You met someone on a dating app and their only interests are: bluegrass, craft cocktails, and spending time with their four-year old nephew. You’ve seen pictures of the nephew, and he looks boring, so you roll with the other two interests. Now you need a bar that has bluegrass.
If you’ve been in this situation, this guide’s for you. Also, if you like bars and you like live music, this guide is for you.
To be clear, this isn’t a list of venues. These are bars that also have live music. Even when there isn’t music, most of these places are still fun spots to hang out. True, we could have just called this guide “bars we like,” but that wouldn’t have been very specific. Obviously, you know nothing about naming guides.
You’re going to contribute to the live music at Marie’s Crisis. If that brings back memories of singing You’re The One That I Want with your ex at a karaoke bar, you can take a breath. This is a piano bar, and the songs tend to be showtunes. You can just be a bystander if you want, but it’s pretty hard to not join in when everyone in this West Village bar crowds around the piano and belts out songs from Les Miserables in unison.
According to Google, a honky tonk is a “cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played.” Yeah, that sounds like Skinny Dennis. This Williamsburg bar is cheap and disreputable in all the best ways. We suggest you lean on the bar, double fist some Lone Stars and chat with a friend while you catch some country music with your peripheral hearing. Most nights there’s a band - just check the calendar to see what’s coming up.
Greenwich Village used to be the center of a bohemian renaissance, and now it’s mostly filled with NYU students looking for bouncers who don’t use ID scanners. So you won’t find Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, or Joni Mitchell hanging out at The Bitter End like the old days, but it’s still a good place to go when you want to hear live music. They have everything from hip-hop to acapella - as well as an acoustic open mic every Saturday afternoon.
You’ve told your friends countless times that the Upper East Side isn’t the snoozy place they make it out to be, and yet they still treat 59th Street like the fence in The Sandlot. Bring them to Ethyl’s. If the live music and ’70s-themed space with a disco ball don’t convince them, then the burlesque and go-go dancers will do the trick.
You go to Delmonico’s for the Delmonico steak, King Cole Bar for the Bloody Mary, and Minton’s for bebop. This big, sleek Harlem jazz club is where bebop was invented in the ’30s, but even if the history doesn’t interest you, it’s just a great place to listen to music while having clams casino and a martini. Just know that there’s usually a $20 cover and drink minimum at the table.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a band plays low-key instrumental music in the back corner of Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel, which could probably pass as a robber baron’s rec room. At 10pm every night, though, things change. A velvet rope appears at the entrance, the average age of people drinking $21 cocktails on plush couches drops by about 21 years, and a DJ starts spinning far less low-key tunes. Truth be told, we like it here at both times, but it can be annoying to get in late-night.
You may leave Prohibition wondering how Deadwood only made it three seasons if this place has been around for nearly 25 years. After all, it looks like countless other bars with a couple TVs, a daily Happy Hour, and a food menu with cheese quesadillas and grilled salmon. But Prohibition isn’t just another pub on the Upper West Side. It has a jazz-age look without feeling gimmicky, it serves very good cocktails, and it draws good musicians every night, like pre-fame Gavin DeGraw and Rachel Platten, with the possible (entertaining) exception of Mondays, which are open mic nights.
This East Village bar always draws crowds for jazz, reggae, soul or whatever else they feel like putting on their calendar. Bands play Sunday through Wednesday, and unlike other days of the week, you can actually get a table or seats at the bar without needing to arrive while the sun’s still up.
If you go to Arlene’s Grocery on a Monday night, you’ll be providing the entertainment. This dark LES bar, which has $3 drafts and $4 well drinks until 8pm every day, does a karaoke night where you put your name on a list, and then go on stage and sing in front of a full house band. In case you’re not looking to be out until 2am on a Monday or you’d rather see real bands perform, come any other night, some Happy Hour drinks in the bar area up front, and then pay a $5 or $10 cover to get into the venue.
This cocktail bar in the Carlyle Hotel has so much genuine old New York charm that you’ll half-expect to see Robert Moses and some politician speaking in hushed voices in the corner. Wear a tie or something with fur, order a $25 martini from a white-jacketed server, and listen to a phenomenal pianist while pondering whether you’ll ever finish The Power Broker.
Even if you don’t get one of the seats near the band in the small back room at Sunny’s, you’ll still be able to hear the live music that goes on here every night. That’s because the speakers throughout the narrow Red Hook bar play the music from the stage, and the open windows next to the band mean you can hear the blues, swing, or r&b when you’re hanging out in the nice backyard.
Arthur’s is a small, nondescript bar sandwiched between Via Carota and Marie’s Crisis, which makes it pretty easy to miss from the sidewalk. But if you’re into jazz or blues, make sure that doesn’t happen. The small bar, which has been around since the ’30s, has two shows a night, and while you usually won’t have any trouble ordering a beer or very strong Long Island iced tea at the cash-only bar during the earlier set, it gets as packed as its neighbors by the time the second show starts around 10pm.
There’s not much standing room at Anyway Cafe, but you can still go there just to have some drinks and listen to music. In fact, that’s the best way to use this East Village Russian spot. Sit at a table with a date, and share some house-infused vodkas or a chalice-sized martinis while listening to an accordionist or three-piece band play in the corner of the small, dark space.
Getting a table at an underground jazz bar is a good way to increase the likelihood of another date. Canary Club is one of the few places where you can accomplish that without having to buy a ticket or slip a few twenties to the host. The downstairs lounge at this Cajun spot on the LES takes reservations just like the ground floor dining room, and the red fabric booths, boudin, large-format cocktails, and live jazz make it feel like a speakeasy in New Orleans.
Most places with live music are either date spots where you listen to jazz while sipping a $16 shot of whiskey with a giant ice cube, or they’re so loud that you just smile and nod when you think someone is speaking to you. In other words, they’re not great places to meet people. The Red Lion is an exception. The big Greenwich Village bar, which has three different bands every night, tends to be crowded in a good way, with a dancefloor that gets used more and more as the night goes on, and a long bar where ordering a drink doesn’t feel like trying to hail a taxi in a rainstorm.
There are a few reasons Smoke isn’t a place you go to have a few drinks with a friend. First, it’s loud - all of the seats in the small space are close to the red-curtained stage - and having conversations during any of the three to five nightly sets is frowned upon. But most importantly, the drum battle or world-class saxophonist on stage is far more interesting than whatever your friend is trying to tell you about the importance of REM-sleep.
Radegast has brats, massive communal picnic tables, and groups of people locking arms spilling Hofbrau down their chins as they drink from giant mugs. In other words, it’s a prototypical beer garden. But this Williamsburg spot has one thing most beer gardens don’t - live music every day. Our favorite time to experience it is on weekend afternoons, when a brass band keeps us from thinking about how we’re going to crash before dinner time.
We like to go to Mona’s when we’re trying to hide from the world. It’s dark, we never have to wait for a drink, and the bartenders don’t bat an eye when we ask for more glasses of whiskey than we have people in our group. You can also use this Alphabet City spot as a low-key place to play pool or skee-ball, or to listen to live music. The house specialty is New Orleans jazz, but there’s bluegrass on Mondays.
Special Club is from the people behind Tokyo Record Bar and Niche Niche, and like at those places, entertainment at this underground bar in Soho is included in the experience. In the case of Special Club, the entertainment is live jazz, blues, and soul music, which comes on during nightly seatings at 8pm and 10pm. The $20 cover is worth the two-hour show, especially if you bring a date and make use of the very good wine list put together by Niche Niche upstairs.
Maybe you don’t feel like going home quite yet after Happy Hour drinks on Stone Street, or perhaps you’re looking to celebrate with clients after closing a deal at dinner. Head to Ulysses, an Irish pub with a stage in an attached bar room where bands play every Wednesday to Saturday. It’s your best option for live music in FiDi.
There’s almost never a cover charge to get into Terraza 7 in Elmhurst, and while the sound quality by the bar in the small space is perfectly fine, the only view you’ll have of the band is the bottom of their shoes. If you want a better vantage point to see where the jazz, salsa, or cumbia is coming from, you’ll have to head up to the benches on the elevated mezzanine, which is like a big catwalk overlooking the rest of the bar.
Walk into Rue B on any given night, and you’ll find a mix of dates getting a nightcap, and people wearing fedoras getting really into the jazz. With dim red lighting and individual tables along the wall, as well as jazz musicians who play every night - this East Village bar works equally well for both. Arrive early to avoid the $10 cover and take advantage of half-priced beer and wine during Happy Hour (5 to 8pm nightly).
St. Mazie is an excellent date spot in Williamsburg. Bring someone you like, order at the bar, then listen (and maybe dance) to live flamenco. We can’t promise it’ll always be flamenco, but there’s some form of live music most nights around 10pm. The bar itself is dark and cozy, and there’s an excellent patio. Should you get hungry, there’s also a full restaurant in the basement.
If you don’t feel like dealing with the strictly enforced quiet policy at Minton’s, or listening to a first-year Juilliard student critique the world-class musician on stage at Smoke, check out Harlem Nights. Get a mango margarita in a mason jar at the long bar during Happy Hour or a corn dog at a high-top at 3am, and listen to live music in between.
The Flatiron Room
Sure, The Flatiron Room can feel like you’re in the American Prohibition section of the Epcot Center, but that’s part of the fun. The other parts are the live music and the deep selection of whiskey. Music is typically jazz and blues, and it’s a good option for a third date.
Little Branch isn’t quite a speakeasy, but it also isn’t a normal bar. There’s no sign out front, there are a bunch of rules, it’s in a basement, and the cocktails are excellent. That last part’s why you go to Little Branch. It’s in the West Village, and it can feel like a tourist trap at times, but if you go on a weeknight you can usually catch some live jazz and have a cocktail in relative peace.
If you leave a Broadway show wanting more, it’s probably a sign that the show was either really good or really bad. Either way, you can keep the night going at Haswell Greens. This massive bar across the street from the Broadway Theater has performances every night, like bands on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and dueling pianos on weekends. Critique the show while drinking cocktails with names like “That’s So Fetch” and “Glitz And Glamour.”
Belly Bar used to be called The Leadbelly, and only the name has changed. It’s a long, narrow bar on the LES with a raw bar and standing room up front, and candlelit tables in the back. Both work well for first or second dates, and there’s usually live jazz or folk music before a DJ takes over late-night.
Most weeknights there’s jazz, mambo, or a brass band at Apotheke, a speakeasy-club hybrid in Chinatown. On weekends, you’ll probably hear a DJ (and you’ll probably have to get past a doorman). There’s a big seasonal cocktail list, and there’s also a prohibition cocktail list, because bars are still doing the prohibition thing.
The Dead Rabbit is our favorite bar in FiDi. The upstairs is upscale, and the downstairs is more laid back. Both spaces feel like a pub from the 1800′s, and they both have music. Check the calendar to see what’s playing, but usually it’s a pianist or some Irish folk music. Also, be sure to get an excellent cocktail or a bowl of punch.
From gospel to dubstep, the performances at LunAtico are all over the place. But whichever night you show up to this narrow Bed-Stuy bar, you’ll here something upbeat and fun, and you’ll get some very good cocktails with ingredients like absinthe or tea-infused gin.