There are a number of venerable venues scattered throughout New York City in which to take in talented musicians. Heat map those hot spots and you’ll notice an overwhelming concentration on the Lower East Side, the bulk of the lot within blocks of Hotel Indigo Lower East Side New York. The eclectic neighborhood is renowned for places to see a stellar live show, regardless of the night. Looking for a funk band on a Tuesday night? Itching for some 1920s swing and jazz on a Thursday? It’s all within reach.
Here, your guide to the cream of the performance space crop. So get ready to rock the night away.
Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen St
This spacious enclave boasts three separate stages with as many as seven acts appearing on each on any given night. Most shows are free unless otherwise noted on Rockwood’s website, though a nominal donation of $5 and one drink purchase per set is suggested. Many acts are newcomers, though ticketed shows can feature a more recognizable artist. Musically, it runs the gamut from folk to jazz to contemporary DJs, rock, and pop. The place gets packed, even early on a Monday — so go early to secure your spot.
Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St
This is the intermediary stop for acts with some fame behind their name but not yet large enough to warrant a Madison Square Garden show. The likes of O.A.R., James Blunt, The Dream and Donavon Frankenreiter have all graced the stage. A quick scroll through forthcoming marquee acts will result in a couple “Yeah, I know him/her/them!” The venue is big without losing its intimate feeling. The balcony offers a premium view and with an additional bar, you’re never far from the stage nor a frosty libation. Tickets range, though most shows are under $25.
Pianos, 158 Ludlow St
This intimate venue packs a double punch. Downstairs, the bar area plays hip-hop and pop. A modest cover grants you access to a closed room to the left where the stage hosts funk, disco, singer-songwriter and rock acts. Upstairs, dance and DJ acts satiate the rump shakers. Stiff drinks are a given, and tasty pub fare is also offered in case you work up an appetite grinding the night away.
Mercury Lounge, 217 E Houston St
This is a great, cozy venue to get up close with a number of up-and-coming local and international performers. The acoustics are on point, the stage is low, and there’s really not a bad spot to stand anywhere in the room. It’s reminiscent of a throwback house party, only the host somehow got the Strokes to play in the basement. (That very group got their start here back in 2000.)
Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton St
Outside, this place resembles a gritty mini-supermarket. Inside, rock and roll, cheap drinks and raucous fun take center stage. From original acts to AC/DC cover bands, this place gets thumping early on any given evening. It’s tiny, so you should be adept at making friends with the strangers you’ll be squeezed against, but that somehow makes the atmosphere all the more enjoyable. Bonus: you can harness your inner rock star during karaoke nights. They provide the live backing band, you supply the impassioned vocals.
The Back Room, 102 Norfolk St
This speakeasy is hard to find. Look for the gate marked “Lower East Side Toy Company” and head down the dingy alley. You’ll swear this is wrong, but trust that at the end is the bouncer and entrance. Inside, a Victorian-era paradise awaits. Bartenders in suspenders and newsboy caps serve your craft cocktails in teacups and saucers, which you carefully balance on your way to dropping into a velvet armchair. The band here plays period-correct tunes, so expect some jazz, swing, soul and big band. Your foot will be tapping along in short order.