Best downtown rock clubs

Photograph: Loren Wohl

With New York City rock star hangs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City long gone, downtown has ceded much of its cool cache to Brooklyn and Queens). But there's still a number of top live-music venues in lower Manhattan. Catch a gig at one of these spots and see for yourself.

Bowery Ballroom

It’s probably the best venue in the city for seeing indie bands, either those on their way up or the ones holding their own. Still, the Bowery also manages to bring in a diverse range of artists from home and abroad. Expect a clear view and bright sound from any spot. The spacious downstairs lounge is a great place to relax and socialize between (or during) sets.

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Lower East Side

Cake Shop

It can be difficult to see the stage in this narrow, stuffy but clean basement space—but it gets big points for its keen indie- and underground-rock bookings, among the most adventurous in Manhattan. It’s located in the heart of the Lower East Side, and Cake Shop lives up to its name, selling vegan baked goods and coffee upstairs. The brightly lit back room on street level sells used vinyl and CDs, as well as a smattering of new releases, DVDs and other record-store ephemera.

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Lower East Side

Mercury Lounge

The unassuming, boxy Mercury Lounge is both an old standby and pretty much the number-one indie-rock club in town for up-and-comers, with solid sound and sight lines (and a cramped bar in the front room). There are four-band bills most nights, though they can seem stylistically haphazard, and set times are often later than advertised. It's a good idea to get tickets for bigger shows in advance.

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Lower East Side

Santos Party House

Launched by a team that includes rocker Andrew W.K., Santos is committed to resuscitating the downtown area's underground scene, with top spinners of off-kilter house, cosmic disco, funk and soul regularly taking to the decks. Both floors are basically black, square rooms done out in a bare-bones, generic club style but don't be put off. The club books a mixture of danceable DJs and a smattering of metal, hip-hop and indie-rock acts.

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Tribeca

Pianos

In recent years, a lot of the cooler bookings have moved from Pianos to Brooklyn or down the block to venues such as Cake Shop. Still, while sound is often lousy and the room can get uncomfortably mobbed, there are always good reasons to go back—very often the under-the-radar emerging rock bands that make local music scenes tick.

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Lower East Side

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