Best folk music venues in New York
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?