Classic New York music venues
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, Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo, among others, the Apollo continues to mix veteran talents like Dianne Reeves with younger artists such as the Roots and Lykke Li. For a taste of classic New York, check out the Apollo’s now-legendary Amateur Night showcase, which has been running since 1934.
This spacious former vaudeville theater, resplendent after a recent renovation, hosts a variety of popular acts, from "Weird Al" Yankovic to Crosby, Stills & Nash to Blondie. While the vastness can seem daunting for performers and audience members alike, the gaudy interior and uptown location make you feel as though you’re having a real night out on the town.
Few rooms scream "New York City!" more than this gilded hall, which has drawn Leonard Cohen, Drake, Regina Spektor and TV on the Radio as headliners in recent years. The greatest challenge for any performer is not to be upstaged by the awe-inspiring Art Deco surroundings. On the other hand, those same surroundings lend historic heft to even the flimsiest showing. Bookings are all over the map; expect everything from seasonal staples like the Rockettes to a surprise Dave Chapelle performance.
Acoustics at the 1921 "people’s auditorium" are superb, and there’s no doubting the gravitas of the Town Hall’s surroundings. The building was originally designed by illustrious architects McKim, Mead & White as a meeting house for the League for Political Education, a suffragist organisation. George Benson, Grizzly Bear and Lindsey Buckingham have performed here in recent times, and smart indie songwriters such as the Magnetic Fields have set up shop for a number of nights.
This renovated movie house, which was once a vaudeville theater, dates from the 1930s. It really does feel as if you’ve entered a palace here, with the shimmering chandeliers, ornate ceiling and gold-drenched corridors. Over the past few years, the venue’s bookings have ranged from popular young acts such as Adele, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver to stalwarts of the music world like Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers Band. Though it's located at the top end of Manhattan, far beyond the traditional nightlife or tourist zone, the theater is nevertheless easily accessible by subway.
Since it first opened its doors in 1891, Carnegie Hall has been a mainstay of the New York music scene. George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and the Beatles have all performed here, and to this day, artistic diector Clive Gillinson continues to put his stamp on the renowned concert hall. Whether you catch a show in the Isaac Stern Auditorium, Zankel Hall or the Weill Recital Hall, you're sure to be dazzled by the history and ambiance of the place.
Once one of Brooklyn’s most elegant movie theaters, the Loew’s Kings Theatre opened in Flatbush as a movie and live performance space in 1929. When multiplex cinemas became popular in the 1950s, the theater lost traction with audiences. It eventually closed in 1977 and the stunning interior fell into disrepair. After an elaborate $95 million restoration, the 3,074-seat theater reopened in 2015 in all its original glory. Catch classic acts like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as well as indie musicians at the ornate theater.
Built in 1886, Webster Hall has been through several iterations (and names) before settling into its tenure as a high-caliber concert venue. In the 1950s, performers like Tito Puente and Woody Guthrie graced the stage, and when it was known as The Ritz in the '80s, the same venue hosted rock legends like U2, Eric Clapton and Guns N' Roses. These days, you can expect to find indie acts like Animal Collective and The Maine, as well as hip-hop artists like Wiz Khalifa and Mobb Deep. Just be sure to show up early if you want a decent view.
After more than 80 years, this basement club’s stage 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—and the 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been the Monday-night regular since 1966. Thanks to the venue's strict no cell phone policy, seeing a show here feels like stepping back and time.
Dinner, drinks and a show in this glittering room can feel like an evening that only an oil sheik could afford, but commit to it: With its airy murals by Marcel Vertès, this elegant spot in the Carlyle Hotel is the epitome of New York class, attracting such top-level singers as Judy Collins, Chita Rivera and Christine Ebersole. Woody Allen often plays clarinet with Eddie Davis and his New Orleans Jazz Band on Monday nights; call ahead to confirm. To drink in some atmosphere without spending quite as much, try Bemelmans Bar across the hall.