The Best NYC Bars With Live Music
photo credit: Liz Clayman
You met someone on a dating app and their only interests are: bluegrass, craft cocktails, and spending time with their four-year-old nephew. You’ve seen pictures of the nephew, and he looks boring, so you roll with the other two interests. Now you need a place that has bluegrass.
If you’ve been in this situation, this guide’s for you. Also, if you like bars and restaurants with live music, this guide is for you. To be clear, this isn’t a list of venues. These are spots that serve food and drinks that also have live music with no cover charge. Even when there isn’t music, most of these places are still fun spots to hang out.
The Nines is a piano bar in Noho with velvet seats and cheetah print carpet, and the pianist here might be playing a cover of “Buy U A Drank" when you stop by. In other words, this is a downtown piano bar—which means you won’t be forced to check your coat, and you can drink some good cocktails while you snack on tuna tartare. If you want to sit in a warmly lit room and exchange some light banter as you try to figure out if you’re listening to a soft jazz cover of “Shallow,” this is the place to do it.
Izzy Rose has a long tradition of being a home for local artists in Clinton Hill. On any given weeknight, you’re in for everything from jazz and folk to showtunes and drag. On weekend nights, this cocktail bar does double duty as a bar where you can dance, but we also like their frequent Sunday “Art Hangs” where both musicians and visual artists do their thing from 2-5pm. On summer nights, you can enjoy the music on their secluded back patio, along with a frozen cocktail that'll really hit the spot.
After a decor refresh, Prohibition—which has been around since 1996 on the Upper West Side—might make you feel like you’re in an episode of Boardwalk Empire. There’s sometimes a $10 cover for shows after 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, but other sets are free. While you’re listening to the music here, you can grab cocktails and food like cheesesteak egg rolls, lollipop lamb chops, and lobster risotto.
Greenwich Village used to be the center of a bohemian renaissance, and now it’s mostly filled with NYU students looking for bouncers who don’t use ID scanners. So you won’t find Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, or Joni Mitchell hanging out at The Bitter End like the old days, but it’s still a good place to go when you want to hear live music. They host everything from hip hop to a capella performances.
Most places with live music are either date spots where you listen to jazz while sipping a $18 shot of whiskey with a giant ice cube, or they’re so loud that you just smile and nod when you think someone is speaking to you. In other words, they’re not great places to meet people. The Red Lion is an exception. The big Greenwich Village bar, which has three different bands every night, tends to be just crowded enough, with a dance floor that actually gets used, and a long bar where ordering a drink doesn’t feel like trying to hail a taxi in a rainstorm.
Even if you’re someone who doesn’t “get” jazz or finds it pretentious, give the jazz nights at Mona’s a shot. This divey bar in Alphabet City is a homey alternative to the old-school clubs and formal performance spaces. You never have to wait for a drink, you can play some pool in the back, and the bartenders don’t bat an eye when you ask for more glasses of whiskey than the number of people in your group.
You might think that secret entrances, low ceilings, and a “bartender’s choice” cocktail on the menu are red flags for a bar. Saint Tuesday in the Walker Hotel Tribeca has all those things—but the place doesn’t feel cheesy. Instead, it’s a spot where you can relax in a cushy booth and maybe do some smooching while you listen to some jazz or Brazilian choro. There’s live music every night, all the cocktails are $21—and there is no food, so don’t come hungry.
If you leave a Broadway show wanting more, it’s probably a sign that the show was either really good or really bad. Either way, you can keep the night going at Haswell Greens. This massive bar across the street from the Broadway Theater has performances every night, with live music daily and dueling pianos on weekends. Critique the show while drinking cocktails with names like “That’s So Fetch” and “Glitz And Glamour.”
SingleCut isn't just a great brewery. It’s also an excellent music venue. They frequently host live music, and there's a large collection of vinyl behind the bar that you can request to hear. Nothing is ever too loud in the loft-like space, but there’s enough of a scene to have a fun Friday night out. They have a ton of IPAs and a chocolate milk stout on draft, and pretty good wings.
The space that is now Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg used to be a general store, a diner, and a place to play poker before it became a spot for live music in 1999. Shows are still free—although there’s a suggested $10 donation, which seems pretty fair considering none of their cocktails cost more than $14. If you need a break from the music, there’s a large backyard where you can reminisce about a time when $14 was considered expensive for a cocktail.
When we hear “jazz” and “no cover” in the same sentence, we immediately assume that we'll be listening to some kind of high school band recital. And that’s what makes Ornithology Jazz Club a bit of a unicorn, since you can listen to all the shows here free of charge (and they won't be high school band recitals). This place also has relatively affordable cocktails and a menu with vegan food like a chana masala bowl, and fried rice with bok choy and fried tofu.
According to Google, a honky tonk is a “cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played.” Yeah, that sounds like Skinny Dennis. This Williamsburg bar is cheap and disreputable in all the best ways. We suggest you lean on the bar, double fist some Lone Stars, and chat with a friend while you catch some country music with your peripheral hearing. Most nights there’s a band—just check the calendar to see what’s coming up.
Even if you don’t get one of the seats near the band in the small back room at Sunny’s, you’ll still be able to hear the live music that goes on here every night. That’s because the speakers throughout the narrow Red Hook bar play the music from the stage, and the open windows next to the band mean you can hear the blues, swing, or R&B when you’re hanging out in the nice backyard.
From gospel to dubstep, the performances at Lunàtico are all over the place. But whichever night you show up to this narrow Bed-Stuy bar, you’ll hear something upbeat and fun, and you’ll get some very good cocktails with ingredients like absinthe or tea-infused gin.