Live music is one of the hallmarks of New York City, and in more recent years, specifically our beloved borough of Brooklyn. While Manhattan shoulders on with the ever-cramped City Winery, flashlight-toting waiters drilling their way through Le Poisson Rouge while your favorite band is reaching an emotional peak, and the (shudder) terrible sightlines and trek to Terminal 5, Brooklyn has taken things firmly into its own hands. From underground and off-the-books communal gatherings, to those valiantly fighting to the good fight to keep their DIY spaces alive in the shadow of monolithic corporate takeovers (*continuously pours one out for Glasslands, 285 Kent and Death By Audio*), the borough of homes and churches has begun to flip both of those spaces into makeshift music venues just to house and display all the talent that’s nesting in this city. Here’s some of the best places to catch a live show in your neighborhood.
The Spare Room at The Gutter 200 N. 14th Street
For some reason the bowling alleys in New York always tend to do double duty–just down the street Brooklyn Bowl does a triple play with fried chicken, lanes, and a venue space–but I digress. The Gutter is still mostly a bowling alley, but their little spare room has been used by plenty of local and touring acts alike to give Brooklyn a little taste of live music for a cheap (read: almost always $5 cover) price. (Fun fact: it’s also the place where one of our 9 NYC Bands You Need To hear, Ohal, made her live debut.) Don’t expect to see many familiar names on the bill, though, these bands are as experimental and obscure as they come. Best For: When you say you’re into experimental music (and you really mean it.)
Bar Matchless 577 Manhattan Avenue
This bar hosts everything from live comedy to screenings of important cultural events and the occasional live music show. It also opens at 3pm and has a decent happy hour, so keep that in mind for your day-drinking needs. As for the music lineup, it goes from heavy metal karaoke to local indie rock and back again. Again, you won’t find well-known names on any of the bills here, but you just might catch a nobody before they rise to the top. Best For: Enid’s across the street has great booths, too, but this place is… matchless.
Good Room 98 Meserole Avenue
If you are trying to dance, go to Good Room. There’s several different rooms of darkly-lit, spacious floors that are perfect for slip-sliding away on, and the place books a wide variety of ridiculously talented DJs and other purveyors of electronic music that will get your body moving. Even those of us who claim to hate dancing–guilty as charged–have been known to head out onto the floor after getting caught up in the hypnotizing flow of this Greenpoint haven. A couple of tequila-sodas never hurt a good night of dancing, either. Trust me–the hangover is worth it. It just is. Best For: Catching alllll that electronic music that your washed up rock star neighbor claims is ruining culture.
Manhattan Inn 632 Manhattan Avenue
It takes a special kind of places to assume the fold the adage “piano bar” into its title and really pull it off. Manhattan is both special and pulls it off, incorporating yes, piano, but also karaoke, jazz quartets, local songwriters and even a late night R&B club night into their diverse live music offering. The shows are always free and are offered about four times a week, with local pianists holding down brunch slots on Friday nights and both weekend days. It’s the kind of place people say they miss when they sigh about the “old New York,” but you’re in luck–it’s right here! Drop by sometime. Best For: The unexpected and poignant.
Saint Vitus 1120 Manhattan Avenue
Saint Vitus has developed a reputation over the years: It is the fucking best place to see dark, heavy, noisy, loud, corrosive, INSANE music. The venue itself may be small, but even enormous acts have now begun throwing intimate, exclusive shows there just because the vibes are so goddamn intriguing. Justin Scurti, Arthur Shepherd and George Souleidis created something special when they opened this place back in 2011, modeling it after metal bars they’d experienced in London, and providing a gathering place for the silent but deadly (kidding!) metal community in Brooklyn. There are places you go to see music played, then there are places that are so special they change the way the music itself is played in them–Saint Vitus is the former. Lifelong teenage dirtbags strongly urged to check this place out, if you haven’t stumbled upon it just yet. Best For: Metal. Duh.
Warsaw 261 Driggs Avenue
Most of the Greenpoint venues on this list are a bit off the beaten path, and Warsaw is no exception. However, it’s off the wall in more ways than one–this is a Polish community center that so closely mimics the feel of your own hometown’s community space that you might forget you’re in Brooklyn for an hour or two. That is, until an out of this world international act like Fuck Buttons start blaring from the main room, accompanied by full-throttle visuals. Don’t miss the pierogies (potato & cheese forever) while you’re here–bet they didn’t have snacks of this caliber at your local YMCA. Best For: Losing yourself in the music. And the pierogies.
Baby’s All Right 146 Broadway
This is full stop currently the best place to hear music in Brooklyn. No one else is booking bills with the precision and timing that Baby’s All Right manages. The only problem is, you’ll often only be hearing the music from a crowded spot in the venue’s front room. Actually getting into the main room to see the music can be a challenge, namely because of the reason I just mentioned: This is simply the best place to go. Excellence is always in demand. That’s just a fact, baby. Best For: The hottest new band in town.
Black Bear 70 N 6th Street
Pour one out for Public Assembly before you enter the motorcycle-and-leather decor of Black Bear. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I once saw Miguel play Public Assembly in all its grimey glory back before Kaleidoscope Dream was released, so I sort of wanted that venue to live forever. But it’s dead now and Black Bear has risen in its place, and this spot has actually become a pretty decent room to see a show in, as long as you like motorcycles and half pipes. Best For: When you need to marinate in a biker/skater vibe.
Brooklyn Bowl 61 Wythe Avenue
Earlier I mentioned that Brooklyn Bowl is a triple threat, and that fact remains one of the venue’s greatest draws. You can eat a fabulous meal, bowl off the calories in their spacious lanes, then stick around for a legendary DJ set by Questlove, or whoever else happens to be playing music that night. It’s truly a one-stop shop for all things Brooklyn, and the perfect place to take an out-of-towner to let them get a feel of just how multifunctional this city can be. Plus, the lineups are always so diverse; they book everything from jazz to folk to hip-hop. Sure, sometimes the echoing strikes are a bit annoying if you’re trying to watch a quieter musician do an early set, but that Blue Ribbon fried chicken covers over a multitude of sins. A multitude. Oh and shouts out to all the Brooklyn Brewery selections on tap–the brewery itself is just a couple blocks away if you want to take your visitors on a tour there first. Best For: Fried chicken and Questlove, what more could you want?
Knitting Factory 361 Metropolitan Avenue
The Brooklyn-based outpost of this national chain reliably delivers shows you want to see at a convenient location. Of course, this is now the third location the Knitting Factory has occupied in New York, but who is counting? The gritty decor and darkened back room ensure that you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a grunge scene, even if this section of Metropolitan has become a thriving hum of hipsters and international tourists. The emphasis tends to be more on touring bands than local ones, so come here when you’re trying to catch a mid-level out-of-town act right before they start getting booked into huge venues–or fall off completely. Best For: Spilling beer on the floor while you mosh.
Muchmore’s 2 Havemeyer Street
You’d think combining a laundromat with a music venue wouldn’t work out too well, and yet, it seems to have gone just fine for Muchmore’s! This venue is the epitome of DIY, not really sure if it wasnts to be a cafe, a bar, or a venue. And the indecision works for them. Instead of functioning like a traditional venue, this is a space that encourages you to call it your home away from home. So bring a book, grab a coffee, and sit sipping and reading until the show starts later in the evening. Or, hey, continue to sit and visit with your friends even when the music begins. No one will police your behavior here, which is one of the best things about the place. Though, the local lineups and other art exhibits that are constantly rotating through also promise much, much more. Best For: Feeling at home away from home.
Music Hall Of Williamsburg 66 N 6th Street
As the primary outpost for Bowery Presents in Williamsburg, this is the place to go for marquee names and reliable set times. From indie rock to electronic, folk and country, Music Hall offers you the chance to stick in Brooklyn to see the larger/better-known bands who come through New York. Multiple levels, balcony seating, and a plush basement outfitted with its own bar and enormous screens broadcasting the show guarantee that you’ll be comfortable here wherever you choose to watch the show. Best For: When you want to watch a band you love from a balcony vantage point.
National Sawdust 80 N 6th Street
Right near Williamsburg’s other marquee venue–Music Hall of Williamsburg–National Sawdust has cropped up to provide another haven for bigger names passing through New York City’s bounds. Named in honor of the space’s former function as, you guessed it, a sawdust factory, this chic new venue has already turned heads for its unique structure and penchant for booking rising indie stars right before they blow. It’s also a non-profit facility that seeks to support artists and host a variety of events that honor music in a variety of forms–composers, jazz, and international musicians, as well as the indie rock that is most synonymous with Brooklyn. If you get hungry the venue also has a built in restaurant helmed by the James Beard-winning chef Patrick Connolly. Best For: That band your brother has been begging you to go see for three years.
Output 74 Wythe Avenue
Sometimes walking into this club feels like walking into a high-level security compound, the sinuous lines, the meticulous bouncers, the mandatory coat check–it’s a lot! But once you’re inside, all those measures feel worth it. This is truly a place where you can lose yourself in the music, wander through the different rooms and levels, and bob your head in time with whoever is behind the ones and twos that evening. Since it’s Output, it’s bound to be someone that will impress you, from Future Brown to DJ Mustard, this place books stars. Best For: Dancing your ass off, and then some.
Pete’s Candy Store 709 Lorimer Street
Every city deserves a tiny little hole in the wall like Pete’s Candy Store to keep the magic alive. All the showtimes are free–though a $5 donation is suggested–and the cozy backroom hosts singer-songwriters, folk and acoustic-leaning musicians, and all sorts of other under-the-radar acts. What you’ll never encounter at Pete’s Candy Store, is an ego. Breathe a quick prayer that places like this still exist in a city full of hot air and big heads. Then grab a whiskey and a chair, and get to listening. Best For: A band you’ve never heard of and may never hear again.
Rough Trade 64 N 9th Street
An outpost of London’s flagship independent record store, the Williamsburg location has managed to hold its own in a digital world by incorporating a large selection of vinyl exclusives, and a space where small and intimate live shows can take place. You have to head to the back to get into the cave-like venue, which boasts a large floor space and seats that rise in tiers above the stage. Whether you’re seated or jamming out on the floor, the sense that you’re part of something bigger than the moment tends to settle over you like a mantle. Let it. There won’t be many more record stores like this existing in our TIDAL and Beats Music-saturated future. Best For: Seeing an artist you love do a packed out underplay, and screaming along with other diehard fans.
Skinny Dennis 152 Metropolitan Avenue
Camped out on the corner of Berry and Metropolitan, Skinny Dennis shines like a beacon of country in a goodness in the Big Apple’s rotten core. It is not likely that you will know the names of the performers playing, nor their original numbers, but you will probably be familiar with some of the songs they play. That’s because most of the bluegrass, folk and honky tonky acts that come through here work a number of country standards and traditional songs into their repertoire. What a blessing it is to have a place to come hear these old tunes circulating in inventive new ways. I’d be remiss to not mention the coffee-sweet-alcoholic-slushie known as Willie’s Coffee. It comes with a heavy spike of whiskey and coffee grounds sprinkled on top–that probably tells you all you need to know about this place. Best For: Willie, Waylon and the boys.
Union Pool 484 Union Avenue
Yes, if you moved to Williamsburg in the last decade or so, you have a story to tell about just how terrible Union Pool is and how you wouldn’t be caught dead there and all the cool bars you go instead. Guess what? You sound like a pretentious idiot! Because unless it’s a Friday night at 11:30 PM, Union Pool is actually decidedly chill. And, even in the last couple of years, the crush has rescinded. I should know, because the back room here that serves as their venue routinely books incredible guitar players and folk musicians to play the small, beautiful room, so I still go to the place all the time. And if you’re still talking shit, you clearly don’t go here much, because it rules. Oh and that taco truck is enough to sustain me even when the backyard is full of drunk hipsters. Tacos are magic like that. Best For: Catching a quiet/obscure folk artist on a weeknight.
Verboten 54 N 11th Street
The Williamsburg outpost of Manhattan’s long-standing late-night club has faced its share of adversity. First, they had to lobby for ages to get the permits and go-ahead to open the enormous space at all (it took about a year after announcing for them to finally open the place), then recently, allegations of fraud and mismanagement were leveled. Yikes. Drama aside, this is a really beautiful space where plenty of incredible dance parties and electronic music stars have come to serenade Williamsburg locals and out-of-towners alike. They also have this incredible Deep House Yoga program that is pretty amazing. I am firmly Team Verboten, hopefully the rest of 2016 is smooth sailing. Namaste. Best For: Dancing until 6 AM. Yes, you read that right!
The Acheron 57 Waterbury Street
The Acheron is the venue section of a rather large East Williamsburg compound that also includes the bar/restaurant The Anchored Inn. Still with us? Okay, good. Some things you should know: They open at noon, they offer beer and shot specials all day, they book some of the best heavy/noisy shows in the area. More punk and less metal than Saint Vitus, and not as big as shows, but the local talent makes a visit more than worthwhile. And even if you’re not into the music, there’s always the brussels sprouts at the Anchored Inn waiting right next door. Best For: Head-banging, and getting a bite after.
Aviv 496 Morgan Avenue
Aviv is still fairly new–they opened about a year and a half ago–and they’re one of the venues that have helped open up the outer reaches of Bushwick/Greenpoint’s warehouse wasteland border to the influence of the forces at work in the rest of the neighborhood. Along with Our Wicked Lady, and to some extent even Sunnyvale, these spaces are stretching past the convenient train and bus adjacent blocks out into the empty corridors of the city that take a little legwork to get to. The music is worth the trek. Best For: Getting out of your comfort zone.
Don Pedro 90 Manhattan Avenue
Ok, so not only does this place have some of the best Mexican food in Williamsburg period (shouts out to the nearby 24-hour diner Grand Morelos though), but they also book shows and other events that tend toward the subversive side of the cultural line. That means drag events and other queer-friendly events, along with bands that self-identify as transgressive, punk, or somewhere high up on the “fuck the mainstream” scale. Best For: Leaving your comfort zone. Oh, and understanding what good Mexican food is really about (Yes, they used to have a C from the health department, but it’s never been about not cleanliness, you fool).
Our Wicked Lady 153 Morgan Avenue
In the spirit of many communal arts spaces, Our Wicked Lady functions as a hub for artists by providing rehearsal and studio availability right alongside its venue space. Located right on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick proper, the space also hosts occasional chef and local restaurant food pop ups, and massive rooftop that’s great for drinking summer beers and dancing to disco on. Best For: Feeling like you’re part of an artistic community for a night, even if you’re just visiting.
Shea Stadium 20 Meadow Street
Ah, behold Shea Stadium in all her DIY glory. Not only does the venue provide a place for bands to rehearse during the day, but they also allow recorded sets for all the bands who grace their stage–another tool for artists who are barely scrapping by to make their music exist in the world. Truly, this is a venue that seeks to give back to its community, and is, in turn, adored by all those it touches. When it comes to Shea Stadium, there’s no such thing as overrated. Best For: That band your friends haven’t heard yet.
Alphaville 140 Wilson Avenue
Ask anyone what they love about Alphaville and you’ll get one answer: The nugz! (Seriously, just ask WALL, one of our 9 NYC Bands You Need to Hear.) But, despite how delicious these crispy, crunchety chicken tenders are, Alphaville is a welcome musical outpost in an area of Bushwick where you can still afford to live (kinda!). No but seriously, they book bands that you’ve heard of and actually want to see, and if you’re looking to avoid the trek to Williamsburg just to see quality music, this is the place to go. Best For: Chicken nuggets and live music.
Bossa Nova Civic Club 1271 Myrtle Avenue
Bossanova Civic Club is a world unto itself. The Bushwick club is loosely tropical club hunkered down under the JMZ that serves Club-Mate, a caffeinated yerba mate drink that functions like Red Bull or other energy drinks to keep you up and buzzed all night. Which works well when the club is booking high-profile DJs who would normally never play a room so small. At times, the line for this club is around the block, spilling into the pathway of nearby bodegas and corner stores, whose proprietors shake their heads in astonishment. But where else can you get fresh juice, empanadas, cocktails and techno until the week hours of the morning? No wonder the owner John Barclay just opened a restaurant to go along with his flourishing dance floor. Best For: Club-Mate, baby.
Market Hotel 1140 Myrtle Avenue
After several years of mourning, the Gods have spoken: Brooklyn needs Market Hotel in 2016. The venue infamously shuttered back in 2010, as police dubbed it “illegal” because they were operating without a license. Someone cue up The Clash’s “I Fought The Law” for the next five years, but then shut it off, because this time, the law did not win! Or, if they did win, we obtained victory in another, more law-abiding way, because Market Hotel lives. Oh, unless the MTA gets to them, natch. For now, all is well. So go see the noisiest shit you can and drink the cheapest beer. This isn’t just DIY, it’s resurrected DIY. It’s the ghost of DIY past. You’ll tell your kids about this, someday. That is, if they aren’t off somewhere working on their own version of a DIY venue. The future is now. Best For: Treasuring what you’ve got, while it’s here.
Palisades 906 Broadway
Although Palisades is still one of the newer venues in the DIY Bushwick scene, they’ve become a staple for the scene in a relatively short time. Several of our emerging local bands from the 9 NYC Bands You Need To Hear feature specifically cited Palisades as a place where they felt at home and supported, and if that’s coming from the artists themselves, then you know the place is doing something right. Oh, and they were recently featured on the cover of The New Yorker. Can your favorite music venue say that? I thought not. Best For: Hearing incredible local talent while still finding the space to breathe.
Paper Box 17 Meadow Street
Paper Box has been around for a while, and it’s another venue that opens its doors not just to music, but to theatre, visual arts, parties, and performances of all kinds. They’ve been around since 2012 and offer three different spaces for events, so often multiple shows are going on at once here. Enjoy the variety! Best For: Multipurpose shows that encompass visual art and music.
Secret Project Robot 389 Melrose Street
The creative heart of Secret Project Robot isn’t tied to one space, and has existed in many different spaces before coming to rest at its current location. For the past ten years Rachel Nelson and Erik Zajaceskowski sought to throw parties and highlight art in their community through various means. Secret Project Robot is the latest iteration of that, along with their bar/community space Happy Fun Hideaway, which are both located in the same Bushwick vicinity. In a great twist, the bar provides most of the funding for their venue, and each space fulfills their founders’ goal of helping facilitate a deeper sense of community in this neighborhood. Both of these ventures, along with their newest bar, Flowers For All Occasions, prove that there is still plenty of room in this borough to build communal spaces. Best For: Seeing a show in a space so full of creative energy it keeps expanding into new endeavors.
Silent Barn 603 Bushwick Avenue
Look, there’s really no other way to say it: Silent Barn changed the way we conceive of music venues in Brooklyn. From their initial space a little farther out, to the eventual rebirth in central Bushwick, the collective behind this venue/housing/recording space has made it their mission to put community first. In doing so, they changed the way we think about what kind of community is possible. This is what art should do–make our world better. Silent Barn has done that and more. Best For: When you want to be reminded that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. (Yes, Margaret Mead said it first.)
Trans Pecos 915 Wyckoff Avenue
Operating at the edge of the known world–that’d be the Halsey L stop–Trans Pecos promises that pushing further out and further in to the Ridgewood/Far Bushwick segment of Brooklyn will only result in even more opportunities for community-building. Yes, Trans Pecos exists in the old Silent Barn space, but it isn’t just Silent Barn 2.0. This venue is curated by a board of specially selected individuals, boasts an attached coffee shop and the space to do much, much more than just host shows several nights a week–and it does all this while operating as an all ages space. Trans Pecos points toward the new iteration of a music venue; a multipurpose space that helps support the community through art, collaboration, and food. Best For: All day shows.
The Living Gallery 1094 Broadway
The space opened in 2012 and specifically seeks to bring art and music into a place that’s accessible to both kids and adults. Whether it’s visual art, open mics, or live music, this is an affirming and upbeat space for families and locals to come and celebrate the communal spirit of Brooklyn. They also offer classes and events like Drink and Draw–kids aren’t invited to that one, though. Best For: Bringing your kids to see music.
C’Mon Everybody 325 Franklin Avenue
While most of the bands who routinely play Williamsburg venues can’t afford to live in that neighborhood, they can still afford to live in Bed-Stuy. That’s part of the thinking behind opening a space for them to play down on the corner of Franklin and Clifton Place–aka peak Bed-Stuy. Black Swan is right around the corner if you need some late night sustenance, and Dough doughnuts lurks nearby too, in case you find yourself out until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, and the venue may be small, but it’s got a huge heart. Best For: Living off the G train.
The Lone Wolf 1089 Broadway
This dark little dive bar offers a $5 PBR and well shot every single day, so even if you’re not looking to stay for a full show, definitely swing by and get yourself a cheap and delicious pick-me-up. Holed up just under the JMZ train, Lone Wolf has a stage in the back that’s used for shows and burlesque and whatever else may come its way. Drop in just to see what’s cropped up since you last stopped by. You might find yourself staying for more than one of these $5 specials, and that’s totally okay, because The Lone Wolf is right next to the train you’ll probably need to get home. There’s nothing like convenience, am I right? Best For: Cheap drinks and unexpected music.
Stop Time 1223 Bedford Avenue
One of our own has written generously about Stop Time, and certainly, the bar has only improved in stature since this piece was written late last fall. The owners of this place boast the likes of Milk & Honey and Little Branch on their resumes, so you know the drink selections are on point. (It’s limited to beer- and wine-only, but there’s plenty of interesting choices therein, plus inventive cocktails sans hard liquor.) And where there’s good drinks, good jazz is generally just around the corner. But don’t ask these guys to book your indie rock band, that’s like asking them to stock Rolling Rock. Not gonna happen. Best For: Jazz. Jazz and drinks.
Crown Heights/Prospect Heights/Flatbush/Ditmas Park
The Way Station 683 Washington Ave
If you thought all the fantastic music venues were found off the L train, you’d be, well, mostly right. But! The Way Station is an outlier in the somewhat sparse southern reaches of Brooklyn, a beacon of live music, cheap ticket prices/suggested donations and a four-hour happy hour that goes all the way till 8 PM. Come here to check out some of the quieter, emerging acts that Brooklyn has to offer without getting caught up in the whole North Brooklyn scene. Some nights have to be just about the music, right? Best For: Unknown local acts who keep noise to a melodic minimum.
Sycamore Address: 1118 Cortelyou Rd
There seems to be nothing this Ditmas Park space can’t achieve. By day it’s a flower shop, by night it’s a bar, and in between–or in addition to–those two functions, the space hosts weekly DJ nights that don’t feature some kid with a Spotify playlist playing the newest Drake song and pretending that is what a Disc Jockey does. No, instead, these nights emphasize Best For: For the nights when you need that perfect trifecta–a beer, a bouquet, and a band.
Red Hook/Carroll Gardens/Gowanus/Park Slope
The Jalopy Theatre and School of Music 315 Columbia Street
Jalopy is closing in on its tenth year of operating as a hub for all things folk and country in south Brooklyn. Best For: Learning the banjo, then sticking around to hear a pro bang away at some twang of their own. Of course, it isn’t just folk, country, bluegrass and jazz that show up at this exceedingly eclectic venue, but also international folk music from all over the world. Come here to find what you’re least expecting, what you never knew you always wanted. Or, to learn how to play guitar already! You’ve been saying you would do it someday for too long already. Best For: A refreshing lack of pretension–and lots of fingerpickin’.
The Bellhouse 149 7th Street
Since 2008 this Gowanus-based venue has played host to countless meet-ups, comedy shows, music festivals, and straight-up concerts. But whatever is going on here, the space is large enough to maintain a communal feel, and the sight lines allow children and giants alike to bask in whatever glow is emanating from the ample stage. When you’re here, it feels like you’re with family, even if they’re thousands of miles away. That’s not a feeling you can teach a space–it has to be born with it. Best For: Attending a show where you can actually see the stage.
Barbès 376 9th Street
And you thought Park Slope was just for strollers! Named for a well-known neighborhood in Paris, this south Brooklyn bar is owned by two French musicians who place an emphasis on booking international bands and musicians. Their ample space is also frequently used for readings and other community events, and the place functions as a sort of community center for the oftentimes sparse Park Slope area it is located in. Oh, and they do keep up with the neighborhood when it comes to beer selection, their menu is on point. Best For: A great beer and a great show.
Rocky Sullivan’s 34 Van Dyke Street
On the off chance that you are not actually into music at all, and prefer to watch sports while eating delicious hot wings, you’re in luck! You can easily do that at Rocky Sullivan’s–known affectionately to locals as just plain old “Rocky’s.” But, if you did come in search of some fascinating, flawless traditional Irish music, head into the back room to soak in acts like The Lost Tribe of Donegal who play almost any and every Saturday night. Perhaps those of you who claim to come just for sports will eventually be claimed by the tribe, too. Shout out to George the bartender who will remember your face and slap a complimentary Guinness on the bar if you just smile at him and tip generously enough nights in a row. That’s Irish hospitality for you. Best For: Traditional Irish music that will take you back to the old country, or the chance to learn some yourself.
Sunny’s 253 Conover Street
I have got to get personal with this one: Sunny’s Bar is the reason I moved to New York. Red Hook, more specifically. But the thing is, Sunny’s Bar is Red Hook; it’s the beating heart of a tiny seaside community dead set on supporting each other’s creative, oddball excursions, dead set on maintaining the weird, wild heart of New York City’s finest. That’s why it isn’t surprising to see legends like Smokey Hormel routinely returning to Sunny’s for late night sets. That’s why it isn’t surprising to see the likes of Norah Jones and Jeff Tweedy in the audience, soaking it in. This is New York. This is the dream you came looking for–it lives. But you’re just as likely to come on a night where the only thing going on in the back is a bunch of locals sitting around picking through standards in a guitar circle. Both occasions have moved me to tears, multiple times. The most recent occasion to do is the passing of the bar’s namesake and spiritual emissary, Sunny Balzano. That the music goes on in his bar night after night is just what he would’ve wanted, it is the memorial that he deserves. So go ahead and make your way down to this waterfront spot, but please make sure you understand the importance of what goes on in here before you step a foot inside. Best For: Big nights of small magic.