New York City's Best Music Venues
Soho Grand Hotel

310 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013

(212) 965-3000 https://www.sohogrand.com

The Downtown Venues Where Music History is Made

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We roundup the most vital outposts in the Manhattan music scene.

New York City has long been a major player in the American popular music scene. A cultural melting pot that attracts some of the most ambitious artists and entrepreneurs, it’s no surprise that NYC is also considered the birthplace to hip hop, garage, disco, punk rock, new wave and even salsa–a musical fusion of the Cuban and Puerto Rican influences converging in the city’s Latino neighborhoods in the ’60s. From Tin Pan Alley to Broadway and beyond, this city’s musical history is diverse, groundbreaking and still thriving.

And true to form, much of the city’s musical breakthroughs came through its always-vibrant nightlife scene. Would alternative music today be the same without The Velvet Underground’s iconic performance at Max’s Kansas City? And what would punk look like without CBGBs? The venues in which musical acts develop often plays a huge role in the outcome. So, with that in mind, we thought we’d take you through some of our personal favorite venues in Manhattan.

Mercury Lounge

An iconic venue in the indie music scene, The Mercury Lounge was founded in 1993 in the same building that once housed the servants of the Astor mansion on Fifth Avenue. A smaller space with a strong sound system, Mercury Lounge has established itself as a must-play for acts looking to take it to the next level. 

Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol have all played here. But perhaps most famously. The Strokes became a mainstay at the venue after performing here early in their career with the Mercury Lounge’s booker, Ryan Gentles, quitting his job to become their manager. 

217 E Houston St; (212) 260-4700

Webster Hall

Originally built in 1886, Webster Hall is a venue with a surprisingly rich history. Early in its existence, the venue hosted labor union rallies, fundraisers and political meetings before the roaring 20s introduced the venue to masquerade balls and hedonistic soirees thrown by the city’s Bohemians. Eventually, Webster Hall came to be known as the “Devil’s Playground” and was frequented by Marcel Duchamp and F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

It wasn’t until the 50s that Webster Hall found its place as a concert hall, hosting performances from Woody Guthrie and eventually acting as a partial recording studio. Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra all recorded at Webster Hall before the space was rebranded as a nightclub for emerging rock acts. Since 1980, Webster Hall has seen the likes of iconic acts like Prince and Madonna. More recently, the space closed for two years and a $10 million makeover. In 2019, Webster Hall reopened with a performance from Jay Z. With such heavy hitters among its roster and a history, a visit to an institution like Webster Hall feels almost educational. 

125 E 11th

Joe’s Pub

Established in 1998, Joe’s Pub was named after Joseph Papp, the theatrical producer responsible for the New York Shakespeare festival and Shakespeare in the Park. Considering its theatrical ties, it’s only reasonable that the venue itself should be equipped with theater-quality lighting and sound. In fact, the quality of the sound system has consistently kept the venue at the top of the “Best in NYC” shortlists for critical reviews. In 2013, Rolling Stone declared the venue one of the “10 Best Clubs in America”. 

And while the club is outstanding on a technical level, it’s the eclectic programming that garners such widespread interest. With a posh cabaret-like setting, you can find anything from Broadway-style performances to jazz to dance to world music. And if you’re only in it for the music, you’re in luck: the venue’s intimate atmosphere and high sound quality make for the perfect place to see your favorite musician. While the venue has hosted some major established acts, it is also known for supporting rising stars. Most notably, both Adele and Amy Winhouse made their U.S. headlining concert debuts here

425 Lafayette St; (212) 967-7555

Niagara

From 1981 to 1984, the bar currently known as Niagra was A7, the unofficial headquarters of the New York hardcore scene. Bands like The Violators frequented the club and soon the scene surrounding the space spawned its own acts like Agnostic Front and Antidote. After its short-lived reign, the venue laid low until musician Jesse Mailin reopened the club along with Johnny T. and promoter Laura McCarthy. 

With a Joe Strummer mural on the side of the building, Niagara is a spot continually honoring its rocker roots. A plaque inside commemorates its past life as A7, listing the musicians who have walked through its doors. And with a bumper sticker on the cash register reading “I Miss the Old New York”, it’s hard not to let your mind wander to the Beastie Boys and Black Flag walking through that door. But don’t get too lost in the past: Niagara has a thriving scene of up-and-comers you’ll want to stay present for.  

112 Avenue A; (212) 420-9517

Berlin

An underground bar opened in 2015 by Niagara co-owner Jesse Malin, Berlin feels like a kind of hideaway for musicians and the downtown scene. Hidden below 2A, the dimly lit venue calls to mind a secret cabaret with its red lighting, dark banquettes and chandeliers. But this isn’t just a place to hide; the clientele here tend toward the uberhip, artists, musicians and the fashion scene. As some might say, “see and be seen”. 

But most importantly, Berlin is a great music venue. Focused mainly on up-and-coming act and discovering new artists, the performances are intimate with a curved, rounded stage ensuring great sight lines along with a state-of-the-art sound system. 

25 Avenue A; (212) 505-2466

Nublu Club

Opened in 2002 by Swedish-Turkish saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin, Nublu quickly became a hub for an eclectic roster of musicians and DJs. Located in the Lower East Side, an area widely known for its rock ’n’ roll history, Nublu offered something different: a range of genres and musical styles from jazz to electronic to dance with Caribbean, African and South American music influences all over. 

The venue is known for its nondescript exterior and unique layout with performers placed on floor level in the middle of the room, underscoring the fact that music itself is most central to the Nublu experience. Today, Nublu has two locations (both on Avenue C) as well as a record label and namesake festival. And with acts like Brazilian Girls, Sun Ra Arkestra and David Byrne known to perform at this spot, it’s well-worth a visit. 

151 Avenue C

Soho Grand Club Room

Located in the Soho Grand Hotel, the Club Room is another hideaway for the downtown set; albeit a gilded one. With art deco touches and handcrafted mixology the Soho Grand is known for, the Club Room is the perfect escape from your usual downtown bar. But as that twinkling disco ball will remind you, you are still in the center of it all with some of Manhattan’s most coveted DJs spinning tunes on any given night. You may even arrive to find a local icon or international superstar doing a special guest spot—as was the case when legendary downtown it-girl Dianne Brill got behind the decks for the first time, and when Victoria De Angelis of Italian band Måneskin rocked the crowd with an unforgettable set.

Though the Club Room will always be a great spot to dance the night away courtesy of the turntables, the space also sees its fair share of live music. Recent highlights include Paul Schafer and Martin Short doing an impromptu set together, SNL band members sitting in with their fellow musicians, and King Princess performing David Bowie classics. And with avant-garde pianists on rotation alongside eclectic jazz, you’ll feel like you’re swimming in uptown elegance–all without the subway ride.

310 W Broadway; (212) 965-3588

WORDS Hillary Sproul 

PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy Webster Hall 

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Soho Grand Hotel

310 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013

(212) 965-3000 https://www.sohogrand.com
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