Picking the best live music venue in New York City — much like picking the best restaurant — is an impossible task. Among hundreds of bars with stages and open mics, DIY spaces, and boldface venues, the options seem endless. But the vast majority of notable concert venues in NYC are owned and operated by a few huge promoters who have homogenized everything to the point that much of that illusion of choice is just that… an illusion.
Still, as far as live music cities go, New York is hard to beat. It’s a must-stop destination for even the smallest tours, a hub for record release parties and insider events thanks to the presence of so much music industry press, and ground zero for more than a few notable past and present “scenes” over the years.
To find a favorite venue, you have to know what you’re looking for. Some people like big, expensive arena shows, some live to chase underground artists in cheap, basement hideouts; some want to dance, others prefer to enjoy a concert from their seat; some won’t journey all the way to Brooklyn, others are too cool for Manhattan. And with so many options, seemingly subtle things like the layout of the crowd space or the price of beer can make or break a venue’s reputation.
No matter what your preferences may be, these are the best NYC venues for every kind of show:
Lower East Side, ManhattanThe never-fail fan favorite
Whether it’s the charm of the hardwood floor, the favorable layout — a decently sized bar and lounge downstairs and stairs at both the front and the back of the 575-person capacity performance space help keep crowd movement fluid — or the place’s knack for catching acts just as they are beginning to have their moment, there’s a special alchemy that makes a show at the Bowery great. It also doesn’t hurt that Bowery Ballroom is smack in the middle of the food and drink hub of the Lower East Side, providing fantastic options for pre- and post- show fun. — Alex Garofalo
Lower East Side, ManhattanBest spot for up and coming artists
The 250 capacity room at Mercury Lounge solidified its reputation as a hotspot for up and coming artists when the Strokes were discovered here in 2000. It’s somehow maintained this cred despite ditching its independence in 2017 to team up with promoter Live Nation under the Mercury East banner (which also includes the Bowery Ballroom). Fantastic programming and cheap ticket prices still draw fans to the small, barebones room, show after show. — AG
Bushwick, BrooklynBest spot for small shows
Hidden inside an old building facing the elevated JMZ train, Market Hotel could be easy to miss if it weren’t for the gaggle of concert-goers smoking out front. Originally an artists-in-residence space when it opened in 2008, Market Hotel endured a shutdown and renovations before reopening as a concert hall in 2015. Its unique history and commitment to curating talent with cult-like followings helps the smaller spot retain its underground vibe. The room’s odd V shape doesn’t hinder dancing or crowd surfing, and it’s a feeling like no other when the rickety floor shakes from both the bass and the trains passing through the nearby Myrtle-Broadway station. — Sadie Bell
Prospect Heights, BrooklynBest venue for an actually enjoyable arena experience
Manhattan’s iconic Madison Square Garden may be NYC’s most famous arena, but Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is an upgrade. First opened in 2012, Barclay’s has a clean, modern aesthetic, and it was designed with an eye toward the future of entertainment, featuring featuring improved acoustics and seating that make even the nosebleed seats worth the price of admission. And unlike MSG, it’s a world away from Midtown, meaning the massive concert crowds don’t have to compete with droves of tourists. — SB
Greenpoint, BrooklynBest venue for big shows, but not too big Terminal 5 enjoyed a long reign as the city’s de rigueur few-thousand capacity venue. But Terminal 5 is… bad. Its Hell’s Kitchen location is inconvenient, and the layout lends itself to gridlock. It’s enough to make New Yorkers miss the subway. Luckily, since Brooklyn Steel opened in 2017 the Greenpoint sister venue — both are owned by Bowery Presents — has been cutting into Terminal 5’s share of mid-sized bookings. It isn’t perfect, but ample space and adequate sightlines make it the best of its kind in New York. — AG
Jerome Park, the BronxBest fine arts venue Lincoln Center might seem the obvious choice here, but the not-for-profit Lehman Center gets credit for bringing the fine arts beyond Manhattan. With venues like the Paradise Theater and the Olympic Theater Concert Hall shutting down over the years, the Bronx has had bad luck holding onto large performance spaces. But year after year, the 2,278-seat Lehman Center brings acts like Janelle Monáe, ballet performances, world dance and Salsa groups, and tributes to David Bowie to its stage. — AG
Bushwick, BrooklynBest spot for an electric night
From the team behind the former Williamsburg club Glasslands Gallery, Elsewhere is an arts space/venue housed in a converted warehouse in Bushwick. The multi-room neighborhood staple is able to host two separate bills every night, and its trendy upper-level/rooftop bar is always open for business after the show. An eclectic lighting set up and large open floor make Elsewhere’s main room particularly great for the DJs and electronic musicians who spin sets there late on Friday and Saturday nights. The industrial atmosphere feels like an art scene rave. — SB
Ridgewood, QueensBest place to see hip-hop
H0L0’s entrance is almost as obscure as its minimal online presence, giving your stop here a twinge of hush-hush cool. Inside, the industrial, intimate, gallery-like space is equally fit for DJs, pop acts, and rappers. Technicolor lights and visuals further the artsy air. Here, you’ll get up close and personal with emerging artists and you’re likely to catch the next underground great. — SB
Williamsburg, BrooklynBest for events beyond a live set
Originally a British music label and chain of record stores, the sole Rough Trade on this side of the Atlantic features the same vibe as London’s Rough Trade East: a duel record store/music venue combo. The back performance area is tiny, but its retail adjacency has its perks. In addition to concerts, artists also often sign records before or after shows, there a few free, acoustic sets on weekend afternoons, and fans can score invites to exclusive listening parties ahead of album releases. — SB
Ridgewood, QueensBest place to discover DIY artists
Trans-Pecos, one of the area’s few standing, all-ages DIY venues, hosts some of the most exciting emerging artists in the city. Some small tours pass through, but you’ll typically see Brooklyn bands and local students on Trans-Pecos’ humble stage. The small space is adorned with house plants and frequently features kaleidoscopic projections on its walls like it’s an art school dorm room — appropriate for its younger-leaning crowd. Check your scenester proclivities at the door, no matter how cool its underground patrons seem, Trans-Pecos regulars are just looking to enjoy new music and dance (or mosh) on the floor. — SB
Bed-Stuy, BrooklynBest bar with live music
Many NYC music venues are attached to a bar, but here we mean a place where the music and the bartending happen in same space. There is no better spot than Bar LunÀtico. The Bed-Stuy restaurant and bar sports a live act every single night from an impressive range of global, jazz, blues, and rock acts — Daptone soul singer Naomi Shelton regularly performs at the Sunday gospel brunch. The hyper-intimate space, mostly occupied by small café tables, and first-come-first-served policy makes for a truly unique neighborhood vibe. Coming for a drink, meal or coffee is like listening to music at a friend’s house. — AG
An Beal Bocht Cafe
Riverdale, the BronxBest open mic
This traditional Irish bar says its Tuesday night open mic is he longest running (and best) in the Bronx, and we’re not going to argue with them. It also serves A+ pub food and hosts great local rock, folk, and traditional Irish artists from the neighborhood most other nights of the week. The Bronx has seen its fair share of venues disappear over the years, and An Beal Bocht, which shares ownership with other live music hotspots in the city like the Lower East Side’s Arlene’s Grocery, ensures there’s still someplace left in the borough for a band to call home. — AG
Forest Hills Stadium
Forest Hills, QueensBest venue for outdoor shows
When the weather warms up, the best place to catch a show in en plein air is in Queens. Forest Hills Stadium, the 1920s home of the US Open, and 1960s venue for the Beatles, Diana Ross, and the Rolling Stones was renovated in 2013, reinstating its rank as one of the city’s best summer music venues. There’s not a bad seat in the modestly sized stadium, the calendar is always filled with great acts, and its borough’s edge location gives it the real estate for a food and drink spread fit for a small festival — not to mention turns off enough people to keep ticket prices somewhat affordable. — AG
Music Hall at Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor, Staten IslandBest excuse to explore Staten Island
There’s plenty to see in Staten Island. Just board the ferry for the city’s best speakeasy, then continue your trip back in time at Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Built in 1892, it’s among the oldest concert venues in NYC, right behind Carnegie Hall. The 686-seat theater doesn’t host shows as often as the other venues on this list — check out Mother Pug’s saloon if you’re craving a daily dose of live punk, rock, and indie — but the acoustics and architecture make it worth the trip when it does. Norah Jones and The xx have played here in recent years, and its proximity to the rest of the Snug Harbor district’s architecture and nautical history makes a show there the perfect excuse for a day trip. — AGSign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
Sadie Bell is the entertainment editorial assistant at Thrillist.
Alex Garofalo is the senior SEO manager and an editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @LikeJaneane or look out for him at one of the spots above.
As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.
With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.
Throughout April Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.
Through Easter Sunday NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.
Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.
Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.
Through mid April Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.
Throughout April Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.
Throughout April NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Suprêmes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.
Seasonal Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.
Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.