, go to the Bowery Ballroom show. Note that this place sells out occasionally: advance tickets can be a good idea, available at the Mercury Loung box office noon-6 PM Tuesday through Saturday.
327 Bowery between 2nd and 3rd Sts.
F to 2nd Ave. or B/D/6 to Broadway-Lafayette
Located in the split-level downstairs space that formerly housed the dreaded tourist bar the Remote Lounge, this comfortably lowlit saloon is nothing like its predecessor or its sister bar Niagara on Ave. A. At the bottom of the stairs, there’s the bar to your right, with the lower level about half-occupied by a surprisingly big stage for a space this size. The downstairs PA is excellent but the sound can be hit-and-miss, depending on who’s working the board. Like the Delancey, they also have a smaller upstairs stage (walk straight past the bar) that has frequent acoustic shows and which is so tiny that there’s hardly room in there for the band, never mind customers. Drinks aren’t overwhelmingly expensive, cover is cheap if there is one, the vibe casual, the crowd somewhat oldschool a la Otto’s and the staff are nice. Booking is eclectic, with more of a genuine New York vibe (i.e. punk, latin rock and Americana) than the neighborhood’s more gentrifier-oriented venues.
Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery south of Bleecker, cattycorner from the old CB’s Gallery
B/D/6 to Broadway/Lafayette/Bleecker St.
Back open with occasional music, not as frequnetly as before. Apparently turning the old, rectangular LES space into a strip club was a little premature.
603 Vanderbilt Ave. at Bergen St., Brooklyn
2 to Bergen St., walk uphill 2 blocks
Expensive gay bar with a western theme and pricy diner food. Beyond the menu, the cowboy theme doesn’t really make itself apparent. Mellow staff, drink prices about average for the neighborhood, but it can be a strain to both play and watch here. Music in the small back room with cramped table seating and basically no standing room; performers squeeze themselves in on a facsimile of a stage on the left. In quieter moments, the blare of the PA or the tv at the bar can drown out the band. Lots of gay acts along with numerous country and country-blues performers, many of them with monthly residencies. Charming Disaster’s monthly Murder Ballad Monday night (on hiatus til fall 2016) is a good reason to make the shlep out here.
647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place, Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
Any train to Atlantic Ave
Run by the private parketeers who put on the Prospect Park bandshell shows, this venue discriminates against customers who don’t pay by credit card, since they sell discounted advance tickets but don’t have a box office where they can be purchased for cash. Figures, right? Live music is a rarity here these days. Two rooms; the tiny recording studio (which also does double duty for tv broadcasts), where the occasoinal concert in the “studio series” is held. There’s also a boomy, high-ceilinged atrium where the occasional “stoop series” show is held. Shows are free but rsvps are required for the studio, which predictably sells out fast. The staff look disconbobulated and the sound is what you would expect, considering the space.
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn Heights
The closest train is actually the G to Fulton St.; BAM is only half a block away. Otherwise take any train to Atlantic Ave.
Ironically, BAM has mostly movies these days although they frequently have free Friday night concerts upstairs in the spacious, high-ceilinged BAM Cafe. The performers are usually first-rate, drinks are expensive, Nazis conspicuous in their absence, and the PA is underpowered: find yourself a spot in the alcoves along the left wall, where nobody will hassle you as long as you don’t stand in front of the metal grates between them. And get there early if the act is popular – security may not let you in if it starts to get crowded. The big, main space has tiered seating; the excellent sound and high ticket prices (advance tix from the BAM box office are a must) are comparable to what you get at the Beacon Theatre.
61 Wythe Ave. between N 11th and N 12th., Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn’s worst music venue, hands down. And you’d better put your hands in the air because you’re treated like a caged criminal the moment you approach the door. Be prepared to be violently searched by a sadistic crew of ex-cons hell-bent on feeling you up in the most private places…whether you’re a girl or a guy. You will also be given a meticulous search via metal detector. What’s more, you will be forced to empty out your backpack, your purse if you carry one, and also your pockets! Be aware that if you actually make it past the gauntlet at the door, there will be a crowd of drunken tourists at the bowling lanes who have zero interest in the music and will be making a lot of noise. Bands play in the far corner past the lanes, meaning that you won’t be able to hear the music in quieter moments. Booking stoner music: jambands, reggae, Afrobeat and funk – may be a ploy to increase income for this hellhole’s ridiculously overpriced faux-southern-themed kitchen. Considering that many of the acts who pass through here also play places like the Mercury and Knitting Factory, you’d be crazy to go to Brooklyn Bowl.
At the water in Dumbo; closest train is actually the A/C to High St. although it’s also a short walk from the F at York St. and the 2/3 at Clark St.
Occasional free concerts on the little stage, hidden in a terraced enclave in the middle of the park, beyond the peninsula with the rollerskating rink. The Jalopy and Barbes folks have staged things here in the recent past.
58 7th Ave at Lincoln Pl., Park Slope
2/3 to Grand Army Plaza or B/Q to 7th Ave.
Occasional jazz, classical and global music concerts in the rustic, comfortable late 1800s auditorium at this Brooklyn music school. Cheap cover (always under $20, sometimes under $10); nice staff working here; drinks might or might not be available. Be aware that the space is not air conditioned, explaining why there’s no summer schedule here.
317 Clermont Avenue at Lafayette, Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
G to Clinton/Washington, C to Lafayette Ave. or any train to Atlantic Ave. and about a 15-minute walk.
Big place – none of us are Masons or Illuminati so we’ve never been there. Concerts here in the big main room 3-4 times a year, often booked by the Poisson Rouge people, and typically very expensive. These days not much of interest: TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene, other trendoids du jour. Snooze. Not reviewed as of 2015.
Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
2/4 to Grand Army Plaza
How to describe? Well, it’s full of books. You can see the big, massive old edifice from the subway. They have lots of free concerts here, outside on the steps during the warmer months, sometimes in one of the small public rooms on the second floor which you reach from the main entrance. Acts are diverse, ranging from jazz to hip-hop to world music. Be aware that many shows require an online RSVP and will sell out. Their site also lists events at the many local BPL branches.
115 MacDougal St. between Bleecker and W 3rd St.
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
Talk about living off your reputation: Hendrix played here frequently before he went to England and got famous. Apparently the owners also own the building, because the place is still here. Not that it needs to be: this stuffy little tourist bar caters strictly to an out-of-town crowd, and late at night and on the weekends, an unsophisticated black clientele for whom rap apparently never happened. Expensive drinks, overzealous door crew, clueless bar staff, overly loud, generic funk and cover bands phoning it in on the little stage. Ugh.
32 Jones St. off Bleecker (west of 6th Ave)
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
Cramped, stuffy, underventilated bistro with nightly music, a frequently excellent and adventurous mix of singer-songwriters, Americana, jazz and sometimes world music. There’s a piano and a pretty lo-fi sound system, some acts actually preferring to play acoustic without any amplification. Cover is cheap, if there is one, food and drinks are expensive as you would imagine (no draft beer) but the staff are very pleasant and sympathetic to the fact that people are crammed in on top of one another – the bar in the back is tiny and there’s virtually no standing room, so early arrival is a must because the tables fill up fast. This is the kind of place where it’s hardly rude to tell the folks at the adjacent table to shush if they’re making too much noise, because they’re basically in your face and vice versa. Can’t vouch for the quality of the food, although some of the dessert portions are enticingly humungous.
152 Ludlow St. (Stanton/Rivington), east side of the street
F to 2nd Ave.
For several years, Cake Shop was the LES’s most enjoyable club and a perennial contender for best venue in town. This is the kind of place you really want to love, but it doesn’t often add up to that. Sometimes a really nice place to see a band: laid back vibe, shockingly good sound for a bodega basement, surprisingly eclectic and good booking, especially for this neighborhood. Other times: velvet rope, paranoid schizo doorman, and an atmosphere that’s 180 degrees the opposite of what it was when this place opened in 2005. Cover is usually still cheap; $10 or less; drinks are fairly cheap; bands who play here run the gamut from the occasional punk, dreampop or dark rock band along with the usual parade of tuneless Bushwick blog-rock posers. Too bad the place has been dragged into the Ticketfly scam.
881 7th Ave. at 57th St.
A/B/C/D/1/2/3 to Columbus Circle
Tickets are sometimes remarkably cheap, sometimes stratospherically expensive, but either way the sound is great (don’t let oldtimers distract you with hairsplitting comparisons of pre- and post-1985 sound here). There are actually three separate halls here: the big,venerable 1891 Stern Auditorium, the recent, considerably smaller Zankel Hall and the third-floor Weill Hall for chamber music, small ensembles and solo performers. Whether it’s the location or the old New York vibe, the crowds here are noticeably more oldschool, less bridge-and-tunnel than what you get at Lincoln Center. Most of the western world’s great classical and new music ensembles come through here eventually. Advance tickets recommended for everything, since whatever you’re thinking of seeing is likely to sell out. And early arrival is an absolute must, to beat the last-minute crush: you’d do well to get there at least twenty minutes before showtime. The people who run this place are pros: you’ll be treated well. And be sure to check their calendar for the frequent free neighborhood concerts they sponsor, typically at local library branches. And please – turn off your phone and leave that crinkly bag of Reese’s Pieces at home.
Not a venue but an advocacy organization similar to the World Music Institute, but more oldschool and grassroots-oriented. They book a ton of amazing global musicians into venues all over the five boroughs and many of the concerts are free. Lately Balkan and Latin American music have been very well represented among the many regions whose music they support. When there is a cover charge, tickets are typically available at the door as well as online. A good bunch of folks doing good work.
Central Park, 72nd St. entrance, closer to the east side
6 to 66th St.
This venue has been through good times and bad and this particular era falls somewhere in the middle. What the private parketeers are trying to do is to get rid of the free events that have been the area’s mainstay for decades and make this a fulltime paid space. In the meantime, the back bleachers – reserved for advertisers in recent years – are open to the public once again. But the space outside keeps shrinking, whether due to tree replanting, or simply being fenced off, which has pretty much shut down the party that used to exist out back. The summer concert program still seems to halfheartedly represent a global agenda, but is outnumbered by the ridiculously overpriced ticketed concerts that you would enjoy far more in an airconditioned space like Bowery Ballroom. If you go to a free show here, prepare for volunteers making sad-puppy faces for donations as you enter but don’t be fooled: all this is paid for with taxpayer money and donations from corporations who can well afford it. You’d also best show up early – like when the doors open at 3 PM – if there’s a popular act on the bill. Lincoln Center Out of Doors, New York’s best free outdoor concert series, opens at the end of July and makes a vastly more enjoyable alternative with its superior and more diverse programming.
652 Lexington Ave. at 55th St.
6/F to 53rd St./Citicorp Center
This sonically exquisite historic landmark – beautifully remodeled after a fire about ten years ago – has frequent free lunchtime organ concerts. They also have lectures as well as literary and film events. The synagogue’s Moorish-inspired interior decor is a feast for the eyes.
Not a venue but a symphony orchestra, a welcome presence in the New York classical and new music scene. The Chelsea Symphony serves up imaginatively thematic, frequently holiday-themed (Halloween, Valentines Day, etc.) programs including numerous New York and world premieres. They also frequently include choral, operatic and even pop music in their programming, and have a sense of humor about it. The quality of the performances is every bit what you’d hope for in an artistically-inclined New York neighborhood. Lately St. Paul’s Church, 315 West 22nd St. has been their home. Admission is cheap (typically a $20 donation); early arrival is recommended, because the orchestra has built up quite a following on their home turf.
332 2nd St. (Coles/Monmouth), Jersey City
About 3 1/2 blocks from the Grove. St. Path train station
Popular local bar with frequent, excellent music, from horror surf to noir cinematics to noiserock. Useless website. Not reviewed as of 2016.
155 Varick St. at Vandam
1/2 to Houston St.; C/E to Spring St., walk north and west; or A/B/D/F to W 4th St., walk south and west.
Owned by one of the founders of the Knitting Factory, this big, expensive, hangar-like club seems to want to draw the demographic who went to that club back in the 80s, then got old, moved to Jersey and switched their voter registration to Republican. And seating is a further concession to the hedge fund set, tables pricier and pricier the closer you get to the stage, with limited bar seats. Not a ticketed venue, so if you’re worried that a show may sell out (it probably won’t), get here early. Depending on the act, there may or may not be standing room closer to the stage – if so, there’ll be lots because this is a big room. The sound is excellent. Most of the shows here skew toward lite FM-style singer-songwriters along with the occasional world music act or rock band. Their weekly Sunday klezmer brunch – which is cheap, with no food or drink minimum, and kids under 12 get in free – features a rotating cast of first-class bands and seems to serve as ownership’s lone remaining vestige of edginess. The menu is extremely expensive – we’re talking Blue Note expensive – as are drinks (the club name is no misnomer: they actually make wine here) although the staff are very pleasant and casual. And they ought to be: what’s the tip on a $300 tab? During the summer, the club also puts on frequent free 5 PM shows in the parking lot around the corner.
2485 Broadway (92/93)
1/2/9 to 96th St.
Pricy white-tablecloth restaurant with nightly jazz on the little stage in the back. The sound isn’t bad, considering that the place draws a big after-work crowd and is a popular neighborhood dining spot. Jazz usually starts at 8, a lot of good under-the-radar talent including many regular faces. Wednesday is open mic night followed by the weekly jazz jam that starts around midnight. No cover, only a $10 minimum at tables. Foodwise, you’ll do best with their excellent Middle Eastern menu which is more diverse and adventurous than what’s available at your typical falafel joint. Be aware that even on the hottest summer nights, they may leave the windows wide open, meaning that it won’t be any cooler inside.
212 E 52nd St just east of 3rd Ave.
6/F to 53rd/Lex
The third-floor former Something Jazz Club space has been reopened by the head of a small chain of shi-shi French restaurants, with prices ot match. Hobbity old men from the 70s can get their fill of wanky, self-indulgent fusion jazz here, as can friends and family of wannabe top 40 starlets from Jersey. Other random acts include people you could see at the Rockwood for free, but you’ll have to fork over $50 to catch here after you’ve paid cover and drink minimum. Giving this place six months before it tanks or gets repurposed as a fulltime eatery. Not reviewed as of 2016.
325 Franklin Ave. (Clifton Pl./Greene Ave), Bed-Stuy
G to Classon Ave
New (summer 2015) music bar in the hood with a mix of urban top 40 and indie sounds. Not reviewed as of 2015.
The Cobra Club
6 Wyckoff Ave. (Morgan/Troutman), Bushwick
L to DeKalb Ave.
Yoga center with bands on Saturday nights and frequent entertainment for tourists: Miley Cyrus karaoke and the like. Not reviewed as of 2015.
29 Cornelia St. north of Bleecker
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
The music room is downstairs from the restaurant, which is pricy as you would expect from the location, but actually pretty good. Food is also available on the lower level, but watch your check like a hawk, because the coked-up staff will nickel-and-dime you if they can. The sound is excellent, rows of tables in a somewhat long, rectangular room a la the Jazz Gallery, with the stage up front. Cover is typically $10 or $15 with a $10 minimum, 0ccasionally less. This is where most New York “progressive” jazz acts play, the good ones along with those more oriented toward self-indulgent improvisation and indie preciousness than swing or, um, entertainment. There’s also the occasional poetry reading, cabaret show, chamber music or singer/songwriter night. Popular with tourists, Europeans and an older neighborhood crowd.
Coyote Ugly Saloon
153 1st Ave (9/10 Sts)
L to 1st Ave
The original outpost of what is now a half-assed Hooters-style franchise, known for its fratboy clientele as well as one of the worst movies ever made. And now they have country bands most Tuesday nights. Which should be a little less surreal than it gets here on the weekend. Can’t vouch for the sound; at least the jukebox and the honkytonk blasting over the PA are a cut above the crap you hear in the other neighborhood tourist traps. No cover charge, and surprisingly affordable beer. But would you really want to be caught dead here?
44 E 32nd St. (Madison/Park)
6 to 33rd St.
Beautifully renovated, oldschool New York elegance, often at a price to match, in this sonically superb, renovated old Curry Hill theatre space. Has-been top 40 acts from the 80s, wannabes from that era and the occasional jazz or rock act play to an older crowd. Be aware of a $20 per person food/drink minimum at the first floor tables in addition to the cover charge, which could be very little or ridiculously expensive. The smaller second floor balcony to the left of the stage’s large proscenium, may or may not be open depending on who’s playing and how sold out the show is. Advance tix aren’t really necessary but available at the box office, to the right as you walk in. Expensive drinks but a laid-back, friendly staff.
out back of Lincoln Center
1/9 to 66th St., or just take the 1/2/3/B/C to Columbus Circle and walk north
This is the park where the the annual Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival’s main events are held are held every August, daily concerts scattered around the Lincoln Center plaza: a sensationally good, eclectic range of A-list Americana artists, jazz and world music acts including many first-rate New York performers. Pharaoh Sanders’ concerts here in the late 90s are the stuff of legend. To get a seat in the rows of white plastic chairs, get there at least 20 minutes before showtime. The park is somehow situated so that there’s no sonic competition with the screeching alarms on the city buses running up and down the adjacent avenues.
It’s on that little service road that runs parallel to Delancey St. on its north side, just east of Clinton.
F/J/M/Z to Delancey or B/D to Grand St. and walk north and east.
The Delancey earned respect for being home to Small Beast, the legendary Monday dark rock night founded by Botanica keyboardist Paul Wallfisch and which ran weekly from 2008 to 2011 until the club finally phased it out. That was upstairs on the little stage across from the bar, where they very seldom have live music anymore. Downstairs in the long, rectangular basement space there are frequent rock shows about half the time: after all this time, this place still remains a work in progress. Acts who play here are a mix of oldschool NYC bands who bring an older, scruffy crowd, plus lots of tourist bands from Jersey with more of a fratboy following. The sound downstairs is shockingly good; upstairs, it’s what you would expect. As a bonus, the door staff are vastly less attitudinous here than at most of the other LES clubs, and the Delancey has the best air conditioning of practically any other club in town. Fairly cheap cover; drink prices are about average for the neighborhood. Be aware that they have New York’s nastiest men’s room: those disgusting troughs make the old Mars Bar seem spotless by comparison. Use the adjacent unisex stalls instead.
433 Park Ave. S., Murray Hill
6 to 28th St.
Irish bar/greasepit restaurant that’s been there for decades (Veronica Lake reputedly worked here) with regularly scheduled live music in the back room where there are booths and tables. Drinks are predictably midtown expensive. The place has a fratboy vibe, unsurprisingly since Baruch is just a few blocks away. The sound is pretty bad; it’s not really set up to be a music venue, and nobody comes to listen, it seems. They don’t seem to pull many New York bands, or bands with a New York audience. Although their Irish staff are predictably pleasant and professional, the door crew are clearly sick of chasing off underage yuppie puppies and may take out their hostilies on you. Depending on the act onstage, there may or may not be a cover charge.
The DiMenna Center
450 W 37th St. (9th/10th Aves.)
A/C/E to 34th St.
This comfortable, multi-room basement-level space with frequent classical, indie classical and theatrical events is the latest home for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. They’re shooting for a sort of Carnegie Hall Junior ambience. Drinks may or may not be available; excellent sonics; seating may include both tables for groups as well as individual seats. Cover is cheap for what you get, usually under $20 and never much more; programming is very eclectic, leaning toward the avant garde. Early arrival for more popular events is encouraged since this place sometimes sells out.
Dixon Place Theatre
161 Chrystie St. north of Delancey
J/M to Bowery or F to 2nd Ave.
Mostly theatrical events at this comfortable, often unexpectedly expensive black-box space, but there are also frequent free singer-songwriter or jazz shows in the small bar/lounge upstairs.
Rose Hall at Lincoln Center, southwest corner of Broadway at 60th St., 5th floor
A/C/B/D/1/2/9 to 59th St./Columbus Circle
Coming off the elevator, walking down the hall and then into this semicircular room with its modernist decor and big window facing south, you wouldn’t expect the sound to be very good. But it is. This a remarkably pleasant place to take in a show, a prospect made even more enticing by the wide variety of jazz here: small combos, big bands, singers, European acts, and perhaps most notably, A-list New York players who’ve been plying the scene for years and have now been rewarded for all their toil with decently paying gigs here. Trouble is, cover is often ridiculously expensive, and there’s a food minimum at tables. At least the comfort level here is also a cut above: there’s enough space between the tables for customers and the remarkably pleasant, casual waitstaff to make their way through without stepping on your feet or spilling drinks on you. Shows are typically 7:30 and 10:30 PM on weekdays with the possibility of a late show on the weekends plus brunch and late-night acts from time to time. Box office hours are Mon-Sat noon-6 PM.
90 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn
J/M to Hewes St. or L to Montrose Ave.
This place has been an oasis of coolness on the Williamsburg/Bushwick border on and off for several years: punk and garage rock, along with many of the acts that migrated south when Trash Bar closed, are their mainstay these days. The front room is a Latin bar, where they also serve food; the back room, about the same size as the Williamsburg Trash space, has a stage to the left and a handful of tables on the right with plenty of standing room in the middle and on each side. The sound is better than you would expect, given the comfortably dingy milieu and the untreated cinderblock walls. Drinks are relatively cheap, although they don’t have draft beer. Cover is cheap if there is one.
Corner of Willoughy and Pearl Sts.
Any train to Borough Hall, walk toward the Fulton Mall
Early Wednesday evening free outdoor concert series running July through September. Mostly bland, lame young Republican rock, with the occasional funk band.
13 Monroe St. (Catherine/Market), Chinatown
About equidistant from the East Broadway (F train) and Canal St. (6/N/R/Q/M) stations: they’re downtown like never before. Comfortably lowlit, dingy, wonderfully eclectic downstairs record store – if the outer fringes of jazz are your thing, it’s next to impossible to walk out of here without buying something. Frequent free early evening Sunday shows in the front of the store from a similarly eclectic parade of global improvising talent, usually duos or trios since space is tight. Folding chairs are provided on both sides of the stacks of cds and vinyl. Hours are Thurs through Sun, noon to 8 PM plus Monday noon to 6.
***RATED BEST MANHATTAN VENUE 2009***
85 Ave. A between 5th and 6th Sts.
F to 2nd Ave. or J/M to Delancey, walk north.
Among NYC venues, only Barbes ranks with these guys for diversity, in terms of the acts they book here. Starting in the spring of 2009, for about a year, Manhattan’s only fulltime world music club was the borough’s most happening live music venue; then they decided to be more or less a fulltime restaurant. Since rededicating themselves to being a fulltime club, they’ve been booking an eclectic, global mix from the Middle East, to Asia, to Africa, to Latin America, in addition to frequent jazz and the occasional avant garde show or singer-songwriter. The sound on the big stage in the back of this basement spot is outstanding. You enter through a foyer; down the hall is a long bar to your right, with the big, spacious stage and plenty of standing room to your left. There are also rows of booths in back, and a row of tables along the left wall. Drinks aren’t cheap (no draft beer), although their menu is delicious, and cheaper than you would think considering the lush, lowlit surroundings (the peppered eggplant spread that comes with the mezze plate is to die for). Cover is generally inexpensive, usually under $20, with advance tickets at the club’s box office highly recommended for more popular acts. Nice waitstaff and a casual yet romantic vibe.
Spring St. between Washington St. and the highway, south side of the street
C/E to Spring St.
This is the place with the butcher paper and the crayons, where everybody draws on the tables. You’ve been there. Everyone has. It’s a NYC rite of passage, and it’s straight out of 1975, a little oasis of normalcy way over on the west side far from SoHo Eurotrash hell. Beer is fairly cheap, they have decent bar food and live music that starts late (midnight-ish) and goes much later, even during the week. Country, blues, jazz mostly. They don’t update their calendar often so you either have to know who’s performing here or just happen to be here on a good night. The music is on a tiny stage to the right of the door as you walk in. The PA system is pretty primitive, so the sound is iffy, but this is the kind of place where if you’re still there in the wee hours, pretty much anything starts to sound good. The Sunday, 7:30 PM hot jazz show hosted by trumpeter Jon Kellso and (usually) guitarist Matt Munisteri is a New York institution that everyone should experience at least once.
510 E 11th St. between Ave. A and B
L to 1st Ave.., or take the M14A bus which goes south on A.
Popular Midtown-style Irish bar in a strange location, a back street in the East Village. Drinks aren’t cheap, as you can expect, although the staff is nice. Absolutely no Nazi factor. Singer-songwriters occasionally play through the tiny PA system in the back where there are tables: the closer you are to the music, the better you’ll hear it. Darkly torchy Americana chanteuse Julia Haltigan and her phenomenal band play here on the occasional Tuesday at around 10.
85 Ave. A (5th/6th Sts)
F to 2nd Ave.
Cheesy corporate bands and a ridiculous and unnecessary association with the odious Ticketfly in the basement-level space, formerly home to a frat bar, just south of Drom. No word if cash customers will be gouged extra at the door, as they are at many venues who use that stupid service – in other words, these guys aren’t exactly getting off on the good foot. What a weird coincidence that the eclectic, lowlit, sonically superb, romantic Drom, one of Manhattan’s half-dozen best music venues, would be located just a stoop to the south. Not reviewed as of 2016.
1629 2nd Ave (84/85)
6 to 86th St.
Formerly the Wild Horse Tavern, a little slice of blue-collar bridge-and-tunnel Queens in Manhattan, now upscaled to cater to yuppies. Frequent live music here, much of it good, on the oldschool soul/blues tip. As of August 2016 they’ve been in business for a couple of months and still don’t have a website, or promote shows here. Not reviewed as of 2016.
112 Rivington St., just west of Essex
J/M/F to Delancey St.
Apparently this venue has been having the infrequent rock show on the weekend, but they never, never update their calendar. Not a bad little space: the upstairs triplex bar isn’t as snooty as the rest of the El Lay trashpits in the neighborhood, The sound downstairs in what’s essentially an old bodega basement is trebly and bounces off the walls. Cheap cover, $10 or less; drink prices about average for the locale.
75 Christopher at 7th Ave. S.
1 train to Christopher St.
The sister jazz bar to Small’s is a similarly dingy, surprisingly decent-sounding room (if you consider that it’s a busy pool hall) and frequently shares acts with its larger sibling. Drinks are very cheap for a jazz joint, and cover is cheap, usually $3; the staff, like the ambience, are laid back. There’s a small listening area close to the stage, with a couple of couches and some chairs; otherwise, you may find yourself jostling for space with people holding big sticks. A lot of the same faces filter through here on a regular basis, a mix of traditional and modern styles (a lot of the Smalls crowd basically uses this place as a rehearsal room). The club likes residencies: Fridays it’s Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens at 9.
506 5th Ave (12th & 13th Sts), Park Slope, Brooklyn
F to 7th Ave.; R to Prospect Ave.
Tuesday is drummer Diego Voglino’s jazz jam, featuring many players who you’d have to pay megabucks to see at the Blue Note or someplace similar. Rock bands play occasionally on weekend nights. Not reviewed as/of 2016.
55 Christopher St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
1 train to Christopher St. or A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St. and walk west
Small, low-ceilinged basement space where Jack Kerouac used to hold court fifty years ago. It hasn’t changed much since then. A couple rows of tables to the left of the bar, remarkably cheap cover if in fact there is one at all, no Nazis at the door, iffy sound . Mostly jazz here nightly, a rotating cast of mostly familiar faces with the occasional soul or blues act frequently making use of the club’s ancient, rickety Fender Rhodes electric piano. Drinks are on the pricy side despite the dingy milieu. Plan on getting here early if you’re thinking of seeing a show as it’s popular with both tourists and an older neighborhood crowd.
The Firehouse Space
246 Frost St. (at Woodpoint), Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L to Lorimer St.
One of NYC’s most delightfully intimate spaces, a Brooklyn counterpart to Spectrum, both ambience-wise and music-wise . You feel like you’re in somebody’s living room because you basically are. This comfy first-floor space has lots of adventurous jazz and indie classical stuff, typically with a $10 cover. Rows of chairs – some of them stuffed – facing a low stage with a grand piano. Excellent sound, very nice people running this place. Drinks and/or snacks may be available for cheap, depending on the bill. People come here to listen.
First Unitarian Church
50 Monroe Pl. at Pierrepont St., downtown Brooklyn
2/4/N/R to Borough Hall
Folk and jazz once or twice a month in the church’s comfortably spacious basement with remarkably good acoustics. A friendly neighborhood crowd brings homemade goodies and beverages; seating is not reserved, so early arrival is advised. A cheaper and far more pleasant alternative to the yuppie folkie joints like City Winery.
137-35 Northern Blvd., Flushing, Queens
7 to Main St./Flushing
Beautiful old Gilded Age New York elegance in a Bowery Ballroom-sized space. It’s sort of a Town Hall Junior with remarkably adventurous programming, music from every corner of the globe plus monthly jazz jams, theatrical and dance performances. Seating is not reserved, so you’d best get here a half-hour early (it’s easy to get to, about six blocks from the last stop on the 7 train). The sonics are best suited to acoustic instrumentation, the staff are competent and friendly and ticket prices aren’t extravagantly expensive, typically under $20, with many free events as well, some of which you need to rsvp for online.
***RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2014***
627 5th Ave. at 17th Street, Park Slope/Sunset Park, Brooklyn
R to Prospect Ave. or F to 7th Ave and a ten-minute walk.
The bar that fought the good fight and finally lost to sleazeball developer Bruce Ratner’s land grab reopened in a new location and deserves a lifetime achievement award for all they had to endure and overcome. They brought the actual bar from the old space near the Pacific Yards. The front room is somewhat nicer than before, and Donald’s crazy, psychedelic video mashups still play on the tv over the bar. The back room is about the same size as at Pete’s and is more suited to acoustic acts than the loud rock that they used to have in the old downstairs room. As at the old location, there’s music – which runs the gamut from Americana, jazz, the occasional Balkan band, rock, funk and singer-songwriters – although somewhat less of it than before since they also have regular comedy and open mic nights along with frequent art shows. Same nice people, different place: stop in and enjoy a rare asshole-free oldschool NYC atmosphere with cheap beer, generous portions of diner food and some good tunes.
Friends & Lovers
641 Classon Ave. (Dean/Pacific), Bed-Stuy
C to Franklin Ave. (avoid the dangerous Franklin Ave. shuttle if you can)
Pricy gentrifier bar with music in a lo-fi backroom space with stools and a railing along the walls and lots of standing room. Spoiled brats from out of state mingle with neighborhood people who might or might not be selling them stuff. Occasional live music here runs the gamut from singer-songwriters, to effete indie acts, to hip-hop and Balkan music. The sound isn’t that great and the bar does nothing to promote shows here, but then again, it’s not really a music venue to begin with.
48th Ave. and the river, Long Island City
7 to Vernon-Jackson, take 48th Ave. straight to the river, or G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.
Surprisingly easy to get to, this little amphitheatre-like park is situated between the old crane gantries left behind when the Pepsi bottling plant was razed, and a complex of shoddy, hastily thrown up luxury condos across the street. The free, early evening concert series here from June through August is booked by the Queens Council for the Arts, which means a terrifically diverse mix of music from all over the world. You can see acts here who would otherwise cost you a hundred bucks at Lincoln Center. Bands play on the flagstones in the middle of the park, looking up at the audience who typically gather on the park steps facing the cranes and the water. The sound is iffy (the PA isn’t very powerful), but the breeze off the river is nice and once the sun goes down behind the skyscrapers across the water, it’s a lovely place to be. Bring a date.
Ginny’s Supper Club
310 Lenox Ave north of 125th St., in the basment under Red Rooster
B/D or 2/3 to 125th St.
You take the staircase to the right immediately after entering the restaurant. The setup is about twice the size of the Jazz Standard, with a big bar to your left as you enter, lots of tables in front. The sound isn’t anything special, drinks and food are pricy and the crowd tends to be a mix of blitzed locals and yappy European tourists. Which is too bad because the staff are nice and booking can be good here, a mix of trad, postbop and latin acts, and cover is relatively cheap, in the $15 neighborhood. But nobody’s listening.
44 Wilson Ave (Melrose/George), Bushwick
L to Morgan Ave.
A lot of the Palisades crowd has gravitated here, in the wake of that fantastic venue’s sad demise. Word on the street is that the folks running this relatively new (2015) rock spot aren’t all that organized, prone to doublebooking and such. Not reviewed as of 2016
The Good Room
98 Meserole St. (Manhattan/Lorimer), cattycorner from the Greenpoint YMCA
G to Nassau Ave. or L to Bedford and a ten-minute walk
Gay disco with occasional twee and trendoid rock shows. This new space didn’t wait a millisecond to distinguish itself as New York’s most extortionistic club, when it comes to advance tickets. Those who prefer to pay cash – or whose only option is cash – are required to pay double the ticket price at the door. Welcome to Greenpoint, New Jersey. Not reviewed as of 2016.
44 Charlton at Varick, enter on Charlton
1 to Houston, C/E to Spring or any train to W 4th St., walk south and east
In what was once a deli space, WNYC built a brand-new, sonically immaculate studio for live broadcasts, lectures and the occasional concert, some at which you can chat up your favorite WNYC on-air talent. It’s not overwhelmingly big, so advance tix are highly recommended. The staff seem psyched to be here and sightlines are good. If you’re there for a live broadcast, turn off your phone, keep your eye on the “on-air” light to the right of the stage and unwrap that crinkly bagel somewhere else. If you can’t make it to the event, tune in at 93.9 FM and AM 820 or go to the live webcast.
390 McGuinness Blvd at Dupont, Greenpoint
G to Greenpoint Ave.
Frequent rock and jazz events here. Not reviewed as of 2016
Greenwich House Music School
46 Barrow St (Bleecker/Bedford)
1 to Christopher St.
This quaint old brownstone once served as home to a scene that foreshadowed the advent of indie classical music. That was in the 40s through the 60s. It’s still a music school, with frequent classical and jazz shows in their rustic second-floor auditorium (which isn’t air-conditioned, and can get stuffy in the warmer months). Cover isn’t overwhelmingly expensive, in the $15-20 neighborhood; the staff are friendly and laid-back; the sound is best suited to quieter acts. The Caffe Vivaldi folks also book some of their most popular acts here for a stiff cover charge.
They’re an orchestra, not a venue, a terrifically talented ensemble who deliver concerts as good or better than you’ll see at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center for half the price or less. Conductor Barbara Yahr brings out their best in Romantic material; they are also passionate advocates of new music, featuring many world premieres and New York premieres from some of today’s best composers from around the globe. Concerts are held in the sonically excellent Washington Irving High School auditorium (Irving Place between 16th/17th Sts.), which actually has an old pipe organ as a reminder of its Gilded Age past (who knows if it actually works). Your $20 donation and admission to the concert may also include a reception with wine and munchies afterward.
W 3rd St. and Thompson St.
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
Homeless guys thrusting flyers in your face try to lure tourists into this Israeli-owned bar with a stage in the back that caters mainly to an aging black crowd. Cover bands and the occasional funk act play on the stage at the back. Drinks aren’t cheap and although there’s no Nazi factor, the sound is lousy and loud. It’s hard to think of a reason why you’d ever want to go here.
NJ Path train to Grove St.
Outdoor free music series during the spring and summer, usually starting early (5ish) on the occasional weekend night at the Grove Street Path train station in Jersey City, an eclectic mix of rock, soul, funk and Americana.
20-14 29th St (20th/21st Aves), Astoria
N/Q to Ditmars Blvd.
Occasional rock, blues or metal at one of Astoria’s longest-running watering holes. Not reviewed as of 2016.
200 N 14th St. (Berry/Wythe), Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave. or G to Nassau Ave.
A predecessor of the Brooklyn Bowl, this slightly less upscale trendoid bowling alley has frequent music, an often excellent mix of punk, metal, garage, country and similar retro sounds on the weekend in the back room to the left of the main entrance. Small bar in the back, a few stools along the walls, expensive drinks and surprisingly good sound on the makeshift stage. Cover is cheap, typically under $10; the staff have tourist fatigue and are obnoxious.
The Hall at MP
470 Driggs Ave. (N 10th/11th), Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
You know it’s time to stick a fork in Williamsburg when ridiculously overpriced, white-tableclothed suburban folkie joints like this start popping up at ground level at those hideous, shoddy new “luxury” condo buildings. This one outdoes even City Winery in the cheese department: lame white funk bands, superannuated hippies playing interminable Clapton guitar solos and faux-sensitive prettyboys looking to be the next Damien Rice. And probably exorbitant food/drink minimums if you want to sit, and if you want a glass of wine that’ll be $20. Barf. Not reviewed as of 2016 and not likely to be.
*** RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2010***
corner of 3rd Ave. and Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn
Take any train to Atlantic Ave./Pacific St., get out via the 4th Ave. exit, the venue is a block away, past the falafel joint and the Arab grocery, across the street from the YWCA.
This dingy Falafel Hill old man bar was an oasis of decency for years, and had a long run as Brooklyn’s country music central. It’s been up for sale as a “development site” for almost as long – that they’ve managed to survive as long as they have is a minor miracle. It’s still a nice, laid back place to hang, although beer prices have risen. Lately there’s been a return to their old punk and country roots, with much less of the exploitative booking situation (where the booker counts every penny and if a band didn’t bring 40 people at 11 PM on a Monday night, they can forget about getting another gig here) that plagued this place starting in about 2010. The sound is still shockingly good, the bar staff are nice and the place has a great history.
247 Varet St., Bushwick
L to Morgan Ave
Enter through the phone booth (hence the name) at the back of the Ange Noir Cafe. This shockingly laid-back, low-key bar has pricy French food, a nice waitstaff and frequent shows, most of them free, by a mix of acoustic songwriters, acoustic Americana acts and rock bands. When there’s a cover, it’s cheap. Bands either play on the high stage to your left as you enter, or in the back tucked past the bar where there’s a piano. The sound isn’t bad, and the crowd is more diverse than you’d expect in this shi-shi hood.
169 Ave. A (10th/11th Sts.)
L to 14th St.; the M14 bus will also drop you off right in front of the place
Formerly Brownies, a hotspot in the LES rock scene from about 1994 to 2002. Now it’s a lowlit beer bar. Music made a slow comeback here, acoustic stuff in the little back room on Mondays; now there’s a small stage and a powerful sound system past the bar, stools and tables and banks of couches facing it. Beer prices are better than average for the neighborhood, and interestingly enough, the space has vastly less attitude than it had back when it was competing with the Mercury for top-shelf national touring acts and the creme de la creme of the NYC scene back in the 90s. If this place does things right, they could steal all the quality acts who play the Rockwood.
431 W 16th St., north side of the street just past Western Beef
A/C/E to 14th St.
Big second-floor space, smaller than Irving Plaza but larger than Santos Party House. The stage faces you as you walk in, with bars to your right and your left, elevated areas with seats (that get taken real fast) adjacent to the bars. Depending on the act, there may or may not be tables set out in the middle of the floor; if so, you may want to stand since there is a food/drink minimum if you want to sit (although their drinks are not super-expensive, and they’re strong). The sound is excellent. When they have music, it tends to be diverse, including rock, folk and global genres. It’s a ticketed venue (although tix are typically not overwhelmingly expensive, usually under $25), so people don’t hang out here. Security and staff here are refreshingly laid-back. Advance tix, available daily at their box office, are usually cheaper than day of show and highly recommended. Tickets for the excellent Rocks Off Concert Cruise shows are also available here for a $5 fee.
30 W 26th St.
F to 23rd St.
Sort of the Flower District equivalent of Radegast Hall: this expensive barbecue restaurant is a magnet for oblivious tourists who bellow over the music. Which is too bad, because it can be good, a mix of mostly country, bluegrass and the occasional blues, zydeco or western swing band, established New York groups as well as national touring acts. The big stage is downstairs at the split-level space: the PA is good and loud, but the clueless bridge-and-tunnel yuppie crowd could not care less and make it next to impossible to hear during quieter moments. The bar along the left wall is your best bet for seating: drinks are surprisingly a lot cheaper than the menu, although they don’t have draft beer. There’s no Nazi factor and the staff are pleasant. Cover charge, if there is one, is on the pricy side for what you get here, around $15.
Hill Country Brooklyn
345 Adams St, downtown Brooklyn
F/R to Jay St.; A/C to High St.; 2/4 to Borough Hall
The Brooklyn branch of this expensive local BBQ franchise has a small, rotating cast of acoustic Americana bands most nights of the week, for free. The hordes of tourists who frequent the restaurant’s Flower District outpost have no interest in listening, but this place draws a laid-back, multicultural local crowd. And the second-floor space’s sound is good, and while not everybody here comes to see the band, the experience is 180 degrees from what it is in Manhattan. The staff are nice, there’s no cover, drinks and food are as expensive as you would expect at your typical bbq joint but there’s also no minimums. You can take a seat at one of the long wooden tables or at the bar. If they work it right, they can be the next Rodeo Bar…but better.
454 Van Brunt St. (corner of Reed) Bklyn
B62 bus (you can catch on Atlantic just north of Court St.) to Red Hook
Consistently excellent music on Friday and Saturday nights at this carnivores-only spot. Many of the creme de la creme of New York’s Americana and oldtime scene play here. Not reviewed as of 2016.
168 7th Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn
F/R to 4th Ave.
Sort of the Gowanus version of the Stone. Surprisingly well tricked-out sonically, cozy and intimate first-floor former garage space: a great place to see A-list cutting-edge jazz for a $15 cover. Bare-bones milieu, not much in the way of heat in the winter or AC in the summer but the music is stop-shelf and the vibe is pleasantly chill. Be aware that shows here can start a half-hour late or more.
1650 Broadway, downstairs, just south of 51st. St.
B/D/F to Rockefeller Ctr.
A jazz club that’s seen better days. Les Paul played a Monday residency here for the last decade of his life; these days, former members of his band have continued the weekly gig backing a series of has-been corporate rock types from the 70s. The club also has occasional fusion, elevator jazz and even heavy metal on the weekends, often after the jazz is done. The sound is as good as you would expect in lowlit basement ambience; drinks are expensive; the staff remain pleasant and professional. Cover is usually in the $30-$35 range, sometimes less. Get here early if you want a seat at the little bar to your left at the bottom of the stairs, otherwise you can take a table. They serve food, which we can’t vouch for, being as expensive as it is. A couple of things you may not know: Iridium tix are half-price with a reservation and student i.d., and the club is all-ages.
22 Boerum Place, downtown Brooklyn
2/3/4 to Borough Hall
After a long tenure in Gowanus and then a brief hiatus in Greenpoint, this well-loved avant garde and experimental music venue has found a new home in a recently renovated former theatre space. Their old digs in Gowanus were most notable sonically for their banks of custom-made, flying saucer-like speakers that hung from the ceiling and which can be tuned to reflect minute fragments of the sonic spectrum. Many of the organization’s events are free; those that aren’t are usually cheap, $15 or under. The old space would serve drinks, but it was never really a bar: people typically come to listen. The staff are pleasant and low-key, by comparison to the more pretentious contingent that would frequent the old space. If your taste in music runs toward the outside, it’s worth checking their website periodically since they will sometimes offer intriguing free downloads, including many premieres and concert recordings. Have money to burn? Assuage your bourgeois guilt and throw some of it their way: Issue Project Room’s programming is gutsier than just about anybody else’s.
505 ½ Waverly Ave. (Fulton/Atlantic), Ft. Greene
C or G to Clinton-Washington
Radical theatre space in a wide, rectangular first-floor room, formerly a flatfix place, just a block from the C train. The tinfoil-lined walls don’t do anything to mute the high frequencies that bounce off them, but the high ceiling helps. Mostly theatre here, and it tends to be good: anti-gentrification and anti police violence dramas, along with numerous community events. When they have music, it’s usually improvisational jazz or indie classical. The staff are nice; beer and wine may be available, depending on the event. Seating is comfortable, and early arrival is advised because it’s a relatively intimate room and often draws a big local crowd.
***RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2011 AND 2012***
315 Columbia Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Many ways to get here without having to resort to the B61 bus which actually leaves you at somewhat of a distance from the venue. Fastest route is to take the F/G to Carroll St., exit front of the Brooklyn-bound train, walk straight on Smith to First Place. Take First Place to the BQE, then take the walkway over it. Make a U-turn at the bottom of the stairs and continue in the same direction one block on Summit St., then left on Columbia, the Jalopy is a block and a half away. It’s about a ten-minute walk. Alternately, take the 2 to Clark St., walk down Henry about fifteen minutes, take a right on First Place and continue as above. It’s not nearly as far as it seems.
NYC’s oldtimey music central, doing quadruple duty as guitar and fretted instrument store, highly regarded repair shop, music school, venue and bar. Cover is cheap, very seldom more than $15, often less than $10. The staff are just about the nicest, most laid-back folks you’ll find at any NYC venue and the music is consistently first-rate. The bar is to the right as you walk in and has a good quality tap beer selection, and remarkably decent prices. The charmingly quaint, dimlit performance space is straight ahead: take a seat in a church pew or in a row of chairs. The sound is superb: many acoustic acts choose to use a single, central mic for amplification, and it works remarkably well. Music here includes country, bluegrass, blues, ragtime, Balkan and other styles of global music and sometimes jazz. Strong contender for best Brooklyn venue, year after year, well worth the slight extra effort to get here.
1160 Broadway (at 27th St)., 5th Fl.
R/N to 28th St.
Considerably larger, more comfortable and sonically improved, by comparison to their old Hudson Street digs, the new Jazz Gallery features the same adventurously tuneful acts as at their old Soho location, emphasis on numerous latin styles. You take the elevator up to the fifth floor; you have your choice of stairs or elevator as an exit. There are typically several rows of folding chairs as well as plenty of standing room. Cover has gone up (typically $20, sometimes more); the staff are laid-back and friendly; depending on who’s working, there may or may not be drinks or snacks available for cheap. Early arrival (fifteen minutes before showtime, more in the case of popular big bands like Darcy James Argue or Orrin Evans’ large ensembles) is recommended if you want a seat.
116 E 27th St. east of Park Ave.
6 to 28th St.
Downstairs from the Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant, with whom they share ownership. Along with the Village Vanguard, this is your best bet for top-echelon jazz in New York City. The sound is just as good, and the comfort level is 180 degrees from the competition: this place is an oasis. For one, it’s a lot more spacious: a small bar area to your left as you walk in, larger tables past a barrier straight ahead and then a more cozy space with smaller tables to your right. What will strike you fastest is how casual and laid back the vibe is: the staff are pleasant and professional, drinks are cheaper here than at the other swanky jazz joints (they have draft beer), and most of all, there’s no minimum. Cover is also more affordable, typically in the $20-30 range, seldom more, frequently less. Booking here is also vastly more adventurous and diverse than at the other big-ticket clubs: Monday is Mingus night, with either the Mingus Big Band, Orchestra or Mingus Dynasty; they also have regular latin jazz as well as pretty much every modern or vintage jazz style. Food is typically pricy, although the menu has many tasty snacks, all under $10 (the mac and cheese is deliciously decadent, NYC’s best). You can’t go wrong with a show here.
Jimmy’s No. 43
43 E 7 th St. (Bowery/2 nd Ave)
6 to Astor Place
Microbrews, local cider and handcrafted comfort good and pub grub at this refreshingly oldschool East Village institution. Occasional bands in the cozy back room along with frequent book launches, the occasional art show, and lots of small-batch brewers celebrating their seasonal stuff here.
Lafayette St. just south of St. Mark’s Place, next to the Public Theatre (of which it is a part)
B/D/F to Broadway/Lafayette or 6 to Astor Place
After this blog bitched for years about the extortionistic drink minimums and lousy sound here, the venue apparently listened and fixed the sound. Now if only Joe’s Pub would 86 those appallingly expensive minimums, it would once again be one of Manhattan’s elite venues. Renovations here resulted in slashing the size of the bar (it now sits in the club’s northwest corner, replaced by a long row of individual stools along a long railing) to accommodate more table space The sightlines are still kind of a pain, but cover is pretty cheap considering what you get: a wide swath of global sounds as well as frequent theatrical, cabaret and gay events. Off and on, over the years, Joe’s Pub has been a first choice of venue for New York bands looking to do a classy album release show, a heritage they ought to live up to. The staff here have been through a lot of changes but seem less discombobulated than they were while renovations were going on.
66 Park Avenue at 38th Street
6 to 34th St.
Swanky, Japanese-owned hotel bar with jazz Weds-Sat. Shows are free with $15 min. Weds-Thurs, $25 plus $15 min. on the weekend. Res. recommended to 212-885-7119. Lots of quality acts filter through here. Not reviewed as/of 2016.
512 W 19th (10th/11th Ave.)
C/E to 23rd St. or L/A to 14th St. and a long walk north and west
Dance, film, art but not a whole lot of music anymore at this storied Chelsea avant garde performance space. Tix not overwhelmingly expensive (you should get them in advance for popular performers), nice enough people running the place, diverse cultures and ethnicities represented here, and the sound in the surprisingly comfy auditorium is good. There’s just less going on here than there used to be. Although that could be said for the city in general.
361 Metropolitan Ave. at Havemeyer, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L to Lorimer St., left on Metropolitan at Kellogg’s Diner, walk under the overpass, ther club will be on the right across from the old Black Betty space
If you’re old enough to remember the Knit in its old location on Houston, you’ll love the new place in Williamsburg. Forget any negative experience you may have had at the club’s second location in Tribeca – the new digs are 180 degrees the opposite. The vibe is mellow, the staff are casual and pleasant, the drinks aren’t any more expensive than they were in Manhattan, cover is fairly cheap, booking is diverse and eclectic and the sound is excellent (as you would expect in the former Luna space). And there are no Nazis anywhere (nor are there the legions of annoying interns you’d jostle with for space at the previous location). The music room is small, even smaller than the Mercury, although they’ve left the big stage as it was. The section to the rear has been turned into a separate bar with windows looking in on the stage, which is where they cage the trendoids, who stare disdainfully at the crowds watching the show. Discount advance tix for more popular shows are available at the ticket window as you walk in. What a pleasant and completely unexpected development – goes to show that left to their own devices, pulled out of the shadow of cheap luxury condos whose greedy developers tried for years to drive them out of the neighborhood, the Knit has emerged resurgent. Here’s hoping they survive the transition.
52-19 Flushing Ave, Maspeth, Queens
L to Jefferson St.; you have the option of a leisurely 20-minute walk north along Flushing Ave., or you can take your chances on the bus that stops at the corner of Flushing and Jefferson.
Huge, cavernous former window frame factory repurposed for experimental theatre and the further reaches of indie classical and performance art: sort of the Kitchen teleported to Queens. Tix are in the $20 neighborhood; the staff are friendly and there’s obviously been a ton of money sunk into renovations here. Several rooms in addition to the massive first-floor space here, and a back courtyard with a bar. The sonics aren’t nearly as boomy as you would expect, looking up at the beams way up in the ceiling. Frequent art shows in addition to music and theatre here.
87 Ludlow St at Delancey
F/J/M to Delancey St.
The former UC Lounge space is open again, and has regular nights of bands both in the long, narrow upstairs space as well as the more spacious confines downstairs, which are slightly smaller than the Mercury. You enter through the narrow upstairs bar. The staff here are laid-back and cool but the sound is atrocious, which is too bad because a lot of good up-and-coming bands pass through here.
790 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg
L to Graham Ave.
One of the neighborhood’s first gentrifier bars, with frequent music in the cramped back room. Cheap cover, lousy sound, a mix of singer-songwriters, indie rock, and the occasional punk show on Mondays. To the venue’s credit, they’re one of the few places that regularly has free jazz…on Sunday. Drinks are predictably expensive; the staff are snooty; the air conditioning doesn’t work very well.
61 W 62nd St. (across the street and a little south of the big main complex: enter on Broadway, middle of the block between 62nd and 63rd)
1/A/C/B/D to Columbus Circle
Frequent free concerts at 7:30 PM – a wide range including world music, classical and jazz, some acts who will probably play here in the coming years for pay, lots of it. Bands play on the stage in the middle of this long, rectangular, groundfloor space. It’s a good place to see up-and-coming talent. Expect there to be crowds filling the tables; expect to stand (along the side) or even be shut out unless you get there early (an hour isn’t too soon – this is an upper westside phenomenon). Expensive eats and surprisingly reasonably-priced drinks ($4 bottled beer) are available. The staff seem to be enjoying themselves and the vibe is contagious. This is also a great place to beat the lines and buy tickets for Lincoln Center events; the box office is open daily.
622 Degraw St. between 3rd and 4th Ave., Gowanus, Brooklyn
R to Union St. or F to 4th Ave., walk back in the direction of downtown Brooklyn; or if you’re up for a walk, it’s only about ten minutes downhill on 4th Ave. from the Atlantic Ave. station (use the 4th Ave. exit, not the one at BAM).
Converted warehouse space hidden in the middle of a quiet Gowanus block. You walk in through a foyer with a little bar to the right; the music is down the corridor to your left, in a spacious, high-ceilinged room with terrific sound. Depending on the night, there may or may not be seating. In the summer, the space has excellent, powerful air conditioning. The staff are refreshingly friendly and laid-back; drinks are pricy and on the small side although the door charge is cheap, virtually always $15 or under, frequently much less. Music is not an everyday thing here but when they have it, it’s eclectic and often adventurous, including hip-hop, the avant garde, chamber music and jazz in addition to the occasional trendoid band. They also have frequent gay events.
45-58 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
G/7 to 21st St./Court House Square
This popular, laid-back local hangout has music on frequent weekday nights and also on the weekends, an impressively eclectic mix of singer-songwriters, rock and jazz. Bands play on the little stage just around the corner past the end of the bar, with several tables nearby. During the warmer months, they may also have music outside in the backyard. The vibe is casual and friendly, drinks not overwhelmingly expensive and the crowd surprisingly diverse: this seems to be a definite 99-percenter bar.
50 Ave. B at E 4th St.
F to 2nd Ave.
Beyond the name, this garishly overdecorated, overpriced multi-level gentrifier bar/gastropub has zero connection to the guy who wrote The Call of Cthulhu or the decaying New England rust belt ambience of his Providence, Rhode Island hometown. Officious bouncers at the door will search you before you enter – no joke! Occasional bands on the small basement-level stage, comparable sizewise to Berlin. The crowd seems to be about half annoying yuppies and half drug dealers. No fun.
237 W 42nd St. between 7/8th Aves.
Any train to 42nd St.; walk east or west as necessary.
To the right of the big main downstairs room, B.B. King’s, is the most recent of New York’s three blues bars (long-running Terra Blues on Bleecker and Paris Blues Bar in Harlem are the others). It’s pretty much what you would expect for this neighborhood, a swankily appointed, dimlit tourist meetup spot with overpriced pub grub, expensive drinks and a surprisingly pricy door charge considering how bad most of the acts here are: mostly Clapton wannabes and metalheads showing off their chops. Occasionally they’ll have a rock band or Irish group here. As at its sister space next door, the staff are nice. The sound is excellent, just as good as it is in the larger room, and there are no Nazis harassing customers at the door. Want to avoid drink minimums? Take a seat on one of the benches on the upstairs ledge on the way to the bathrooms.
Lucky 13 Saloon
644 Sackett St. at 4th Ave, Gowanus
R to Union St.
Heavy sounds here, along with some jazz; useless website. Not reviewed as of 2016
Madison Square Garden
For a laugh, we decided to include this venerable basketball arena which began life decades ago as a boxing ring at 23rd St. and Broadway, migrated uptown and eventually found a permanent home at 34th St. and 7th Ave. Home of the Knicks (and regional basketball tournaments, which are a far better bargain, plus they don’t blast nonstop, earsplitting hip-hop and endless commercials at you like they do before, during and after NBA games here). This place no longer has any shows worth seeing: tickets are stratospherically expensive, priced to the hedge fund contingent, frequently hundreds of dollars apiece: the Van Halen reunion tour, Fall Out Boy, Bon Jovi, ad infinitum. Back in the early zeros – that’s how long it’s been since anybody here has been to the Garden for a concert – security was surprisingly lax (we smuggled in booze and other stuff), tickets were obscenely expensive (almost $40 for Iron Maiden), Bud was $8 for a little plastic bottle, the sound was boomy as it always is and we were stuck way up in the rafters. There is also a theatre under the arena, formerly known as the Felt Forum, whose name seems to change every few years and while slightly less expensive, is still beyond the means of most New Yorkers.
north of 23rd St. at Broadway
N/R to 23rd St. or take the F or 6 and walk to Broadway
There are a regularly scheduled free concerts here during the summer and fall and they are typically excellent, emphasis on Americana and jazz: Bettye LaVette, Christian McBride and Sharon Jones have played here in recent years. Unlike some NYC parks concerts, this is a very mellow scene: they don’t indiscriminately rope off half the park and cram the audience into a tiny space. Fun fact: since alcohol is sold in the park, it’s legal to drink here, regardless of the fact that it’s a public space. The sound isn’t all that great, but you’ll probably be able to get pretty close to the stage. Some shows have a stage at the east side of the park, facing west; others situate the stage at the southern tip in the sandy area at the corner of 23rd and 5th Ave.
34th St. between 8th and 9th Ave., north side of the street
This building houses both the Hammerstein Ballroom and Grand Ballroom, both large, Gilded Age style theatres with tiered seating in the back and floor seating between the tiers in the back and the stage. Advance tix – which can be ridiculously expensive – are a must, sometimes available at the Irving Plaza box office. The door staff aren’t very pleasant and you will be frisked: don’t bring anything drinkable in here. But the sound is excellent. They only have music here a few times a year these days.
The Manderley Bar
At the McKittrick Hotel
532 W 27th St. (10th/11th)
C/E to 28th St.
With its lowlit, red velvet/blacklit Twin Peaks ambience, this unmarked second-floor bar on the south side of the street – look for the nattily dressed doorman – is where you end up after experiencing Sleep No More (the goth Macbeth, if you haven’t heard). Lots of good acts, from loud rock to quieter noir stuff, pass through here. No cover charge, although drinks are expensive. There are two bars, to your left and in the back as you enter. Be aware that the music volume may be very low, and that the after-theatre crowd – who may have been chased, menaced or otherwise engaged by the performers – may be animatedly reliving their experiences and consequently may drown out the band if you don’t get close to the stage.
632 Manhattan Ave. at Nassau Ave., Greenpoint
G to Nassau Ave.; L to Bedford
Owned by the proprietors of the old Glasslands, this gentrifier bar/restaurant has piano music 7 days a week as well as frequent acoustic and trended rock shows in the back room. It’s one of the weirder setups in town: the band plays in the center, surrounded by booths on all sides, and as you would imagine, the sound isn’t exactly pristine…especially if you’re sitting right on top of the drums. Food and drinks are expensive, and the staff can be annoying. Even worse, the losers who book the Poisson Rouge have discovered this place and have been booking richkid rock bands that they apparently deem not popular enough for their main venue.
120 Claremont Ave., Harlem: main entrance west of Broadway at 601 W 122nd St.
1 to 125th St.
Frequent free and cheap concerts – jazz, classical, funk and new music – featuring luminaries from across the musical spectrum along with the school’s talented ensembles. Two auditoriums and several music rooms here, all of them sonically excellent.
1142 Broadway (At Knickerbocker), Bushwick
J/M to Myrtle Ave.
The soft launch that began in late 2015 continues; reputed slated to reopen fulltime in a new location a few blocks deeper into Bushwick than their last ex-bodega space. We need these trendoids back like we need a hole in the head.
557 Manhattan Ave. at Driggs Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L to Bedford Ave.
Matchless is a throwback to a cooler, less trendy Williamsburg. It’s a great place to see a band or just stop in for a beer and escape the tourists and trust fund kids. The biker bar theme makes itself apparent in the cheap drinks, casual atmosphere (at least until around eleven at night when the trendoids invade), relatively cheap pub grub, and comfortably roughhewn, lowlit ambience. Music here is in the back room, which you enter to the left of the bar. Cover is cheap (under $10), there are no Nazis anywhere and the sound in back is first-class – Matchless rivals Cake Shop and far larger venues for sonic excellence. Music is a diverse mix of garage and punk rock, country, singer-songwriters and indie stuff, even jazz sometimes.
1039 Washington St. (corner of 11th and Washington), Hoboken
Path train to Hoboken and about a 15-minute walk
After making a token effort to bring back the glory of the venue’s 80s heyday – when it was New Jersey’s counterpart to CBGB, with booking that rivalled and even outpaced their Manhattan counterparts – they’ve become just another cheesy bridge-and-tunnel bar/restaurant. The sound in the back room is still superb, but the bands who play here are mostly a mix of cheesy corporate emo, New Nashville pop and has-beens in their 50s playing lame dadrock or Clapton guitar solos. Cover is still cheap, but there’s no reason why anyone from New York would want to go here these days. Too bad – the people who work here are friendly, and the food is still good.
132 Greene Ave. (cor Waverly & Greene), Ft. Greene
G to Clinton-Washington; on the weekend, when the G’s not running, take the C to Lafayette Ave. and walk seven blocks
Charismatic, lyrically intense songwriter Ember Schrag, books low-key Sunday afternoon shows at this quaint speakeasy-type spot. She has a deep address book and excellent taste, ranging from Americana to songwriters to rock bands. What else are you doing on a Sunday afternoon, anyway?
113 Ludlow St. just north of Delancey, west side of the street
F/J/M/Z to Delancey
Even with the disco in the basement and the upstairs railings with tables that encircle the club, the legendary Bulgarian bar’s new digs are about a third the size of their former Chinatown location. Enter through the door on the right (the one on the left doesn’t work); the bar is in the back to your right. Drinks aren’t cheap, but they have several brands of exotic Eastern European bottled beer. Open Wednesday-Saturday, they don’t always have music, but when they do it is consistently excellent, Balkan stuff from Macedonia to the Ukraine and all points in between. Bands play in the area that serves as the stage in front of the non-working door. The sound can be erratie, although the staff are refreshingly cool and the crowd vastly less touristy than you find in this neighborhood: pound for pound, Mehanata is by far the best bar on the Lower East Side.
Houston just west of Essex
F/V to 2nd Ave
Although arguably still Manhattan’s best-sounding rock room, the original outpost of the Bowery Ballroom empire is now being financed by its larger sister venues and the Bowery’s national booking business. The crowds have dwindled, and it’s ironically easier to get a gig here than it was twenty years ago, when it was the place to play in New York with its pristine sound and its friendly late-night vibe. But as the years went by, it took a very unsuccessful turn toward corporate rock and then was hung out to dry by the Bushwick crowd, who never leave that neighborhood since being geotagged outside it is verboten. The sonics here are typically still fantastic, and the door staff have finally chilled out, more or less anyway, after being among the most annoying in town for years. At present, the Mercury is also the box office for advance tix for Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Rough Trade and Terminal 5 shows, open Tues-Sat noon-6 PM.
129 W. 67th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.
1/9 to 66th St. or A/C/B/D to Columbus Circle and walk north
Late-zeros renovations did wonders for this late 70s-vintage concert hall with tiered seating which has become a popular Upper West attraction and a remarkably cost-effective alternative to Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. Orchestral, chamber music and mellower jazz sounds best here: while places like this weren’t built for amplification, the sound here has become truly superb. If the lower level sells out, they may open up the balcony, where the sound is just as good as it is in the orchestra. Programming is diverse and imaginative, running the gamut from various classical styles to jazz, world and sometimes folk music. Conspicuously and happily absent are the nickel-and-dime concessions to the hedge fund set that you find at the other classical halls: the overpriced coat check, the booze, the officious staff and the ubiquitous corporate vibe. The staff here are competent and courteous; advance tix at their box office, open Tues-Sat til 7, are highly recommended, as are their numerous subscription options which are a real bargain (you can bring a friend free) if you plan to see several concerts here. Note that for shows where there is no assigned seating, early arrival is very highly recommended.
5th Ave at 82nd St
6 to 86th St.
Two things a lot of people don’t know about the Met: A) you can pay what you want, a quarter or a dime and they’ll still let you in, and B) they have some excellent concerts that are free with museum admission, as well as frequent chamber and world music concerts in the auditorium just past the Egyptian section on the first floor, and on Friday nights adventurous string quartet Ethel entertains the crowd at the swanky second-floor balcony bar. And if you’re lucky you’ll catch someone good playing the vintage 1830 Appleton organ on the balcony in the musical instruments section.
At the end of Myrtle Ave. between Jay and Bridge Sts., downtown Brooklyn
F to Jay St. (rear exit if you’re coming from Manhattan) or 2/4 to Borough Hall
Located adjacent to scam developer Bruce Ratner’s first failed project, BAM books free weekly noontime concerts here on Thursdays during the summer, a mix of Hot 97/Mariah Carey style “R&B” and older soul, blues and reggae acts. The park draws a mix of local retirees and blue collar workers on their lunch break, predominantly West Indian. The sound is surprisingly good. The park staff puts out plastic chairs, which quickly get taken by the lunch crowd and daycamp kids and autistic or retarded groups out for the afternoon. 2014 here was pretty much a wash.
163 W 10th St. at 7th Ave. South, basement level, next door to its sister club Smalls
1 to Christopher St.
The people behind Smalls opened this long, swanky, rectangular basement space to book more popular acts who typically play the Vanguard or Jazz Standard but want a place to work out new material in a duo or trio setting. Drinks and bar snacks are expensive; the sound is fantastic, service is low-key and unobtrusive. There are free shows for happy hour during the week; otherwise cover is usually $20 or $25. A relatively new spot popular with Euro-tourists who want a more comfortable, trad alternative to Cornelia St.
2960 Broadway at 116th St.
1 train to 116th St.
The Miller Theatre boasts arguably the most adventurous indie classical programming of any NYC venue: it’s like a yearlong Bang on a Can marathon. When it’s not, it’s a considerably more laid-back, inexpensive alternative to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, with frequent jazz and classical music. It’s a charming old gilded-age building,; shows here often sell out. Advance tix are available online and at their box office, open M-F noon-6 PM and two hours before the start of every performance. The sound is surprisingly good, although like Carnegie Hall, it’s best suited to less explosively rhythmic acts (amplified bass and drums didn’t exist when it was built). The staff are refreshingly helpful yet unobtrusive. The Miller Theatre also books the series of choral concerts at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on 46th St. And watch their calendar for the series of free early-evening “pop-up” concerts featuring A-list classical, jazz and avant garde talent.
206 W. 118th St, Harlem
2 to 116th St.
For awhile this place was the missing link between the Vanguard and Sylvia’s, now closer to the latter than the former. The ghosts of history waft through this long, rectangular Harlem jazz shrine with pristine sound. Bebop was invented on this very same stage in the late 30s when Duke Ellington’s band held their legendary cutting contests here. Most recently, booking was adventurous but has tailed off with a rotating cast of familar veteran faces from the neighborhood along with younger acts who veer toward top 40 and hip-hop. JC Hopkins’ big band plays on Wednesdays; jam sessions Friday and Saturday nights draw a lot of big names who come out for a late-night hang. Prices were steep to begin with when the place reopened and often reach stratospheric heights: this is Manhattan’s most expensive jazz joint, even pricier than the Vanguard or Jazz at Lincoln Center. The menu offers a swanky take on classic soul food, for carnivores; service is efficient yet unobtrusive, and everybody working here seems to enjoy being here.
394 Broadway, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Located right at the exit of the Hewes St. J/M stop
There’s a bicycle hanging over the door: shouldn’t this place be called Velo instead? Like Barbes, the decor is Gallic, with tables and a horseshoe-shaped bar. This expensive, low-lit bistro in a former check-cashing space has been expertly tricked out to look like it’s been there a hundred years, right down to the pull-handle toilet downstairs. The food is excellent; drinks are on the pricy side, but they have an uncommonly good wine list. The music is frequently excellent as well. They do nightly themes: bluegrass, jazz, oldtimey and even Balkan music, generally from about 9 to midnight. Musicians squeeze in behind the door where you walk in. Unfortunately, due to the prices, the place pulls an annoying, pretentious trust-fund kid crowd. But the staff are surprisingly laid-back and friendly. Be aware that there is a bus stop directly outside: the earsplitting screech of the alarms that go off as the bus doors open will jolt you out of whatever reverie you manage to slip into. For that reason, this isn’t a place you’ll want to spend any time at during rush hour.
2 Havemeyer St. (at Union), Williamsburg
L to Lorimer St.
This relatively new space brings to mind the old Black Betty: bar to the left, primitive barewalled music space to the right past the bar with a few chairs and ratty couches. The sound isn’t anything special, but it’s a cozy room, and booking is surprisingly diverse, with hip-hop, funk and Americana as well as the expected parade of Bushwick amateurs. Nice people work here; very casual vibe. Drinks aren’t overwhelmingly expensive, and it’s far enough from the Bedford strip to be out of sight, and out of mind, as far as most of the tourists are concerned.
53rd between 5th and 6th
V to 53rd/5th Ave.; B/D/F to Rockefeller Ctr.; 6 to 51st
The $20 cover charge is unconscionable, and Friday free day, starting at 4 PM, is a nightmare: the staff set up a wire holding pen in the adjacent lot, and it can take literally hours to get in (and by then, the museum is about to close: how about that for free?). But insiders know that it’s a “suggested donation” and you can do the same here as at the Met: pay what you want. The Summergarden classical/avant garde series seems to be on hiatus; occasional jazz or classical shows here along with a regular series of movies.
1220 5th Avenue at 103rd St.
6 to 103rd St.
Along with some of the most fascinating historical exhibits anywhere in town, they have occasional concerts in the basement auditorium: classical, jazz and world music. Free admission for upper eastsiders living or working north of 103rd St. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM.
N 6th St. between Wythe and Kent, next door to the old Galapagos space, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L to Bedford Ave.
The former Northsix space was taken over by the people who own Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury and to their credit, they did a good job. The silly bleachers downstairs are completely gone, opening up a lot of room on the floor. Like Bowery Ballroom, there is a balcony with a bar upstairs, accessible only via elevator. It’s unclear if this is merely a concession to people with disabilities, or to the crowds of trendoids who are too effete to walk up a flight of stairs. The downstairs dressing rooms and smaller, seldom-used performance space are also gone, replaced by a spacious bar area. Same with the bank of bathrooms formerly to the right of the stage, replaced by a slightly elevated catwalk where the sightlines are best. The sound is vastly improved, although the door staff have been a nightmare recently, to rival the gauntlet you had to endure at the old Roseland. Now if only they’d book a good band once in awhile. Considering the general popularity of the acts who play here, advance tix might be a good idea and are available at the box office here on showdates as well as at the Mercury Lounge box office noon-6 PM Monday through Saturday. And if you find yourself in the balcony, you might want to move downstairs before the show ends: otherwise, you may find the line for the elevator giving new meaning to the phrase “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll.”
58 W 129th St (Lenox/5th Ave.)
B/D to 125th St.
Occasional free concerts and rare film screenings, plus they book events all over town, many of them free and featuring some of NYC’s best players. One of NYC’s underrated treasures, reopened in their new space in December 2015.
N 6th and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
Opened in the fall of 2015, highly regarded composer/impresario Paola Prestini oversees booking Williamsburg’s sonically exquisite home to indie classical music. A lot of the more adventurous avant garde people who used to play Roulette have made their home here. A rotating cast, akin to the John Zorn circle at the Stone, take turns bringing in their friends and colleagues; music runs the gamut from new-music chamber ensembles, to choral groups, postrock and other less auspicious events like gay meat market nights. The cavernous, expertly appointed main room has sound to rival any venue in town; it’s not as dry a room as, say, Avery Fisher Hall. Tix are on the pricy side, $25 and considerably more for more popular ensembles. Expensive drinks are available at the little bar down the hall after you walk in. At least the friendly staff all seem happy to be here.
In the middle of Central Park, south of the bathrooms and west of the Summerstage arena
C to 72nd St; 6 to 66th St
There are about a half-dozen free classical shows here during the summer as well as the odd rock or jazz performance. If you’re coming for classical, shows start at around 7:30 and you’d better get there an hour early if you want a seat. Some of NYC’s best ensembles make regular appearances here; it can be a charmingly oldschool experience. The shade from the trees overhead and the mid-park breezes keep the space surprisingly cool in the early evening.
1 Center St., Newark
Path or NJ Transit train to Penn Station/Newark and about an eight-block walk.
Plush, comfortable auditorium just a five minute walk from the Path train, with concerts about once a week. It’s sort of a Town Hall Junior: pricy tix, but an easygoing, helpful staff. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra makes this place their home; they also have frequent easy listening and jazz shows with the occasional singer-songwriter or theatrical event.
55th St. between 6th and 7th Aves., north side of the street
B/D to 7th Ave./53rd St.
Big, beautiful auditorium, a la Manhattan Center or the Ethical Culture Society, that only occasionally has concerts: mostly plays and ballets here with the occasional ethnic, classical or jazz act. Tickets are often stratospherically expensive, especially the closer to the stage you are. Although you do get comfortable seats, pleasant ushers, clean bathrooms, and good AC in the summer.
New York City Parks Concerts
The Parks Dept. has created this incredibly useful citywide concert page, indispensable in the summertime!
The NY Klezmer Series
These wandering Jews have wandered, and wandered, and wandered: from the Sixth St. Synagogue, to the Upper West, then back down to Mehanata. They’ve finally found a home at the wonderful, lowlit, welcomingly friendly Jalopy. On most Wednesdays, brilliant drummer Aaron Alexander hosts his killer weekly klezmer series: cover is $15 for the show which starts at 8. There’s also dance and music workshops available as well as a package deal for the entire evening for extra money. Acts are a global cast of talent: klezmer is the loosely connecting thread among the many jazz, rock, classical and folk artists in Alexander’s deep address book.
New York’s flagship classical orchestra, who make Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center their home when they’re not on tour. Music director Alan Gilbert and other conductors from around the world lead this world-class ensemble through mostly familiar repertoire in addition to frequent holiday concerts, and the well-loved annual series of free concerts throughout NYC parks. In addition, their chamber ensembles perform in smaller concert halls throughout Manhattan. And their CONTACT series, dedicated exclusively to current avant garde works including many world premieres, is a very auspicious development. Ticket prices depend on the program: some are stratospherically expensive, but many aren’t; advance tickets are always highly recommended, as is early arrival (half an hour before showtime isn’t too soon). Or stop by the ticket window at the Atrium at Broadway and 65th for cheap day-of-show tickets, which pop up more frequently than you might think. Smartly, the orchestra records a considerable portion of their concerts and makes them available via itunes; there are also the weekly, nationally syndicated WQXR broadcasts The New York Philharmonic This Week (every Thursday at 8 PM) and Live from Lincoln Center.
92nd St and Lexington Ave.
6 to 86th St.
Did you know, if you’re under 35 you can get discounted tix to shows here for around $25? That makes the popular Upper East auditorium a real bargain compared to the other swanky classical/jazz halls. Otherwise, prices here are frequently beyond the pale, even more than at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. They also have frequent free chamber music in the smaller Weill Art Gallery space. Because this place is an institution (in both senses of the word: there’s always a crisis being narrowly averted), early arrival is a must.
1515 Broadway, entrance on 44th St. west of Broadway, north side of the street.
Take pretty much any train to 42nd St., walk east or west as necessary
Huge downstairs space, bigger than the space under the Garden formerly known as the Felt Forum and just a tad smaller than the old Roseland. Rows and rows of seats in the back, plenty of standing room up front. Expensive tix (at least $25, often much more), annoying and intrusive staff (expect to be frisked and don’t try to bring water in) and an exploitative coat check policy (a visit here once ended up in a standoff over a backpack which would have cost big bucks to check). Excellent sound, but not much in the way of good music: emo tours, Disney moppets, acts that tourists and kids from Jersey come to “the city” to see. If you absolutely must go here, advance tix are a must and available at the box office Mon-Sat noon-6 and on show nights until a half-hour before showtime.
62 Ave C bet. 4th and 5th St.
L to 14th St. or take the M14A bus w hich stops about a block away
Turkish sax legend Ilhan Ersahin’s shady, lowlit den of trippy jazzy sounds was slated to close in late 2015 but has remained open. Things go very late here and start as much as a couple of hours after advertised showtime. Cover is usually $10, payable at the door of this mysterious second-floor space located in a residential building. People gather or sit on the floor alongside the little stage on the right side of the space, a bar tucked around the corner on the other side. The sound isn’t anything special; if you’re not a regular, you will be treated with suspicion. On one hand, this place is a throwback to the area’s pre-gentrification glory days; on the other, watch your back.
263 E 3rd St. between Ave. B and C
F to 2nd Ave.
This friendly, socially conscious neighborhood institution has been around forever and still has regular Latin jazz shows, with the occasional band, songwriter or aspiring reggaeton artist. Booking here is diverse and imaginative, reflecting what the neighborhood used to be fifteen or twenty years ago. They have a liquor license but the bar is still as makeshift as it probably was when they first opened the place. Bands play on the stage in the back, where there are a few tables and plenty of standing room. Cover is cheap, there are no Nazis whatsoever, the sound is surprisingly good and so are the acts who play here: people you’d usually drop $100 on at the Blue Note come through here on a regular basis. Also frequent, well-attended Wednesday and Thursday hip-hop slams.
In the middle of little Byrne Park, bordered by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Third and Fourth Streets, Park Slope, Brooklyn
R to Union St. or any train to Atlantic Ave. and about a 10 minute walk
Reconstruction of a 1699 Dutch farmhouse that served as a pivotal site during the Battle of Brooklyn and was eventually razed in 1890. Kind of small and quaint with occasional jazz, classical or folk concerts on the weekend. Relatively cheap cover (under $15 usually), wine and pricy snacks are available. Get there on time if you want a seat: they get taken quickly by the oldtimers and neighborhood people.
14th St. just west of Ave. B, south side of the street
L to 1st Ave. or 4/6/N/R to Union Square and walk east or take the M14 bus to Ave. B
Most important thing you should know about this place; bring your passport! They have an ID scanner and use it mercilessly on pretty much everybody under 40. Unless you’re comfortable with some random sketchy character at the door making a digital copy of your personal info, you’ll need it (ID scanners don’t work on passports). Which is too bad: with the ongoing demise of the East Village, Otto’s has become become more and more of a landmark despite the little back room’s dodgy sound, the obnoxious door crew and sometimes pleasant, sometimes aloof bar staff. This dark, dingy oldschool rock bar also has Unsteady Freddy’s surf music extravaganza the first Saturday of every month as well as an eclectic mix of punk, ska, and even jazz acts playing in the back while retro 60s and punk rock blasts at the front bar. Drinks are cheap and other than on the weekend, when the tourists come in to guzzle the garish, campy tiki drinks from silly oversized bowls, it sometimes feels like it’s 1999 again here.
487 Rogers Ave at Midwood St., Lefferts Gardens
2/5 to Sterling St.
Oren Bloedow’s magically Lynchian new venue has an exciting lineup of the kind of edgy jazz and Americana acts who made the Stone such a happening place back in the 90s and zeros. It’s sort of Barbes relocated to Lefferts Gardens, an instant contender for best Brooklyn venue. Cover is always under $20 if there is one; most shows are pass-the-hat. The owner is a good guy – and a phenomenal guitarist – and has a deep address book. Booking here runs the gamut from adventurous jazz, to dark rock acts similar to his excellent main band, Elysian Fields, to Americana. Comfortably cozy front bar, sonically good back room a little bigger than Rock Shop, with a concert grand piano and seating in folding chairs. The crowd comes from all over, and comes to listen.
519 2nd Ave. at 29th St.
6 t0 33rd St.
Guinness, Guinness and more Guinness. That’s all they serve at this legendary Irish pub. Live music isn’t the staple it used to be here – Black 47’s Saturday night residency at the club’s old location a couple of blocks south in the 80s and 90s is legendary – but they still have traditional jam sessions and frequent Irish bands here in the back on weekend nights. A neighborhood spot with no little Hitlers manning the door: even if there’s no music, it remains a great place to hang out after all these years, drawing a mix of locals, unpretentious young people and expats.
906 Broadway at Arion Pl., Bushwick
J/M to Myrtle Ave.
The Bushwick counterpart to Cake Shop was a contender for Brooklyn’s best rock venue – and now they’re closed. What a shame. Why are we losing all the good venues while the crappy places remain open? It remains to be seen who if anybody will step up and fill the need for an oldfashioned, cool DIY space with adventurous loud bands. Gold Sounds? Trans-Pecos? Alphaville? Silent Barn?
***RATED BEST MANHATTAN VENUE 2015***
178 2nd Ave (11/12 Sts)
R to 8th St. or any train to Union Square
In an era where Manhattan venues are gouging customers every which way in a desperate struggle to survive, this long-running Mediterranean restaurant has carved out a genuinely supportive space for artists in their cozy, sonically exquisite back room. Booking is eclectic and focused around their grand piano, from art-rock, to jazz, to cabaret, to theatre and frequent gay acts. The menu is not cheap but the food is good: appetizers are especially recommended. The staff are very friendly and laid-back: everybody, even the guys in the kitchen, seem to be having a great time here. Otherworldly chanteuse Carol Lipnik‘s weekly residency is fast becoming legendary. Cover might seem intimidating, but if you’re in the know (hint: talk to the artist who’s playing here), there’s always a discount, often a real bargain. The lowlit ambience and convivial atmosphere make this an ideal date spot.
Panoply Performance Lab (a.k.a. PPL)
104 Meserole St. (Manhattan Ave./Leonard St.), Bushwick
J/M to Lorimer St.; L to Grand St.
Performance art, theatre and visual art as well as experimental music, indie classical and jazz at this former gallery loft space. Not reviewed as of 2016.
17 Meadow St. (Waterbury/Bogart), Bushwick
L to Grand St.
Right across the street from Shea Stadium (the loft venue/rehearsal space, not the ballpark parking lot), this multi-room groundfloor space rarely books music any more. The labyrinthine entry opens up on a big main area with good, powerful sound; there’s also a smaller room to the side that lacks soundproofing and consequently has dodgier sonics. Cover also runs the gamut; some shows are cheap, some are in the $20+ range. The door crew are surprisingly chill; drinks are on the pricy side. There’s also a flea market here on weekend days with street food out back and all-ages shows in the small room.
Houston and Attorney Sts.
F to 2nd Ave.
Old-school LES bar with a music room in the back. The sound is erratic; it can be pristine one night, and awful the next, depending on who’s working the board, if anybody. The crowd at the bar is surprisingly mixed: since it’s so far east, it tends to draw locals who’ve been driven away from the Ludlow Street strip by the tourists. Beer is fairly cheap but everything else isn’t. There are door personnel on the weekend, but they’ll let you in without carding you if you’re obviously of age. Less and music here than there used to be: lots of terrifyingly un-funny comedy open mic nights, which is sad, considering that many A-list bands have made this place their home base over the years.
Not a venue but an organization that has been staging cheap, high-quality classical chamber music performances for over a hundred years, a remnant of an earlier, more civilized era in NYC. Still very popular with an older, impressively diverse demographic. The only drag is that the most popular performers’ concerts tend to be available by subscription only, and a season subscription, cheap as these tend to be, will typically run you more than a hundred bucks. Concerts typically take place at Washington Irving High School auditorium on Irving Place, cattycorner from Irving Plaza, and occasionally at the Town Hall.
40 E 35th St. (Madison/Park) in the church basement.
6 to 33rd St. or B/D to 34th St.
Frequent 8 PM Saturday shows: Americana, folk and singer-songwriters, emphasis on socially conscious performers. Cover is typically $15, “no one turned away” for lack of funds. Not reviewed as/of 2016.
***RATED BEST BROOKLYN VENUE 2015***
Lorimer between Frost and Richardson, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L/G to Lorimer St., walk along Union toward the BQE (downhill), take a right, walk along the BQE to Lorimer, left on Lorimer, under the BQE and about 5 blocks to the venue
Williamsburg’s second fulltime music venue (after the Charleston, which no longer has music) gets a lifetime achievement award for having been Brooklyn’s original outpost for Americana. It’s safe to say that without Pete’s paving the way, there would be no Jalopy. There’s a bar as you walk in, the music room straight ahead. When bands are playing you need to go through the walkway to your right, into the small room. It’s a tiny little place with what can be great sound (bands do it themselves). Drink prices are about average for the neighborhood; they also have delicious pressed sandwiches. Pete’s started out fifteen-odd years ago as the place to see Brooklyn people playing country, bluegrass or oldtimey acoustic music, but when co-owner/booking agent Juliana Nash left, it went into a steep decline and the trendoids took over. After a brief resurgence with some eclectic classical and jazz-inclined acts, booking is now a grab bag that reflects both the club’s glorious past (adventurous songwriters and oldtimey acts) and the area’s dubious present (gentrifiers hell-bent on being the next Toby Keith or Taylor Swift). There’s a back garden for smokers – be aware it gets really crowded on weekends and late at night.
Ludlow between Stanton and Rivington, east side of the street just north of the Living Room
F to 2nd Ave.
There’s a bar/restaurant as you walk in, another bar upstairs, with live music in the back room. The sound is lousy: a place with as good a system as they have here shouldn’t sound this bad. The original LES doucheoisie hangout, it draws a Jersey/Westchester/Long Island cokehead crowd with a big out-of-town pickup scene. Drinks are fairly expensive: good luck muscling your way to the bar through the throngs of fratboys, Miley Cyrus wannabes and drug dealers. If you carry a purse, keep it close at hand. And the door crew are Nazis: they have an ID scanner (bring your passport if you have one: the machine can’t read it and capture all your vital info), the staff is rude and so is the clientele. They also don’t treat bands well. Those who play here typically do so once and don’t come back. You’d do well to see your favorite band elsewhere.
70th St. and the river, upper westside: walk down the stairs at Riverside and 68th St.
1/2/9 or A/C to 72nd St.
This is an actual former shipping pier, not a home decor store. There’s a brief free outdoor concert series here in July and August. Most of it is smarmy kiddie entertainment straight out of Capturing the Friedmans, but there’s an occasional jazz or classical act. There are plenty of chairs but no one listens: it’s an upper westside yuppie hang. To get to the pier you have to walk down a series of stairs over the highway from the north; go out the way you came in unless you’re up for a long stroll.
Pine Box Rock Shop
12 Grattan St. just east of Bogart, Bushwick
L to Morgan Ave
Vegan bar (yup!) with a little back room and a small corner stage, hidden way past the bustling front area, to the right and up a few steps. Lots of music here, an eclectic mix of loud rock, singer-songwriters and a gaggle of the autistic/dorky contingent that gravitated from Sidewalk to the old Goodbye Blue Monday. No cover, but the sound is awful. Beers are expensive; the yuppie puppy meat market crowd is as annoying as you would expect, and the staff are hostile.
158 Bleecker St. just west of LaGuardia, south side of the street
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
Underscoring the fact that so many of the Glasslands bands were as cheesy as any Jersey cover band playing the Bleecker Street strip, much of the Glasslands contingent has migrated to the Poisson Rouge. This further cements the club’s transformation from intrepid jazz/classical spot to gayer-than-gay disco, a more expensive version of the rest of the neighboring tourist traps. And other than the putrid top 40 cover bands who play here on the weekend, you basically have to be gay to get a gig here as well. Which is too bad. Downstairs from the space that formerly held the Village Gate jazz club, it’s a beautifully appointed room, expertly tricked out for sound. Coming in from the street, you walk downstairs past a small bar and into the music area, the stage immediately to your left with tables in front and some standing room along the back wall. Drinks aren’t cheap and they gouge you extra for a minimum if you want to sit. The staff are still nicer than what you usually encounter on this street; show tickets usually under $20 (advance tix highly recommended at their box office, open 12-5 Mon-Sat and also on show nights). Not much of interest here anymore; many of the classical and jazz acts who used to play here have gravited to Subculture or Spectrum.
116th St. and Amsterdam Ave., in the basement of St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus
2 to 116th St.
Performers typically play acoustic without amplification on a little stage in this little crypt-like room, which fills up very quickly – it’s a Columbia institution, open only Friday and Saturday nights during the school year. Sometimes they have booze and drinks, sometimes not. No cover – a terrific place to see top-quality talent in a refreshingly low-key, mellow setting. Here’s wishing them luck back in their old digs.
Prospect Park West at 9th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn
F to 7th Ave. and walk uphill on 9th St., the entrance will be on your left. Accessible via other trains, but as you walk through the park you will realize how large and difficult to negotiate it is.
Free concerts are held here from June through August, a mix of popular world music and folk acts, with the occasional rock band. Doors typically open around 6 for a show that starts at 7:30. At the gate, they’ll try to get you for $3, but just tell them you paid on April 15 – or go through the playground to the right of the main entrance, past the bathrooms and go in the back. As with Central Park Summerstage, the free shows here are being phased out by expensive “benefit” concerts subsidized by your taxpayer money. Since all this takes place during the summer and there is very little breeze beneath the trees here, it can get brutally hot. The sound is good, although the place is crawling with cops (don’t even THINK of bringing in a bottle, weed, etc.) and the seats get taken within seconds of when the gates open. But if the space is full, there’s still plenty of space in the park to the rear of the arena where you can hear the show and probably see a little as well. Beware the attitudinous rent-a-pigs who hang out by the back fence and hassle random concertgoers.
1226 Prospect Ave (Vanderbilt/Reeve), Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn
F to Ft. Hamilton Pkwy
Comfortable first-floor gallery space with occasional art shows and jazz performances, sort of a more upscale I-Beam. Not reviewed as of 2016.
In the middle of Corona Park, across the street from where Shea Stadium used to be, past the tennis stadium and the Globosphere.
7 to Shea Stadium/Willets Point and no more than a ten minute walk: go back in the direction the Manhattan-bound trains are running, cross the street and take your first accessible left.
Located close to the Queens Art Museum in the park, this small theatre with a single level of tiered seating only has occasional concerts, usually in the summer and around the year-end holidays. Tickets range from cheap ($10) for less-popular or ethnic acts, to prohibitively expensive, and are available at their box office. Frequently, they’re cheaper if you buy a subscription. The acoustics are surprisingly good. Surprisingly cheap wine and bottled beer are available. The staff and volunteers here are remarkably pleasant and professional. If you don’t know the neighborhood (or feel lost in Queens), there used to be a free shuttle van which runs from the old Shea Stadium parking lot to the theatre: look for flyers on surrounding lampposts as you exit the train.
113 N 3 Street, corner of Berry, Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
Considerably smaller than Bohemian Hall in Queens, it’s still a pretty big place: wooden booths along the walls, restaurant seating adjacent to the bar area, and an outdoor space with picnic tables where the bands may or not play (there’s also something of a stage to your left as you walk in). As at Hill Country, the owners here are blessed with good taste in music – Romany and oldtimey swing bands, primarily – and cursed with an awful location. Meaning that if you came here to hear music, you may not because the roar of the yuppie puppies yapping at each other can drown out everything else unless the band is really loud. The menu is pricy ($4 for a pretzel), though they have an excellent beer selection. A nice place to drink when it’s quiet, maybe, but unfortunately not a destination for listening.
48th St. and 6th Ave., enter on the avenue
B/F to Rockefeller Ctr.
Legendary art-deco theatre whose equally legendary sound is actually only adequate when rock acts play here. Enter on the southeast corner, walk past the ticket window on your right and then straight into the hall. Red plush seats upstairs and down; bathrooms in the basement. They don’t often have concerts here anymore, and when they do, they’re typically popular indie rock or corporate acts. Surprisingly, security is very laid-back here: nobody frisks you unless you obviously have a fifth of whiskey down your pants. Advance tix are a must, available at the box office, and ridiculously overpriced (it’s booked by the same people who book Madison Square Garden): you’d do well to wait til your favorite band who is playing here does a gig at Bowery Ballroom.
320 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
It’s a bar. Live music (mostly acoustic and oldtime acts) on the weekend. Not reviewed as/of 2016.
151 Bleecker at Thompson St.
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4 th St.
The prototypical Bleecker St. bar: blue-collar Long Island tourists pay a cover to see a rotation of singer-songwriters phoning in James Taylor and Counting Crows covers on the tiny stage along the wall of the bar’s inner room. Drinks aren’t cheap and the sound isn’t very loud: nobody listens here. It’s more of a post-LIRR meetup spot.
249 4th Ave. (President/Carroll Sts.), Gowanus, Brooklyn
R to Union St.
Shuttered mid-summer 2016. Very sad to see this place go. It was sort of a Gowanus version of Bowery Electric for a younger crowd. Ownership liked theme nights, booking was eclectic and more adventurous than most Brooklyn venues. Nice people, nice place, bad location: the yuppies everybody’s been waiting to fill those “luxury” condos are never going to arrive since those places are built for speculation rather than habitation. RIP.
One of the funnest things you can do during the warmer months. Boats sail rain or shine with an impressively good mix of party bands: funk, reggae, ska, soul and occasionally world music. Chicha Libre even played a couple of these. There are two boats: the smaller Half Moon, leaving from behind the heliport at 23rd Street and the FDR, and the Temptress, a 500-capacity ship that usually departs from 41st Street on the West Side. The Half Moon heads south along the East River and passes underneath the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges to the Statue of Liberty and then goes back the way it came: prepare for as much as three hours of revelry. The Temptress goes north on the Hudson River to the George Washington Bridge, then turns around, heading straight for the Statue of Liberty and then back to the harbor. For what you get, tix are not overwhelmingly expensive (almost always under $30, sometimes considerably less), the staff are laid-back and friendly – the fun is contagious – and the boats are immaculate. Even the restrooms are clean. Drinks are pricy but generous, cheap snacks like hot dogs and empanadas are available and the sound is pretty good considering where you are, under a canopy topside (if you prefer to remain below decks away from the crush of people, they pipe the music down there). These cruises are extremely popular and frequently sell out so advance tix (available online, at the boat office with the orange palm tree on the roof at the heliport, or at the Highline Ballroom box office for an extra charge) are a must, as is early arrival. Believe it or not, tourists for the most part have not yet discovered this: it’s usually a pretty hometown crowd. They also have the occasional Mets cruise, a leisurely way to get the party started and get you to the ballpark in time for the game. Be aware that bottles and other containers are not allowed onboard: you’ll have to leave them on the dock and then retrieve them afterward.
Allen St. just south of Houston, east side of the street south of the overpriced pizza place
F to 2nd Ave.
The decline of the Rockwood, from NYC’s best and best-sounding room for songwriters and quieter rock acts, to stuffy, ridiculously overpriced Jersey tourist trap, mirrors how the neighborhood has gone to hell. When the original, small Rockwood room opened in 2005, it was the little engine that could, booking more adventurous acts than any similar venue. For that reason, the high prices on drinks could be overlooked, especially as the place was so small and there was no cover charge. But as the young Republican blitzkrieg took over the area, the music went in a corporate direction, mostly clueless kids from out of state hoping for a big record label or a reality tv show to catapult them to stardom. And drink prices in the original small space, the big walk-down space in the adjacent “luxury” condo complex and especially the crypt-like third room, have skyrocketed. A bottle of water is the cheapest thing on the menu, and that’s four bucks. If you include a tip for the band, you would literally save money paying a $12 cover around the corner at the Mercury. Yeah, the Rockwood has great sound, but all the good acts who play here also play far more comfortable and affordable places like Pete’s and the Jalopy.
64 N 9th St. (Wythe/Kent), Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
The world’s highest-ceilinged record store also has frequent live music in the back, booked by the Mercury Lounge people. Oversize stage for a space a little bigger than the Knitting Factory; depending on the act, the upstairs balconies, with sparse seating, may or may not be open. The sound is excellent, and there are frequent free shows here. Otherwise, it’s where many touring acts who get booked into the Mercury or maybe even Bowery Ballroom will play the following night for some extra cash. There’s a long bar in the back, with expensive drinks: be aware that you can’t bring drinks into the record store. Beyond that, the staff are surprisingly laid back. Although there’s a lot of vinyl, some of it temptingly obscure, for sale here, it’s prohibitively expensive, sometimes $30 or more.
509 Atlantic Ave. at 3rd Ave. (across the street from Hank’s), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Any train to Atlantic Ave.
This huge old renovated theatre space is avant garde and indie classical central, more jazz-inclined than Issue Project Room. Some acts you would pay $100 to see at the Blue Note come through here to play their more cutting-edge stuff. Shows typically start around 8, cover is usually around $15-20, the staff are very cool and casual. Drinks are available although it’s more of a place for listening than for drinking. Depending on the anticipated turnout, the upstairs balcony may or may not be open. Roulette also has a vast online archive of shows dating from its 1970s Tribeca loft-jazz beginnings, with more amazing moments than you can count, streamable here. There’s often a discount on advance tix, available at their ticket counter on show nights.
150 W 17th St east of 7th Ave.
1 to 18th St. or any train to 14th St.
Himalayan art museum with frequent jazz and occasional classical shows in the sonically accomodating, comfortable midsize basement auditorium. Tix are on the pricy side, advance tix recommended at their front desk. Pleasant and helpful staff; the crowd comes to listen.
52-19 Flushing Ave just past Metropolitan Ave at 54th Street. Look for a gigantic roll-up gate on your left, across from the Chinese restaurant.
J/M to Jefferson Ave.
Occasional Burning Man-like loft parties in spacious, three-floor former warehouse digs at the fringe of where Bushwick meets Maspeth. Fire twirlers, space cake, dodgy-looking “absinthe,” acrobats, music, maybe a porta-potty if you’re lucky, and massive crowds of drunks and people tripping are always possibilities. Back in the late 90s and early zeros these events – the name is the promoter’s old Brooklyn phone number spelled out on a keypad – could be a lot of fun. But as the city changed, the crowds’ net worth went up and the quality of entertainment bottomed out. Every once in awhile they’ll have a decent band, otherwise it’s a surreal imitation of a now-vanished off-the-radar Brooklyn that’s a facsimile of what you’d find in Chapel Hill or Austin. The promoters don’t even bother to send out emails anymore, limiting their audience to people on Facebook, which dumbs down the crowd even further. And they gouge you for extra money at the door if your costume doesn’t conform to their specs.
345 Grand St. between Havemeyer and the BQE, Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave.
The old Rose Bar space has frequent if completely unadvertised music, a mix of oldtimey Americana and jazz sounds for the most part. Not much has changed other than most of the floor space now being taken up by tables (with a drink minimum, if you want to sit) and even higher prices than its predecessor’s were, and those were pretty steep to begin with. You can see the acts who play here at the Jalopy for a lot less without having to dodge the crowds of gentrifiers and textards on Bedford.
5th Ave. between 50th and 51st St.
E to 53rd St. or B/D/F to Rockefeller Center
One of the local television stations once aired an alarmist piece about germs on door handles. One of the doors tested happened to be right here at the church, and for some mysterious reason – you be the judge – it turned out to be the only one in town that was completely germ-free. The “world’s most famous U.S. gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral,” as they bill themselves has world-class acoustics, frequent choral and chamber music concerts and a highly regarded organ recital series that resumed in the fall of 2015 after renovations. Because the sonics here are the best in town and among the best in the world (and because tourists are constantly wandering in and out), concerts here tend to be very well-attended: early arrival is advised. Please remember that you are in a church and behave respectfully: no talking, no snacking, no cellphones.
St. Peter’s Church
6 to 53rd St.
Frequent jazz concerts here including the regular, free Sunday evening jazz vespers concerts at around 6 as well as outdoors in the amphitheatre-like space adjacent to the subway station, and classical concerts as well. The subterranean space has boomy acoustics best suited to less percussive acts. Mellow ambience, lots of good performers.
53rd and 5th Ave.
B/D/F to Rockefeller Center
The sound is as incredible as you would expect from an architecturally beautiful old New York stone space with a gorgeous, roughly three-second sonic decay. The free, weekly 5:15 PM Sunday organ concerts here were a popular local attraction and are on hiatus as the magnificent front organ is renovated. They also have frequent choral music performed by their world-famous choir of men and boys.
1120 Manhattan Ave. (Box/Clay), Greenpoint
G to Greenpoint Ave. or a long walk from the Bedford Ave. L stop
New York’s home for heavy rock has been invaded by lots of trendoids lately, a sad indication that the market for loud sounds may not be what it used to be – in this neighborhood, anyway. Dimlit bar with a good, cheap happy hour (and much stiffer prices after it’s over) as you enter, relatively small room (smaller than Arlene’s, about the same size as Leftfield) in back. The sound is excellent and LOUD as you would expect, considering who plays here, a diverse and frequently excellent mix of stoner rock, doom metal, art-rock, darkwave and all sorts of hardcore and death-metal acts along with sadly more and more frequent Bushwick sissy-rock. Cover is relatively cheap, around $10, except for the occasional pricier national or international touring act. The staff are easygoing and laid back although the door crew are obnoxious. Various noodle-type munchies may or may not be available at the bar. If the folks out front of the club – c’mon, guys, this is Greenpoint, not the East Village – weren’t so annoying, this might not only be the best venue in Brooklyn but the best venue in New York City.
Scholes St. Studio
375 Lorimer St. at Scholes,South Williamsburg
closest train is actually the J/M to Hewes St.
Scruffy lo-fi jazz and indie classical space. Cheap cover, if there in fact is one. Some pretty cool artists play here. Not reviewed as of 2016
617 Vanderbilt Ave., ground floor (Bergen/St. Marks), Ft. Greene
2/3 to Bergen St.
Intimate, unairconditioned jazz space in what’s essentially the foyer of a brownstone residential building. On a busy night, there might be two dozen people here, squeezed into folding chairs. Bands play on a little walk-up space in front of someone’s kitchen. This is a favorite spot for neighborhood cognoscenti and friends of the cutting-edge musicians (the esteemed Steve Coleman among them) who often use this as a live rehearsal of sorts, a halfsize version of I-Beam. The people who run the space are very friendly; drinks might or might not be available, depending on who’s working the door. Cover is typically $10. There also doesn’t seem to be any bathroom. Just so you know – you might want to slip into one of the many tourist bars on Vanderbilt if needs be.
18 Whitwell Pl., Gowanus, Brooklyn. Whitwell is a small street running parallel to 4th Ave. Exit at Union St.., walk 2 blocks in the direction away from downtown Brooklyn to Carroll, right on Carroll, left on Whitwell.
R to Union St.,
Laid-back old industrial loft space repurposed as adventurous jazz venue, a little less roughhewn than I-Beam. The sound is surprisingly good for an old rectangular brickwalled first-floor room a little bigger than the old Roulette in SoHo. Cover is relatively cheap, usually not more than $10. The staff are laid-back and friendly. Drinks are available, although this is more of a space for listening than for drinking, something reinforced by the crowd: you won’t have to dodge textards or yapping yuppies here. Music runs the gamut from the more interesting groups who play Cornelia St. or the Jazz Gallery, to international acts who lean toward the avant side of jazz. Shapeshifter is also Brooklyn’s home to large ensemble jazz of all kinds. Actually very easy to get to, less than two minutes on foot from the R train (it’s right around the corner from Rock Shop) – or you can take a leisurely 15-minute walk downhill from the Atlantic Ave. station. The space also has frequent art openings and the occasional theatrical event.
20 Meadow St. between Stagg and Bogart, Bushwick, Brooklyn
L to Grand St.
Big cavernous old commercial loft in the middle of nowhere, although it’s just a short, barely three-minute walk from the train. It’s so big that although people live here, their presence really doesn’t make itself known (although because they do, please treat the space with the respect you’d accord someone’s home). There’s an actual makeshift stage in the center with a PA; cover is cheap; you might be able to get a drink, but maybe not; the vibe is totally mellow and the bands start on time. As an added plus, they do theme nights here or groups of related bands. Worth the slightly extra effort to make the trip out here. They’ve also put together a huge online archive of live performances. Extra props to the crew here for memorializing what may have been a dump – although it was OUR dump.
***RATED BEST MANHATTAN VENUE 2011***
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (133-134 St)
B/2/3 to 135th St.
This scruffy storefront restaurant/bar/club, just three blocks from the train, wins on just about every count: it’s simply one of Manhattan’s three or four best venues. Vaguely African-themed restaurant in front, music in the back in a small space about the same size as the back room at the old Lakeside with impressively good sound. Music is as about as diverse as it gets here: reggae, ska, jazz, singer-songwriters, indie rock, jam bands and music from all over the world. Cover is cheap, if there is one. The place and the people who run it have a strikingly casual, laid-back vibe: no Nazis anywhere. The food is excellent, fairly inexpensive and there are a lot of vegetarian options (their homemade habanero sauce is heaven for hot pepper addicts but should be avoided at all costs if you can’t handle spicy food). Draft beer is expensive and drinks are even more so but they are extremely strong. One thing you should know is that the service here seems to run on African time so settle up fast if you have to be somewhere afterward.
Ave. A and 6th St.
F to 2nd Ave., walk north and east, or take the M101 bus uptown (or the M102 downtown) to St. Mark’s.
New York rock musicians grudgingly agree that Sidewalk is better now than it was ten years ago, when that loser who ran the Monday night open mic for decades was also in charge of booking. Many acts who made Banjo Jim’s, Lakeside Lounge, Zirzamin and Local 269 their home have gravitated here for the location, despite the awful sound and the sometimes clueless, sometimes hostile waitstaff. For years this popular weekend brunch spot – the first in the neighborhood to get a permit for sidewalk tables, therefore the name – was a venue of last resort, the kind of place where you could always get a gig no matter how inept a musician you were. The big draw was the open mic (which still gets crowded). There are still some vestiges of the dorky/autistic singer-songwriter crowd in regular rotation here, although most of them have aged out or have been priced out of town. The one-drink or one-item minimum in the back room is annoying: order a coffee or tea, whig is still three bucks. The front bar is a big yuppie puppy meat market.
The Silent Barn
603 Bushwick Ave (Melrose/Jefferson), Bushwick
J/M to Myrtle Ave.
The new Bushwick digs for this lo-fi space – now happily reopened after a fire in October 2015 threatened to put them out of busniess- are smaller than the old Ridgewood location now ocupied by Trans-Pecos. Before the conflagration, booking encompassed both the avant garde and the loud and assaultive. Surprisingly, this place had a pretty uptight vibe for such a lo-fi, DIY joint. No word if they’ll reopen, or put shows on in the big backyard with its picnic tables. Considering that these folks were willing to book all sorts of esoteric, far-out stuff, it’s worth a trip out here.
300 W. 116th St
D to 116th St.
The folks at the wonderful Shrine further uptown saved their dough and opened this much more shi-shi basement-level sitdown bar and grill to cash in on the yuppies who’re destroying the neighborhood. This seems to be where they’re putting the more singer-songwritery and, well, caucasian acts who’d occasionally pop up at Shrine, along with an intriguing mix of jazz and global styles, like a Barbes Jr. This place is expensive, loud and crowded as the night goes on.
19-33 37th St (19/20 Aves), Astoria, Queens
N/Q to Ditmars Blvd (last stop)
The latest entry among Queens beer gardens has frequent free music on the weekends, a mix of eclectic rock, top 40, hip-hop, Americana and jazz. Not reviewed as of 2016.
68 Jay St., Dumbo, Brooklyn
F to York St.; walk downhill, the bar will be on your left at the corner of Water
A throwback to another, vastly more pleasant era when the streets down here were strictly for the adventurous and the down-and-out. This dark, narrow little rectangular space in the old Grand Union tea warehouse has consistently first-rate oldtimey and Americana roots music, everything from bluegrass to delta blues on Saturday nights, booked by A-list songwriter Jan Bell. Mississippi hill country bluesman Will Scott plays here occasionally and is reliably excellent. In the early evening, many of the neighborhood trust fund kids wake up and come here. But when the music starts, they all leave, because it’s good. Relatively cheap drinks, a nice bar staff, casual atmosphere and no little Hitlers to be found anywhere.
152 Metropolitan Ave. at Berry St., Williamsburg
L to Bedford Ave
The Williamsburg corner bar counterpart to the old Rodeo Bar resembles its Manhattan predecessor in the worst ways. Noisy meat market crowd, hostile and attitudinous staff, and nobody listens to the music. Which, like the Rodeo, can be good. This place likes weekly and monthly residencies, lots of hotshot pickers and their pickup bands playing a mix of honkytonk covers and originals. Some of the usual suspects from the Jalopy and the old Rodeo scene filter through here. But the well-heeled gentrifier crowd is oblivious, and obnoxiously loud, and the door staff are really nasty, maybe as a result. You’ll do much better at Pete’s Candy Store or the Jalopy.
183 W 10th St. just west of 7th Ave. S, north side of the street
1/9 to Christopher St.; A/C/E/B/D/F to W 4th St. and walk west
This lovable basement-level dump remains as fertile an incubator for jazz talent as it was in the 90s: ever notice how so many bands from the Smalls scene during that era are playing Lincoln Center now? Cover is typically $20 and the level of talent is outstanding, a mix of up-and-coming artists and better-known acts playing diverse styles from postbop to latin to vocal jazz. A lot of familiar faces make this place their home when they’re not on the road. The sound here is much better than you would expect from the junk-shop decor – several live albums have been recorded here. Drinks are as pricy as you would expect; the staff are casual and pleasant. Early arrival is always a good idea because this place sells out frequently, especially for the after-hours jam which predictably draws a lot of A-list talent.
2751 Broadway (105/106)
1/9 or C to 103rd St.
More intimate than Birdland, this surprisingly friendly south Harlem spot is a little bigger than Smalls, with superior sound and a rotating cast of good postbop jazz acts, including regular organ combos and frequent latin groups. Cover can be steep during the evening because admission may come with a pricy white-tablecloth menu that is far from vegetarian-friendly. The time to come here is after around 11:30 at night because it’s a comfortably laid-back hang, cover is cheap if there is one, the jams can be very inspired and go well into the wee hours. The staff seem to enjoy working here and that vibe is contagious; the clientele is a mix of more adventurous European tourists and locals.
204 Varick St. at Houston
1 to Houston St. or any train to W 4th St., walk south and west
Mostly latin, Brazilian and hip-hop at this long-running, swanky west village Brazilian restaurant/club. The sound on the big stage is typically good, and surprisingly, there’s absolutely no Nazi factor at the door. Tix tend to be expensive – over $20 – at the box office. The food is mediocre and at their prices, to be avoided. Be aware that while sometimes the club opens up the floor for more popular acts, sometimes (especially for older acts) they don’t, meaning that unless you take a table for dinner, you may be squished into a narrow corridor between the dining area and the relatively small bar space.
Fulton St. at the river, 4/6/A/C/J/M/Z to Fulton/Broadway-Nassau
Not nearly as many free shows here during the summer as there used to be; now it’s just the occasional boring indie rock multi-bill starting in late June through the end of August. It’s a very mellow place, not what you would expect: the loud, drunken Wall St. trash who usually hang out here en masse are conspicuously absent. The main stage is across South St. right next to the tall ships; there’s also another just south of the intersection of Fulton and South Street, with rows of folding chairs. The sound is good, considering that it’s outdoors, and surprisingly there’s never much of a crowd. Surrounding stands sell draft beer in plastic cups, so it’s actually legal to drink here, even though you are technically outdoors in a public space. Get here early if you want a seat
149 Newark Ave., Jersey City
About a block and a half from the Grove St. Path station
BBQ restaurant with soul and funk musi,c some of it awesome. Black Joe Lewis played here once. Not reviewed as of 2016.
***RATED BEST MANHATTAN VENUE 2014***
121 Ludlow St. (Delancey/Rivington), 2nd floor
F to 2nd Ave.; J/M to Delancey
Comfortable, laid-back, sonically excellent loft space for some of NYC’s – and the world’s – most adventurous avant garde sounds. It’s a comfy living room vibe, lots of armchairs, bean bags and smaller seats for later arrivals. A throwback to the jazz loft scene of the 70s and 80s where magic was likely to happen on any given night. As at Roulette, cover is typically $15; drinks and snacks might or might not be available depending on who’s working the night. Booking encompasses every corner of the avant garde, from indie classical to jazz to chamber music from across the centuries and the occasional artsy rock band. And the crowd comes to listen. If getting lost in the music in a sonically pristine environment is your idea of a good time, this place is heaven.
605 W 48th St. (11th/12th Aves)
1 train to 50th St.
Swanky tri-level venue at the far west edge of Hell’s Kitchen, seemingly modeled on the old Bar Bat but far more shi-shi. Ticket prices are among New York’s most expensive; the sound system is powerful but a work in progress. For the moment (early 2015), booking here is a mix of nationally touring stoner acts, plus frequent latin rock and the occasion hip-hop show. Sightlines can be problematic if the crowd is large; entrances and exits aren’t clearly designated. Lots of black-clad employees with walkie-talkies looking very official and directing traffic, seemingly at random. Drinks are small and as expensive as you would imagine.
Ave. C and 2nd St.
F to 2nd Ave.
Actually a real nice, laid-back place to see a lot of top-quality jazz and jazz-oriented acts, even if it can get stuffy and hot if there’s a big crowd. Outsider jazz guy John Zorn’s little Alphabet City corner room is where most of his late 80s Knitting Factory crowd has gravitated since Tonic closed. It’s smaller than you would think; they may or may not have seating, depending on the popularity of the act onstage. The sound isn’t what you get at the Jazz Standard, but the crowd usually comes to listen. Booking is all over the place, a series of weeklong residencies by musicians from Zorn’s circle – there will be months where the acts here are consistently excellent, then they’ll hit a dry spell. Cover is typically $20, They don’t serve alcohol, although you can bring it in.
45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette
B/D/F/6 to Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker St.
Reopened after a midsummer 2015 closure, this lavishly decorated, sonically exquisite. comfortably appointed basement space deserves better booking than it gets. Located under the Culture Project Theatre (hence the name), it’s one of the best-sounding rooms in town. Seating in rows of comfy padded folding seats, with additional seating on both aisles ot the side, bar in back. Too bad the door personnel are so obnoxious. Discounted advance tix are often available at their box office, where the personnel are much friendlier. Aside from the occasional classical performance or jazz show, it’s too bad that most of the acts here are cheesy corporate singer-songwriters, the kind you’d hear warbling sortly over the PA in the dentist’s office. Trouble is that the Jersey tourists who go for that sort of thing all head over to City Winery, where there’s parking. Considering the sonics and comfort level here, a smart jazz promoter could make this space work if the owners had the sense to go for it.
253 Conover St., Red Hook
B61 bus (which you can pick up on Fulton St. or Atlantic Ave. in front of Damascus Bakery) to Beard St. (next to last stop; ask the driver).; walk 1 block, opposite direction of bus, to Conover St., take a left, it’s in the middle of the block.
Semi-legendary little Red Hook neighborhood watering hole. They’ve always had frequent live music, mostly Americana roots and most of it pretty good. Their local crowd in recent years became mixed with gentrifiers who can afford the $30 car service back to Bushwick – although the cash-only policy kept most of them out. Not much of a stage or a PA system, but it’s a party atmosphere and it’s contagious. Really nice people run this place.
1031 Grand St. at Morgan Ave, Bushwick
L to Morgan Ave.
New (winter 2016) midsize rock space currently in soft launch, more or less. Reputedly the sound is better than your typical ex-bodega basement. Booking seems to encompass edgier, louder styles as well as the usual parade of stinky Shweck posers. Not reviewed as of 2016
1/2/3 to 96th St.
95th St. & Broadway
There are two rooms here: the long, cavernous ground-floor auditorium with floor seating in front and tiered seats in the back, and the downstairs Thalia Theatre which usually shows movies but which sometimes features music as well. They’ve been doing jazz, classical and world music here forever, along with frequent dramatic and literary events (a couple of NPR shows tape here). The sound is very good upstairs, fine for movies in the downstairs room but a little lacking otherwise. Tickets are expensive, usually over $30. There’s now a shi-shi bar on the way down to the theatre which serves predictably overpriced little glasses of wine and fancy sandwiches and has the occasional free weekend jazz show..
151 W 46th St. (6th/7th Aves), 8th floor
1 or R train to 49th St.; B/D/F to 42nd St./Bryant Park
Not reviewed in the new location. The old one a couple of blocks west was a comfortably dingy nonprofit theatre space with frequent drama and comedy in addition to music. When they have concerts, the music is adventurous, everything from indie classical to jazz to global sounds. Drinks and snacks were available for cheap at the front desk at the old space; the sound wasn’t bad, and the staff casual and helpful. Tix remain seldom more than $10, often less.
610 W. 56th St.
B/D/E to 53rd St./7th Ave. or B/D/1 to Columbus Circle and a long walk west either way
Booked by the Mercury Lounge, where you can buy advance tix Tues-Sat noon-6 PM, this venue – a little bigger than Bowery Ballroom, with a similar layout (a couple of balconies with tables, big stage on the right as you walk in, and plenty of floor space) features the same type of acts who used to play Roseland, i.e. those not big enough to fill Madison Square Garden. It’s also a lot nicer than Roseland – no bullhorn-toting security ex-con Nazis anywhere – and the sound is superb. Although because it is smaller, concerts here very frequently sell out: advance tickets very highly recommended. Those familiar with Philadelphia will see a striking resemblance, layout-wise, to the Theatre of the Living Arts there.
Bleecker between LaGuardia and Thompson, north side of the street, upstairs
A/C/E/B/D/F to West 4th St., take the exit on the south side
One of New York’s only three remaining blues bars has terrific sound, expensive cover considering what you get (old guys phoning in Chicago-style standards, with the occasional oldtimey swing or country-blues act) and pricy drinks. Usually it’s the same lame Clapton wannabes playing here week after week, but sometimes they’ll have some really good acts (Hazmat Modine frequently plays here on the weekends). Considering the neighborhood, the staff are surprisingly friendly. Tables up front with waitress service; bar straight ahead of you as you walk in. Take a seat along the rail on your far right, along the wall, if you don’t feel like drinking: usually, you’ll be left alone.
235 E 11th St (2nd/3rd Ave)
Free classical concerts every Friday during the school year, usually at 7:30 PM in the comfy first floor auditorium with a few rows of chairs as well as seating along the walls, amphitheatre-style. Seating not reserved, prompt arrival advised. Something of a shock that this isn’t better-known than it is – so far it draws a mostly older neighborhood crowd. The performers are reliably first-rate, players you’d usually have to fork over fifty bucks or so to see at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. The school also books the outdoor free summertime Thursday lunchtime concert series at St. Marks Park at Second Ave. and 9th St., a mix of first rate jazz and world music acts.
123 W 43rd St. just west of 6th Ave
B/D/F to 42nd St.
This big old 19th century theatre, a favorite with the folkie crowd back in the 60s, was parodied in the film A Mighty Wind. Tickets are expensive, often ridiculously so (advance tix a must, and generally not through their box office: you may have to go to a Ticketmaster outlet like Irving Plaza). Ironically, the sonics here work best when there’s a loud rock band onstage. Acoustic acts sound lost in this boomy, spacious room. Unlike at the Beacon, they’ll let you out to smoke (there’s frequently an intermission), and if you’re not obvious about it, you can sneak alcohol in (forget about their small, overpriced drinks). These days they book a mix of world music, classical, jazz and Americana, mostly older artists.
915 Wyckoff Ave., Ridgewood, Queens
L to Halsey St.
The old Silent Barn space is open again, booked by a rotating cast of characters including that loser promoter who was at 285 Kent off and on and arguably hasn’t booked a single good band in that time. Looks like new ownership is throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. At least the ambience is working: friendly people at the door, totally laid-back vibe, brand new liquor license, more seating than this airy ground-floor apartment-house space had when it was the Silent Barn. The sound isn’t anything special, but it’s not awful either. Every now and then they’ll have a really good multi-band bill here, and cover is cheap, typically under $10.
2nd St. and Ave. A
F to 2nd Ave.
Is this place still the Treehouse, or is it called Exile now? Nobody seems to know for sure. Americana guitar genius Tom Clark (of High Action Boys fame) books a diverse cast of country and roots music performers Sunday nights starting at 9 upstairs at this long-running neighborhood bar, but the space has had a lot of music there during the week as well. The place got its original monicker from the branches casting their shadows on the brick wall of the building across the street. Stage in front, bar in the back in this long, narrow space with couches, stools and a counter along the right wall. Drink prices are about average for this part of town. It’s a pretty intimate, mellow scene that gets more lively as the evening goes on, and the sound is surprisingly excellent. Booking is haphazard: one week there’ll be three or four amazing acts, then the next week will be a wash, and there’s no telling who’s playing since the bar does nothing to promote it on the web. The door crew can be overzealously hostile and annoying. Grisly factoid: the space was remodeled in the wake of a deadly early-zeros explosion fueled by cooking crack cocaine.
Borough of Manhattan Community College
199 Chambers St. east of the Westside Highway
1/2 to Chambers St.
This is the BMCC auditorium, occasionally used for concerts. Jazz, world music, classical mostly. Tix, which can be pricy, are available onsite, check the website for details. Banks of cushy folding chairs, good acoustics, friendly and laid-back staff and surprisingly good acoustics in the space (which has shrunk considerably since the 90s, but is also sonically much more appealing).
Broadway at Wall St.
2/3/4/5 to Wall St. or any train to Fulton St., walk south and west
A beautiful historic landmark whose leadership went from heroes of the Occupy movement to zeroes over the course of that summer, which strangely coincided with the decline of music here. Frequent free Thursday classical, jazz, choral or organ concerts during the spring and fall. The acoustics here are superb as you would imagine; because those shows tend to be well-attended, early arrival is always a good idea. Please remember that you are in a house of worship and be respectful: no talking, no cellphones, no crinkly bags of potato chips, no screaming rugrats.
1011 Manhattan Ave (Huron/Green) Greenpoint
G to Greenpoint Ave.
Little sandwich-and-beer bar whose ownership has fantastic taste in music: Mediterranean psychedelia, Nashville gothic, edgy postpunk. Beer prices are remarkably cheap; can’t say that for the food. Not reviewed as of 2016.
702 Union St. at 5th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn
R to Union St. and walk a block back toward Brooklyn Heights or F to 4th Ave., walk about 9 blocks back toward Bkn. Hts.
The basement music room, comparable to the old Freddy’s, is much smaller than you would think considering the cavernous bocce court and bar above it. Music now only an occasional thing here, two or three times a month, which is sad, because this place was just starting to make a name for itself as one of Brooklyn’s superior venues. At least they like theme nights of related bands. Cover is cheap, typically under $10, always under $20; advance tix are available at the Bell House box office, but the space seldom sells out. The sound is iffy, but the staff are casual and laid-back. Upstairs is a yuppie puppy meat market.
corner of Union and the BQE, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L or G to Lorimer, walk straight down Union toward the BQE, club is on the corner on your right.
The music is usually in the back building at this two-building complex – once a pool supply dealership – that you reach after crossing the interior courtyard. It’s a high-ceilinged room with iffy, generally loud sound. Avoid standing under the little balcony in the back if you can: someone might spill their beer on you. Fifteen years ago, this place was rockabilly central, now it’s mostly tourists and trendoids. Not a place where you’d want to hang out. Drinks aren’t cheap. There’s a door guy on the weekends, but if you’re obviously of age you won’t have any problem getting in. The quality of the acts here depends; they like theme nights, and on a good night you can see several good bands. Rev. Vince Anderson – a New York institution and incredibly charismatic performer who you should see at least once in your life – plays a deliriously fun dance party here on Mondays at 11. Otherwise, lots of punk, garage rock, psychedelia and noiserock, some pretty adventurous bills. Be aware that shows here start on time these days: arrive an hour late for a 9 PM act and you’ll miss them. There’s a taco truck in the backyard most nights, in case you get hungry.
1/2/9 to Christopher St. or A/C/B/D/E to W 4th St. and walk west
178 7th Ave. S
This small, legendary basement venue has booked pretty much every jazz legend since the end of World War II (believe it or not, CBGB owner Hilly Kristal got his start here). Drinks are notoriously expensive and tiny (although you get a drink ticket with paid admission), as are the little chairs and tables they squeeze you into. But the sound is pristine (there’s a reason why so many jazz groups have made live albums here), the staff is professional if obviously harried – you have to be something of an acrobat to work here – and the acts are reliably first-rate. It’s pricy but cheaper than a lot of other jazz clubs – $25 plus a two-drink minimum during the week, $35 cover plus a drink minimum on weekends. Despite its limitations, this is your best bet for big-name jazz in New York.
261 Driggs Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L to Bedford Ave. or G to Nassau St.
Big, beautiful, cavernous Polish wedding banquet hall booked by the Knitting Factory. Plus cheap Polish draft beer and cheap steam-table Polish eats. Since this place dates from before the turn of the previous century, the architects did not predict the advent of rock music and the sound can be boomy: the closer you are to the stage, the better you’ll hear, and there’s plenty of room on the big dancefloor. Music is only an occasional thing here these days, although the acts they get are frequently topnotch: Gogol Bordello, Rasputina, Patti Smith. Advance tix are available at the Knit, the staff are totally chill, and on nights when there are no events, the bar and the snack bar are open to the public. For the most part, the crowd is neighborhood Polish kids: the trendoids, being xenophobic, generally stay away.
683 Washington Ave. at Prospect Place, Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
Any train to Grand Army Plaza
There are some sucky bars in Brooklyn, but most of them don’t come right out and admit it. The Way Station actually advertises itself as a place for dorks and losers. It’s hard to tell how accurate that is – the only bar on a rundown, slowly gentrifying strip, this cozy neighborhood spot draws a diverse crowd of locals and loud yuppie puppies, whose roar at the bar to the left of the little stage generally makes the music hard to hear, which is sad because it can be good, a mix of Americana and more edgy rock than most Brooklyn venues book. Admission is free, drinks aren’t overwhelmingly expensive and the staff are laid-back, but nobody, NOBODY, pays any attention to the bands struggling to make themselves heard over the din. If you can’t make it out, they stream their shows here.
E 11th between 3rd and 4th Aves.
Any train to Union Square
This place just makes you laugh: it’s an atrocity exhibition straight out of central Jersey with a clientele to match. Two spaces here. The big main-floor room, known a long time ago as the Ritz, roughly the same size as Irving Plaza with similarly erratic, loud sound, is booked by the folks over at Bowery Ballroom. This is where they hide the acts who don’t fit the Bowery’s effete cookie-cutter indie mold: Americana, punk and the occasional global music act or singer-songwriter. Downstairs is the “studio,” similar to the lower level at Bowery Electric with its oversized stage taking up considerably more of the floor space than necessary, and the sound is even worse down there. Be aware that there are other rooms here where tourists from Long Island and New Jersey can congregate, meet similarly minded yuppie puppies, drink $20 cans of Bud Lite and listen to Journey on somebody’s ipod blasting through big speakers. As a result, the lines outside are a zoo, the club’s officious staff in their black turtlenecks snarling at anyone who might be in the wrong place. Furthermore, shows here, both upstairs and downstairs, routinely start an hour or more behind schedule: arrive at showtime and you may have to stand in line outside the club for thirty minutes or more, rain or shine. For the big shows, advance tickets – available at the Mercury Lounge, 5-7 PM Monday-Friday, are an absolute necessity: your best bet is to arrive an hour after scheduled showtime, avoid the line for the downstairs room, head for the main entrance up the steps, and good luck with that. If you end up missing some of the concert, don’t blame us because we warned you about this place.
E to World Trade Center, take the walkway on the north side of Ground Zero over the highway and then hang a left at the bottom of the stairs.
Infrequent free concerts here during the colder months and lots in the summer, both inside the Winter Garden on the ground floor and outside on the plazas on the river, mostly classical and jazz. The annual Bang on a Can avant garde music marathon takes place here as well. Lately sonic issues – a persistent, paint-peeling, shrieking alarm on the elevator along the east wall of the space – threaten to ruin any hope of enjoying a show here.
68 Jay Street, Suite 201, Dumbo
F to Jay St.
Not a club: this is the box office. They’ve been promoters of an astonishingly good range of music from around the world, often at Symphony Space, though they’ve moved around a lot. Typically, they choose venues with excellent sound. The organization seems to be in flux and possibly on hiatus. Tickets are typically available at their office (open Mon-Thurs 11-5, Fri 11-1) and also at Symphony Space and Roulette for shows at each of those venues. Tix are also available online for some shows, with a processing charge. Season subscriptions and membership (which includes a 20% discount on show tix, which could be worth it if you see a lot of them) are also available.
82 West 3rd Street (btw. Thompson & Sullivan)
A/B/C/D/E/F to W 4th St.
The move from their old digs on Houston to the old Sun Mountain/Baggot Inn space is a resounding success: the room has never sounded this good. The layout is the same: long bar on the left as you walk down, tables and couches in front where there is a minimum. Cover is cheap, usually $15 or less. They still feature a lot of regular residencies: tropical and African jazz and frequent big bands. Relatively laid-back bar staff, drink prices are average for the neighborhood, cheap cover considering the quality of the acts here.
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