New York is home to some of the most famous live music venues in the country, but it’s also full of hidden gems offering intimate performances and unique experiences. For those of us who love venues that aren’t overrun with fans or tourists, I’ve put together a list of the best (mostly) off-the-beaten-path spots for live music across the city.
95 Stanton St, Lower East Side
This Lower East Side mainstay gets its name from the bodega that used to occupy 95 Stanton before it was converted into a live music club in 1995. The venue has always had an intimate feel, and its capacity was just 100 before Arlene’s Grocery expanded into the butcher shop next door in the late 1990s. Today, up-and-coming and local bands play to audiences who can enjoy two fully-stocked bars and a gallery space in addition to live music. Arlene’s Grocery is one of the longest-standing venues on the Lower East Side and an important part of the New York City music scene.
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen Street, Lower east Side
Lady Gaga, Jessie J, and Billie Joe Armstrong have all performed at Rockwood, a venue with three stages and an eponymous record label. Owner Ken Rockwood has an eye for talent on the verge of becoming household names, with a focus on jazz, blues, and singer/songwriter acts. If you’re looking for a place to sit with a bottle of wine rather than dance the night away, Rockwood Music Hall will be a perfect fit.
35 East 76th Street, Upper East Side
For those looking for an uptown option, Cafe Carlyle has live jazz every night, with Woody Allen appearing as a clarinet player in The Eddy David New Orleans Jazz Band every Monday night. Cafe Carlyle has an old-school supper club feel, with a $75+ food and drink minimum and a strict dress code.
376 9th St, Park Slope
Named for a neighborhood in Paris famous for its large North African population and for being the epicenter of the Rai music explosion of the 1980s, Barbès is owned and operated by two French musicians and Brooklyn residents. This venue prides itself on its Single Malt Scotch collection and cocktail program, as well as its commitment to functioning as a community center in Park Slope. In Barbès’ intimate performance space, you can enjoy an eclectic selection of music, from Mexican bandas to Romanian brass bands and more.
1120 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
Hidden all the way at the end of Manhattan Avenue, Saint Vitus is named for a Black Sabbath song. While metalheads and noise enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy here, this musician-owned venue books acts from every genre under the sun. The red lighting and dark atmosphere set the mood while a range of craft cocktails and draught beers accompany a menu of tantalizing bar bites. The signature drink, The Saint Vitus, is made with whiskey, homemade honey simple, fresh-squeezed lemon, and Nero D’avola vino.
603 Bushwick Ave, Bushwick
Silent Barn moved from its original location in Ridgewood, Queens to Bushwick in 2013 with the help of a community funding effort. While Silent Barn is DIY in every sense of the word, they are now a fully legal operation with a license to serve wine and beer as well. Covers run from $7 to $10, but they pack their lineups, so you can expect to see three or four local acts on any given night. Accompanying the selection of up-and-coming local bands is an interior courtyard and gallery space with a selection of records available for purchase.
Forest Hills Stadium
1 Tennis Place, Forest Hills
This 14,000-seat stadium isn’t exactly “hidden,” but many are surprised when they hear the caliber of acts attracted to this recently-revived stadium. Paul Simon, Alabama Shakes, and Mumford & Sons are just some of the high-profile acts that have played Forest Hills Stadium as of late. Despite its capacity, the venue manages to feel intimate, and its proximity to both the subway and the LIRR make it easily accessible.
465 Seneca Avenue, Ridgewood
This new venue in Ridgewood aims to be a friendly spot with an inviting atmosphere and respect for the neighborhood’s history. With a regular children’s’ play group and community yoga classes during weekdays, it looks like they’re succeeding. Footlight turns 21+ after 8pm and is set up to accommodate all genres of music with their custom-installed sound system (and triple soundproofing helps Ridgewood remain the quiet, family-friendly neighborhood it’s known to be). This is the perfect place to enjoy up-and-coming acts in a socially conscious space along with a range of local beers and snacks.
Whether you’re looking for an evening of obscure heavy metal or smooth jazz standards, you’re sure to find something to your liking at one of these venues.