Whether it’s a cover band, a funky jazz trio, or just a guy with a guitar, live music makes everything better. Yet a good live song does more than get your feet tapping – it evokes a communal feeling of harmony. Everyone in the moment is feeling it, especially if there are cold beers on tap. With some of the largest venues for concerts, and a plethora of smaller scenes, New York offers live tunes for fans of all genres. Here are 10 of the best spots to find live music.
A good song, like a fine wine, gets better with age. You can find both at the City Winery, located in SoHo. A restaurant that serves its own original wines on tap, this venue would be a trendy choice even without the music. The flat bread pizzas are delicious, as is the lobster and saffron spaghetti. Of course, the wine selection is brilliant. The highlight, however, is the main stage. As you enjoy your sauvignon blanc you can soak in some amazing musical performances. The calendar showcases some easy-listening, acoustic style groups such as Graham Nash, The Indigo Girls, and cover bands of rock n’ roll legends, The Band. The patrons here tend towards a slightly older crowd, but after a few glasses of vino and a live rendition of “The Weight,” everyone feels 20 again.
The slogan for Brooklyn Bowl is “Eat. Drink. Rock. Roll.” That pretty much tells you all you need to know. Located in the heart of Williamsburg, The BB is fun, funky, and fundamentally awesome. The eating and drinking is pretty standard: good bar food, good drinks. But it’s the genius combination of live music and bowling that makes Brooklyn Bowl unique. This venue features laser-lit lanes and leather lounge areas, for those into picking up splits. Better yet, there’s a huge stage and floor section to get into the groove. The Brooklyn Bowl features a variety of different music styles, from new electro wave bands like The Knocks, to the reggae tones of The Wailers.
A spacious dive bar in the Lower East Side, Arlene’s Grocery is a grungy good time. Way back in the 90s, this iconic venue was just another street bodega/butcher shop. In 1995, it was converted to a haven for punk and other emerging music fans. The side room, which fits about 150 people, is solid and concrete, which makes for good acoustics and powerful performances. Most of the music is rock, punk, and rap, so you’re more likely to mosh then do the waltz…but that’s not a bad thing. If you need a break, the main bar is a great space to drink a beer. And, if you want to feel like a real rock star, Monday nights offer live band karaoke.
This list’s representative from Queens, NY comes in the form of Forest Hills Stadium. After a quick 20-minute train ride from Penn Station, you will emerge in Queens, but it might as well be Europe. The surrounding area is very charming, and the atmosphere is buzzing: everyone is there for the concert. People stroll from bar to bar, before filing in for the show. The venue was once an iconic tennis stadium, which also hosted many famous musical acts, including The Beatles during the British Invasion. It was re-opened in 2013 specifically to host big acts, with an intimate feel. This venue is open aired, sells beer, and is perfect for a summer night.
Located on 2nd and 2nd, the Anyway Café is second to none when it comes to the combination of intimate live music and vodka concoctions. It’s a hole in the wall, with clusters of small tables and effervescent lighting. The menu’s highlights are the vodka infusions, which are served by the shot: cranberry, mint, orange, and many more. Live music happens every night. Imagine a moody Spanish guitar, or the synthy vibes of a haunting rendition of Hotel California.It’s different than a normal live music bar scene, which makes it perfect for spicing things up with a sophisticated date. What’s the best way to enjoy melodies and martinis? Any way.
Whatever it is that keeps you entertained, Fat Cat has you covered. It has all that jazz, including billiards, ping pong, shuffle board, beer, and of course, live jazz. The dive-y bar is subterranean, dark, and loud, which makes it a great spot for taking a walk on the wild side. There’s a small cover ($3), and the beer is affordable at best, but the real reason to come is the quality of music. Fat Cat prides itself on continuing the New York tradition of late night Jazz Jam sessions, which happen after midnight every night. There are also scheduled performances every evening before the jamming begins.
Much like the City Winery, the Bell House is a perfect venue for an intimate music experience. Even better, it features two different stages: The Main Event Hall (and its 450 square foot stage), and the Frontier Room, which is more of a casual bar/show space. The BH also showcases a wide variety of performances, from 90s themed dance parties, to rock cover bands, to stand up comedy. There is even a science show featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson. If you want to head out to Brooklyn, The Bell House is a great place to mix it up. If you live in Brooklyn, you’ve probably already checked it out.
The Bowery area of the Lower East Side is home to some swanky clubs, hip bars, and innumerable DJs. But that’s not live music. For that, the place to go is the Bowery Ballroom. While keeping in line with the trendy theme of the area, the ballroom also delivers quality music performances…from bands with real instruments. The acoustics are top notch, and visibility, from either the floor or the balcony, is solid. The type of music skews towards the younger crowd, and tickets are affordable: usually in the 20-dollar range.
One of the oldest venues on the list, the Beacon Theatre offers a classic concert going experience (note the spelling of theatre). An art deco gem that first opened in 1929, the Beacon features orchestral and balcony seating sections for up to 2,800 people. The historical landmark has played host to countless historical acts. The worst seats in the house still feel like they are right on the stage. Of course, ticket prices aren’t always cheap, but if your favorite band is playing the Beacon, it’s certainly worth it.
Located in South Slope, Barbés is a French-inspired jazz lounge that has a certain je ne sais quoi.Maybe it’s the affordable beverages, or the dark moody lighting. Most likely, however, it’s the superb jazz and blues musicians playing in the back room. Founded by two French musicians with a joie de vivre,Barbés celebrates all the pleasures of life: top notch booze, and smooth tunes. The cover price ($10) is only a suggestion, but after reveling in the finer things, you may feel compelled to graciously pay even more.