Everyone knows that jazz in New York is some of the best in the world. But with so many live-music venues around the city, how do you pick where to go? We’ve rounded up the top jazz clubs NYC has to offer from Greenwich Village, Manhattan to Gowanus, Brooklyn, touching on hallowed landmarks, swanky newcomers, cutting-edge outer-borough spots, no-frills insider-friendly joints and more.
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Best jazz clubs in NYC
The flagship venue for midtown’s jazz resurgence, Birdland takes its place among the neon lights of Times Square seriously. That means it’s a haven for great jazz musicians (Joe Lovano, Kurt Elling) as well as performers like John Pizzarelli and Aaron Neville. The club is also notable for its roster of bands-in-residence. Sundays belong to the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.
The Blue Note prides itself on being "the jazz capital of the world." Bona fide musical titans (Cecil Taylor, Charlie Haden) rub against hot young talents (the Bad Plus), while the close-set tables in the club get patrons rubbing up against each other. The Late Night Groove series and the Sunday brunches are the best bargain bets.
This 30-year-old bistro-cum-clubhouse features a miniature basement cabaret devoted to readings and music, along with a genial dining room that opens wide to the sidewalk in summer. The colorful, if dated, menu is consistent with the place’s bohemian roots. The eclectic fare ranges from glorified bar food like a light, gooey flatbread pizza, to more ambitious mains, like al dente lobster ravioli surrounded by snow peas or plump satisfying veal sausage on a mashed potato heap.
The jazz arm of Lincoln Center is several blocks away from the main campus, high atop the Time Warner Center. It includes three rooms: the Rose Theater is a traditional midsize space, but the crown jewels are the Allen Room and the smaller Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, with stages framed by huge windows overlooking Columbus Circle. The venues feel like a Hollywood cinematographer’s vision of a Manhattan jazz club. Some of the best players in the business grace the spot, among them Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s famed artistic director.
It’s easy to walk right past the inconspicuous steel door that leads to Ibeam. The compact practice-pad-cum-venue is run by trombonist Brian Drye and has become a go-to for Brooklyn’s avant-jazzers. Doubling as a members-only rehearsal space, Drye’s tiny, cozy, art-adorned digs keep overheards down to offer a low-cost alternative to the city's more lavish jazz venues and highlight the most progressive minds in the local scene.
Iridium lures upscale crowds with a lineup that’s split between household names and those known only to the jazz-savvy. The sight lines and sound system are truly worthy of celebration. Long the site of a Monday-night residency by guitar icon Les Paul, the club now hosts a steady stream of veteran pickers who perform in Paul's honor.
Renovation was just what the doctor ordered for the jazz den below restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke barbecue joint. Now the room’s marvelous sound matches its already splendid sight lines. The jazz is of the groovy, hard-swinging variety, featuring such musicians as organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, Larry Goldings and Cedar Walton.
For those looking for an authentic jazz club experience—rather than the cheesy dinner-club vibe that prevails at too many other spots around town—Smalls is a must. The cozy basement space feels like a speakeasy, or more specifically, one of those hole-in-the-wall NYC jazz haunts of yore over which fans routinely obsess. Best of all, the booking skews retro, yet not stubbornly so: You'll hear classic hardbop as well as more adventurous, contemporary-flavored approaches.
Owners Paul Stache and Frank Christopher have created a jewel of a jazz joint. On weekends, folks line up around the block to hear a set by one of jazz’s remaining big names, and they are well rewarded: Low-lit chandeliers, comfy sofas, plush carpeting and unobstructed sight lines make it seem like the greats are playing in your living room. Early in the week, evenings are themed: On Sunday, it’s Latin jazz; Tuesday, organ jazz; Wednesday, funk. On weekends, internationally renowned jazz locals (George Coleman, Eddie Henderson, Cedar Walton) hit the stage, relishing opportunities to play informal gigs in their own backyard.
After 75 years, this basement club’s stage—a small but mighty step-up—still hosts the crème de la crème of mainstream jazz talent (Joe Lovano, Barry Harris, Lou Donaldson). Plenty of history has been made here: John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans have grooved in this hallowed hall. The 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been the Monday-night regular for more than 30 years. Doors open at 8pm.
SOUTHGATE Bar & Restaurant
Hotel restaurants are frequently overhyped and overpriced, but SOUTHGATE Bar & Restaurant, located in the JW Marriott Essex House New York, provides not only delicious, solid fare but floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park from which to enjoy it. A shared plate of three New Brunswick Lobster Tacos ($26) is chock full of tail meat, but the bright mango pico de gallo and crunchy cilantro lime coleslaw are the stars of the show, injecting fresh flavor into what could be a tired dish (here, it certainly isn’t). A black winter truffle flatbread ($19) falls, well, flat, the melted Brie rendering it soggy—the topping of roasted baby kale is delightfully airy, though. The entrees are where SOUTHGATE truly shines. Braised Angus beef short ribs ($34), served with a smoked gouda mac and cheese, shaved brussels sprouts salad and a tamarind BBQ glaze, are tender as can be—no knife needed. The gouda shone in the mac and cheese, though the orecchiette used to collect the delicious sauce were a hair overcooked. Any fish lover would not be able to resist the roasted king salmon ($42), cooked to a perfect temperature with its skin shatteringly crisp. Accompanied by a silky Maine Jonah crab risotto, jumbo green asparagus and a blood orange broth, it’s a dish that guests at the table fight over. Also, a note must be made of the striking earthenware bowls—they make each dish look even more special when presented. Service, as one would hope in a hotel, is fully hospitable without being suffoca
"Stop by for an incredible menu of inventive dishes, curated cocktails and wines, or, for a post-show nightcap with light fare until 1:00am."