Where are the best places to hear live music in New York City?

Answers from Our Experts (6)

You can catch up-and-coming and already-there performers who sing everything from rock to reggae at New York’s live music venues. Arlene’s Grocery used to be a Lower East Side bodega, but since the mid-1990s the building has been the go-to spot to catch rising stars on the music scene. There are live performances of everything from country-western to hard rock, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a band such as the Strokes (before anyone’s heard of them) for a measly $8 or $10 cover. The front Butcher Bar is always free, something the hipster crowd that keeps the place packed enjoys.

Longtime New Yorkers might have once considered Bowery Ballroom an oxymoron, but this long down-and-out neighborhood on the Lower East Side has since gentrified. Now it is home to what many consider to be New York’s best music venue. The sound is great, the bar is happening and the space plays host to indie acts ranging from country-rock to alternative. You’ll find the cash-only box office at the Mercury Lounge.

Big name musical guests, delicious food and a more than 500-bottle wine selection puts City Winery in Soho at the top of the charts for uniqueness. The 21,000-square-foot space epitomizes industrial chic with exposed brick walls and splintery wood columns. A full stage and state-of-the-art sound system transform the soaring space into an intimate concert hall where acts such as Steve Earle and Lisa Loeb make you feel less citified and more wine-country cool.

The Roseland has been around since 1919, and has pretty much seen it all. It started out a block away on East 51st Street as a dance club where big-band-era groups played. Quirkiness was a large part of its original appeal, too: Dance marathons and staged female prize fights were held here before more formal dancing took center stage. In 1956, the ballroom moved to its current location. Today, the 3,500-person standing-room-only venue in Times Square is mostly popular with indie rockers and for special events - when the hall gets a custom makeover for the occasion.

The best places to hear live music in New York City are:

Café Wha in the village - rock and funk

Blue Note in the village - jazz

BB King - blues

Lincoln Center - jazz

Smoke - authentic jazz

Whatever your music taste, New York City offers a variety of live music venues. For classical music, visit Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall; take in a pop or rock concert at The Beacon Theater, Radio City Music Hall or Madison Square Garden; and for jazz lovers, check out Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Blue Note or Jazz Standard. 

The best places to hear live music in New York City:

1. Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Broadway at 60th Street, 212-258-9595). Located inside the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle, with 140 seats, the intimate and famed jazz club is named after the famous jazz artist Dizzy Gillespie. It is part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series, and its musical director is famed trumpeter Branford Marsalis.

2. Beacon Theater (2124 Broadway, 212-307-7171). The 2,800-seat Beacon is a landmark venue on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and has been recently refurbished. The Allman Brothers have, until recently, enjoyed a month-long residency in the room each March and many of their compadres in the jam-band orbit play the Beacon for multi-night runs. It sounds great and reeks of history.

3. Living Room (54 Ludlow St., 212-673-5179). It’s almost too bad that this excellent room is forever linked with Norah Jones, since so many songsmiths make this Lower East Side venue a solid choice when seeking singer-songwriters or guitar-driven improvised music. Monday nights belong to guitar wizard Jim Campilongo.

4. The Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St. at Bowery). Built in the same year of the stock market crash (1929), this 550-seat club serves as the namesake of Joan Baez’s Bowery Songs album, recorded live at a concert there on November 6, 2004. It is also appears in the 2000 film Coyote Ugly as well as the 2008 movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Kind of a local legend is a little place called Arthur’s Tavern. I think they have [live music] seven nights a week. It’s kind of dive-y as far as the bar, but the music is soulful and all local guys who’ve been around for a while. It’s growing in reputation, but the style of the bar hasn’t changed. It goes back a long time.

Another place that people wouldn’t necessarily think about is called The Red Lion. If you’re ever around the NYU area, the edge of the West Village — it’s actually down the street from Lupa — they have a great Saturday/Sunday, late-afternoon band that plays all acoustic. It’s really, really well done. At times, The Red Lion will have some good local acts.

Jessica Colley

New York is a live music lover’s haven, with as many venues as genres of music. While there are many places with crowds and big stages, the best places in the eyes of this New Yorker are the intimate ones, where you can feel the energy of the stage up close. 

City Winery. If you’re more into a glass of wine in a refined space than a noisy concert venue, check out City Winery. This warm space has a wide variety of music performances from well known bands to local acts playing everything from jazz to acoustic sets.

Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. This concert venue is also a watering hole where you will be comfortably seated at a table during the performance. Expect flickering candles and acts ranging from cabaret to bluegrass to more established acts.

Arturo’s. This is technically an old school pizza joint on Houston Street, but one part of what makes it so special is the live jazz performed nightly until late. One minute your waiter will be taking your order, the next he will be donning a fedora and belting out a jazz classic. A true New York experience.

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  • william campbell, new york city and hong kong
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