Visitors may think they know this venerable theater from TV’s Showtime at the Apollo. But as the saying goes, the small screen adds ten pounds: The city’s home of R&B and soul is actually quite cozy. Known for launching the careers of Ella Fitzgerald and D’Angelo, among others, the Apollo continues to mix veteran talents like Dianne Reeves with younger artists such as the Roots and Duffy.
The city’s best hoofers throw down at Showman’s weekly tap-dancing showcase—perhaps the only such game in town. The rest of the week, you can hear live jazz and
blues, or mingle with postshow revelers filing in from the nearby Apollo Theater. A two-drink per-set minimum offsets the cheap, or nonexistent cover (free Mon–Thu; Fri, Sat $5). Nurse well drinks and standard suds like Heineken and Corona, all served in chilled wineglasses.
Playfully adapting a sign left over from previous tenants (the Black United Foundation), the Shrine deems itself a “Black United Fun Plaza.” True enough. The interior is tricked out with African art and vintage album covers (the actual vinyl adorns the ceiling). Harlemites and downtowners pack the Shrine for nightly concerts, which might feature indie rock, jazz, reggae or DJ sets. The cocktail menu aspires to similar diversity: Drinks range from a smooth mango mojito to signature tipples like a snappy Afro Trip (a lime and ginger concoction enhanced by Jamaican or Brazilian rum), and a sweet vodka-and-Bailey’s-driven Muslim Jew.