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Live music: Classic New York venues

Soak in the city at its finest

Photograph: Wendy George

New York is a city that changes at a rapid clip. Be thankful then that these classic venues, which double as genuine historical attractions, still exist: You can get a taste of vintage NYC and a great night of music to boot.

Apollo Theater

Visitors may think they know this venerable theater from TV’s Showtime at the Apollo. But as the saying goes, the small screen adds about ten pounds: The city’s home of R&B and soul music is actually quite cozy. Known for launching the careers of Ella Fitzgerald and D’Angelo, among many others, the Apollo continues to mix veteran talents such as Dianne Reeves with younger artists such as John Legend. For a taste of classic New York, check out the Apollo’s now-legendary Amateur Night showcase, which has been running since 1934.

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Beacon Theatre

This spacious former vaudeville theater, resplendent after a recent renovation, hosts a variety of popular acts, from "Weird Al" Yankovic to Crosby, Stills & Nash. While the vastness can be daunting to performers and audience alike, the gaudy interior and uptown location make you feel as though you’re having a real night out on the town.  

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Upper West Side

Radio City Music Hall

Few rooms scream "New York City!" more than this gilded hall, which has drawn Leonard Cohen, Drake 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. 

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Midtown West

The Town Hall

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 designed by illustrious architects McKim, Mead & White as a meeting house for 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.

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Midtown West

United Palace Theatre

This renovated movie house, which was once a vaudeville theater, dates from the 1930s. And it really does feel as if you’ve entered a palace here, with its shimmering chandeliers, ornate detailed ceiling and gold-drenched corridors. The venue’s solid booking has ranged, over the past few years, 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. At the top end of Manhattan, far beyond the traditional nightlife or tourist zone, the theater is nevertheless easily accessible by subway.

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Washington Heights

Carnegie Hall

Artistic director Clive Gillinson continues to put his stamp on Carnegie Hall. The stars—from orchestras to neoclassical stars like Joanna Newsom, and mavericks like Keith Jarrett— shine brightly as ever inside this renowned concert hall.

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Midtown West

Kings Theatre

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 but began to decline in the 1950s as multiplex cinemas became popular. The doors were closed in 1977, and the theater fell into disrepair. Now, after an elaborate $93 million renovation, the 3,074-seat theater has reopened, its original glory fully restored. Catch classic acts—Diana Ross played opening night—as well as indie musicians at the classy digs.

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Village Vanguard

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.

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West Village