The Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images
7 New York City Venues To Visit Your First Week In The Big Apple
New York City can be a tough town to tackle for tourists all types. But for live music lovers, it’s borderline overload — a veritable feast! With so much on the menu and never enough time to sample everything, it can be helpful to ask around and get a sense from the locals about where the best action lies. You'll find many of the same venue names seem to come up in conversations, and for good reason.
From the historic jazz club staples to iconic performance halls, neighborhood bars to hip multi-leveled music complexes, there’s no excuse for a night spent sans live music during your stay. Here are seven places that serve as solid starting points for exploring live music in New York, perfect for the music maniac high on energy but low on time in the Big Apple.
1. The Bowery Electric, East Village
The best place to start for live music is a solid neighborhood bar with a mixture of local acts and buzzworthy special appearances. The Bowery Electric in the East Village is just the place. Upstairs, the Map Room hosts local artists in an intimate setting and the downstairs venue delivers the perfect mix of rich rock and roll history (the club is a few doors down from where CBGB once operated) and a fresh, diverse modern edge.
"The Bowery Electric, on Joey Ramone Place and the Bowery, continues the tradition of live music on the Bowery downtown NYC, historically renown for the explosive 'music scenes from the early '70s through to the mid-'90s," says GM/Talent Booker Diane Gentile, who cites some past live acts and DJs including Foster the People, Counting Crows, Just Blaze, Lucinda Williams, Grandmaster Flash, Nora Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. "The venue also hosts one of NYC's longest running popular weekend dance parties, 'The Electric Feel Dance Party.' … Many of the employees are musicians and there is an atmosphere of love and respect for the craft of rock and roll in all shapes and forms."
2. Blue Note, Greenwich Village
Since 1981, the Blue Note has been one of the premier jazz clubs in the world. Playing host to such late jazz royalty as Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Tito Puente, the venue has hit a high note in becoming an institution of both Greenwich Village's local music scene and the jazz world at large.
Blue Note continues to offer the finest in jazz entertainment with shows every night at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., plus 12:30 a.m. shows on the weekends. They've also launched their own festival and built an international network of Blue Note jazz clubs around the world, including locations in Hawaii, Milan, Beijing, and Tokyo. It's safe to say that no jazz-head's trip to Manhattan would be complete without catching a set at the Blue Note.
3. King’s Theatre, Brooklyn
Few venues on earth are as breathtaking as the recently redeveloped Kings Theatre in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood. With soaring curved ceilings, ornate walls, gorgeous wood paneling, and a glazed terra-cotta ornamental façade, the historic Kings reopened in 2015 under city ownership to serve as a resource headquarters for live entertainment, the local arts, and community organization. Originally, the building was one of five "Wonder Theatres" built in New York and New Jersey in 1929, inspired by the French Renaissance Revival style of the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House. Today, the Kings Theatre has been transformed into a state-of-the-art 3,000-seat venue (the largest of its kind in Brooklyn), hosting shows, screenings, historic tours, and more.
"Our goal is to have programming at Kings as diverse and vibrant as the borough of Brooklyn," says Tyler Bates, General Manager. "We have served our community across a variety of events partnering with local organizations that have helped bring a unique audience to the theatre. From the lobby through to the auditorium, there is no shortage of spectacular architecture and design that creates a special sense of awe and energy which makes for an unbelievable experience for the audience and performers alike. It’s truly the most extravagant room I’ve ever been a part of working in."
4. Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
It's no secret that Williamsburg has experienced exponential growth in terms of hip-factor over the past decade. I first visited the Music Hall of Williamsburg to cover a Steve Earle & The Dukes (And Duchesses) show several years ago when the neighborhood transition was in full-swing. Not only is the venue the perfect size to offer a glimpse at a national act in an intimate open-floor setting, the forward sides of the balcony level take you right up to the front, leaving nowhere on stage for the energy to hide. As part of the incredible network of venues operated by Bowery Presents, Music Hall of Williamsburg has maintained its foothold in the neighborhood as the go-to place for live indie, Americana, folk, rock and more.
5. Iridium, Midtown
A holy ground for jazz located on Broadway at 51st street, the Iridium has carried out its goal of providing younger, up-and-coming jazz musicians a place to play while still hosting the legends. For nearly 15 years, its claim to fame was the weekly appearances by none other than the master innovator of guitar and recording technology Les Paul himself. As one of the area's few surviving clubs catering to jazz, rock and blues, the Iridium is the premiere place to catch a show in Midtown.
"The surfeit of jazz dives that once lined 52nd Street are long gone — as are many of the musical icons who played there — but in this sub-level Times Square venue, the Iridium does its best to recreate the halcyon days of the 1920s and 1930s," New York Magazine writes. "Sure, the air’s no longer smoky, the décor’s a shadow of what it was and you’re sitting knee-to-knee with the European tourists at the next table, but true jazz aficionados overlook those minor details to hear sets played by some of the best-known names in the biz: vocalist Jimmy Scott, guitarist Mike Stern, saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, and the Mingus Legacy bands, to name a few."
6. Rockwood Music Hall, East Village
Tucked downtown just below Houston Street, this mini-complex is a bargoer and music lover's dream, with three different performance spaces varying in size, vibe, and music style. On a recent random Monday night, there was a psychedelic fusion improv trio, a blues-folk acoustic duo and a bluegrass open jam. While some shows are ticketed — and all performing musicians deserve a tithe to the tip jar — most sets are free. Rockwood Music Hall provides an unmatched opportunity to see a wide variety of great live music for very little money, saving you more dough for that beer or cocktail to pair with whatever transpires on stage.
7. Radio City Music Hall, Midtown
Except for maybe Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall, there may not be a more recognizable name to non-New Yorkers than Radio City Music Hall. With its unmistakable blue neon trim, red and yellow-lettered marquee and smack-dab-midtown location, Radio City has become a magnet for tourists hoping to catch a glimpse at history. However, once inside the hype is real — or perhaps surreal — as the stacked mezzanines and rippling ceiling folds frame the grand stage beautifully.
Originally conceived in the stock market crash-era as the brainchild of John D. Rockefeller, it was designed to offer high-quality entertainment at prices ordinary people could afford. Radio City has become the premiere location for movie openings, television specials, stage shows, media events, and more. Earlier this year, MusiCares hosted their annual Person of the Year fundraising gala honoring Fleetwood Mac at Radio City during GRAMMY Week — an iconic venue well-suited for paying tribute to an iconic band.