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Terra Blues Club
Courtesy CC/Flickr/Steven Severinghaus

The best folk music venues in New York

Check out foot-stomping bluegrass, old-timey folk music or some soul-stirring blues at these cozy local spots

By Sophie Harris and Time Out New York contributors
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New York City isn’t all rock & roll: Ever since its mid-century revival, folk music has held a central place in the city’s musical history. Greenwich Village’s best coffee shops in the ’60s offered a homebase for innovators like Pete Seeger and Odetta and fostered a new wave of soon-to-be icons, including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary. Five decades later, the scene is more dispersed but no less robust, as evidenced by massive events like the Brooklyn Folk Festival and prolific local promoters like Paper Swan. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in rootsy, rustic Americana, check out our list of the best bars in NYC that host folk music.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best live music venues in NYC

Best folk music venues in New York

1. Hank’s Saloon

Bars Dive bars Boerum Hill

Show up at 9pm Sundays at this ramshackle dive and you can sip a $2 Schaefer, listen to the honky-tonk likes of Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers, and feast on free sausages from the sidewalk grill.

Miss Tess and the Talkbacks at the Jalopy Theatre
Photograph: Isak Tiner

2. Jalopy Theatre

Music Carroll Gardens

If you’re looking for an authentic, atmospheric folk-and-country joint, this Red Hook honky-tonk is the real deal. Besides functioning as a gallery space, instrument store and café, the Jalopy has a super-cute, retro-style minitheater in the back.

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3. Pete’s Candy Store

Bars Lounges Williamsburg

You’ll find readings, poetry, art and "Bingo Tuesday" at this Williamsburg gem, but Pete’s also offers nightly free music from acts on the cusp of wider recognition—often playing old-timey and folky sounds which are perfect for the quaint, Pullman-car-shaped performance space at Pete’s.

Lucius performs at Rockwood Music Hall for CMJ Music Marathon
Photograph: Marielle Solan

4. Rockwood Music Hall

Music Music venues Lower East Side

This LES haunt started as a tiny, cramped storefront space and has expanded into a multistage downtown fixture. Rockwood books an endless parade of aspirants, some of whom (such Chris Thile, Gabriel Kahane) have gone on to become stars of the singer-songwriter and Americana realms.

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5. Sidewalk Café

Restaurants Cafés East Village

This East Village institution reopened in 2011 with a complete renovation (and a new menu). But the real draw here are the Monday open-mic nights, where Jeff Buckley got his start, and the outdoor seating with prime people-watching views.

6. Sunny’s

Bars Dive bars Red Hook

This unassuming wharfside tavern has been passed down in the Balzano family since 1890. On weekends, the bar buzzes with middle-aged and new-generation bohemians (the latter distinguished by their PBR cans), and the odd salty dog (canines, not sailors). Despite the nautical feel, you’re more likely to hear bossa nova or bluegrass than sea chanties warbling from the speakers.

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terra blues club
Photograph: Steven Severinghaus

7. Terra Blues

Music Music venues Greenwich Village

The Blues series on PBS may have helped fill the seats, but the classic eight-bar has been the star of this unadorned, laid-back place all along. Both local musicians and marquee names play, including Little Milton, Edgar Winter, Johnny “Clyde” Copeland and the Holmes Brothers; bigger names draw a bigger cover charge, which is never too stiff. For stiff, there’s an extensive bourbon and Scotch collection, including Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain.

Hill Country Chicken
Photograph: Dominic Perri

8. Hill Country

Restaurants Barbecue Flatiron

The guys behind Hill Country—which exists primarily as a bar and restaurant—are about as Texan as Bloomberg in a Stetson, but the barbecue deserves Lone Star cred all the same. A surprisingly spacious downstairs showroom serves country & western, live-band karaoke and sundry other entertainments to go with your meat.

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9. The Bitter End

Nightlife Clubs Greenwich Village

Bob Dylan cut his teeth in this joint, which has proudly championed the singer-songwriter since 1961. (Though Younger patrons might come to gawk at the place where Stefani "Lady Gaga" Germanotta got her start.) Dylan aspirants as well as the occasional folk or country-rock star appear here, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. It ain’t the Mamas and the Papas, Joni or Joan, but you still get to check out who’s folking whom.

Skinny Dennis
Photograph: Courtesy Skinny Dennis

10. Skinny Dennis

Bars Dive bars Williamsburg

Throw back a bourbon-spiked sweet tea—served in a Texas-sized mason jar—at this Williamsburg honky-tonk, from the owners of Luckydog. Imbibers can also sip the Dr. G—a Guinness-and–Dr Pepper concoction—while listening to local musicians on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sought-after seating includes a 1981 Ford F100 pickup bench and a cushioned church pew.

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11. The Cobra Club

Things to do Cultural centers Bushwick

Bushwick’s Cobra Club is a hybrid community center, combining a yoga studio with a café that serves beer, wine and a curated menu of locally sourced comfort food, and hosting performances and get-togethers of all sorts.

12. Paddy Reilly’s

Bars Sports Bars Kips Bay

There’s a reason this place feels so authentic—just about every square inch was schlepped from the Emerald Isle. A knotted floorboard comes directly from an Irish hotel; the makeshift still was constructed in County Cavan; and Gaelic bands rock out live every night. Eight taps, made specifically for the pub by Guinness, pour the black stuff almost exclusively. You can get Bud here, too, but why would you want to?

Want to play your own folk music?

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