City Scenes: 5 Unique New York Venues
Being a music fan in New York City comes with its fair share of FOMO, so finding great venues (or, ahem, a great radio station) can help sort through the many answers to the question, "What's going on tonight?"
There are, of course, more venues across the five boroughs than we could list here, but there are also fewer than there used to be, as development and rising rents continue to affect the scene. So here are a few of WFUV's favorite independent spots for live music — places that provide a good hang and good sound, book a solid mix of known and should-be-known names, and clearly believe in the art as much as the experience. —Sarah Wardrop,
Baby's All Right (146 Broadway, Brooklyn)
♬: / TWITTERBaby's All Right has a lot of cool things going for it — beginning with its name, which forms the acronym BAR. The club, which co-founder Billy Jones oversees, has all the essential live-music-venue ingredients: strong bookings, a good Williamsburg location, a high-quality sound system and spiffy lighting. However, it's Baby All Right's intangible elements that give it a unique vibe. Moving through the restaurant/bar to gain access to the music area gives a little speakeasy energy to the space, as does the cozy 280-person capacity. Baby's All Right is a great place to see up-and-comers before they get big, as well as catch big dogs when they treat fans to intimate gigs, like when The Raconteurs played the packed club earlier this summer. —Eric Holland,
The Bell House (147 7th Street, Brooklyn)
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The Bell House in Brooklyn is one of the best venues in the city. The programming there helps it stand out: It hosts not only music, but also comedy shows, live podcast tapings and the "Secret Science Club," a not-so-secret science lecture and performance series which meets there every month. The Bell House, co-owned by Jim Carden and Kevin Avanzato, also throws fun dance parties. There's a separate bar area (with a photo booth) that's very breathable and chill. The Bell House serves food, too, including some decent vegetarian options. —Alisa Ali,
Nestled inside the Public Theater and bearing the name of founding artistic director Joseph Papp, Joe's Pub is one of New York's most artfully programmed venues. Since its inception in 1998, the club has smartly mixed music, theater, book readings, dance, cabaret and comedy, mirroring the diverse and inclusive scope of the Public Theater. The room has a sophisticated-but-relaxed vibe, and the lineup is always surprising. You might catch a set from a local favorite like Justin Vivian Bond, The Lemon Twigs, Stew or the audacious Bridget Everett, or you might see soon-to-be superstars — I saw Adele's first Stateside gig there in March 2008. (She had a terrible cold, drank cup after cup of tea, cracked self-deprecating jokes and gamely sang her heart out.) Joe's Pub's actual stage might not be the biggest, although the room does feel more expansive since a recent renovation. But the space between artist and audience is so deliciously close that every gig there ends up being special. —Kara Manning,
Rockwood Music Hall (196 Allen Street, Manhattan)
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It's hard not to be biased toward the cozy-yet-cool Rockwood Music Hall, since it's where WFUV has staged so many amazing Marquee Member shows: Lucinda Williams, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, Brandi Carlile with a full band and string section, Low Cut Connie with unprecedented audience interaction. Owner Ken Rockwood and his team embrace local artists and road warriors alike, with multiple shows every night on three stages. The distinctive red-diamond pattern of the sound-absorbing walls — the backdrop to many a band photo — and the nifty piano storage in a nook above the main stage are just two of the facility's unique features. Stop at the bar for a friendly hello, then climb up to the balcony for a clear view. —Rita Houston,
The Way Station (683 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn)
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The Way Station, Andy Heidel's club in Prospect Heights, might have been what Hilly Kristal had in mind when he first launched CBGB: a kind of performer/artist salon for neighborhood folks, complete with excellent drinks. Whatever the original intent, Heidel's club has given way to something exciting: a mix of steampunk and Doctor Who-themed decor, bartenders who could be from a novel (slinging odd drinks like the "Shirley Temple of Doom"), and a strong but occasionally weird music scene. Heidel books every band, performer and event, from science lectures to "ShakesBEERience." This is the joint where you can also catch bands in their cocoon phase, as they figure out who they are in front of fans. —Eric Gottlieb,
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