Best places for live music in Philadelphia
Among Philadelphia’s best-loved mid-size music halls is this easily accessible Loft District gem, which hosts a well-curated lineup of both local and national hip-hop, indie rock, folk and electronic acts. Opened in 2011, it’s a relative newcomer to the city’s overall scene, but the building itself has been standing since the 1800s, its name a nod to the multi-level space’s former life as a railroad facility. The high ceilings provide the proper acoustics to complement a state-of-the-art sound system, plus a customizable stage that can creep forward or shove back to alter the scope of any performance.
An instantly recognizable beacon situated at one of the busiest intersections in the city, Johnny Brenda’s has become synonymous with the slow-and-steady growth of Fishtown as a citywide commercial and artistic draw. Partners Paul Kimport and William Reed, owners of the nearby Standard Tap, took over the longstanding neighborhood bar in 2003, infusing new life into the space over the course of a decade-plus. Up front still has that comfy tavern vibe, with local draft beers and billiards. But the rest of the space offers multiple options, from a small dining room in the back to the balcony-equipped music venue upstairs that’s championed by local and touring artists for its intimate layout.
A burlesque club turned art-house movie theater turned multi-use venue, “The Troc,” as it’s known by locals, oozes the type of historical character most nouveau developers can only dream of achieving. (Standing since 1870, it’s the only 19th-century Victorian theater of its kind still in active use today.) With room for roughly 1200, it hits that elusive music-venue sweet spot between cramped and cavernous, with multiple bars and a tiered-seating balcony providing a variety of viewpoints. Come by for a show or a weekly film screening upstairs. Bonus: Its location in the heart of bustling Chinatown makes for extremely easy pre- or post-show eating.
There are plenty of music venues in Philly’s distinctive Loft District, but Underground Arts stands out thanks to its versatility and distinctive bones. The 12,000-square-foot space, split between the main venue space and the “Black Box,” a barroom that can be tweaked to host smaller events, draws an impressive array of bands and artists who don’t quite neatly fit in elsewhere in the city.
At 25,000 square feet, this new addition to the Philly live music family is enormous, so big that it’s technically home to two venues under one roof: the main room on the ground floor, with room for 2500, plus The Foundry, a 450-capacity upstairs venue for smaller acts. Adjacent to The Fillmore are a number of other destination venues, including Punch Line Philly, a standup comedy club; and Philadelphia Distilling, which features a tasting room for local craft spirits.
Philly’s premier big-box venue not named the Wells Fargo Center, the Electric Factory hosts big-name touring acts in a somewhat remote locale carved from an old industrial space with enormous windows and epic lighting. Around in this location and configuration since the mid-’90s, the Factory is named after the legendary Center City venue that hosted the likes of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Nowadays the booking skews a little poppier, but the calendar is still diverse enough to accommodate fans of genres ranging from rap to heavy metal.
With an enormous glowing neon sign you can spot burning from blocks away, it sure has the look of a sawdust-scattered honky-tonk, but Broad Street’s Boot & Saddle is a South Philly rock club through and through. At just 150 heads in capacity, it’s a small but rollicking room that hosts both local acts and national touring bands, mostly of the DJ and indie rock-ish persuasion. The bar also serves specialty cocktails and some mean fried pickles for your show-going fuel.
This long-running Northern Liberties club, named after a long-defunct brewery that operated nearby for decades, is a narrow, mood-lit hideaway with a nostalgic feel, all candlelight, dark wood beams and plush studded booths. The vibe is a nod to its heritage as a jazz-only club, which it was for years, but nowadays Ortlieb’s hosts all manner of musicians on its modest elevated stage. The kitchen also cranks out some tasty and affordable Tex-Mex cuisine, which you might not know to try unless somebody told you.
A stalwart bar, music club and restaurant just off the always-busy 13th Street corridor, Time hosts live local musicians every night it’s open, their jazz/rock/experimental sounds floating out onto Sansom Street through big picture windows that open onto the sidewalk. There’s also an under-the-radar second-floor lounge that plays host to DJs and unorthodox bookings like poetry and erotic fiction readings.
The acronym in the name of this unconventional Loft District event space stands for “Mausoleum of Contemporary Art,” and it’s not some sort of hifalutin metaphor—this building actually served as a showroom for a family-owned tombstone/mausoleum-making business that operated until the 1960s. Nowadays it’s anything but dead. The building, which still boasts its original, slightly-unsettling-but-very-cool exterior, is proudly multipurpose, host to hundreds of events a year ranging from live music and film screenings to burlesque and poetry readings.
The Fire is a genuine independent Philly music venue with something of a reputation for hosting big acts before they actually get big. The no-frills Girard Avenue room does not have the amenities of some of Philly’s sparklier live-music destinations, but what it lacks in bells and whistles it more than makes up for in personality. Check in on its ever-morphing bookings, which can often touch punk rock, country and hip-hop, and the requisite gray-area genres in between, within the span of a single week.
The name’s damn fun to say and shows are damn fun to watch at this unmistakable Kensington venue, a quirky local watering hole with the soul of an old-school rock club. Situated right beneath the rumbling El, KFN features two floors, studded with odd artwork and various recreational diversions (pinball, billiards). The velvet-curtained stage, which will remind David Lynch heads of the Red Room from Twin Peaks, boasts a creepy-awesome Vaudeville-in-hell vibe.
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