As the bone chilling cold of December sets in, parched throats thirst for hot toddies and weary souls long for cozy bars to find refuge in. We talked to local musicians and put together a list of the best places in Brooklyn to sip something hot while taking in the finest live jazz, soul, hip-hop, bluesy folk rock, electro-pop, and R&B music the borough has to offer. From an old timey general store turned music hub in Williamsburg to a secret live jazz spot in Prospect Heights, these spots will keep you snug through the most bitterly cold months.
Pete’s Candy Store
Tucked away behind the main bar, there’s an intimate, boxcar-style room that houses open mic nights, literary readings, and dynamic musical acts. Hayes Peebles, who lives nearby and names Pete’s as his favorite place to perform, noted that there’s a “polite separation between drinkers and show-goers,” and that the staff is genuinely engaged in what’s happening, which is not always the case. The bar mostly attracts folksy, alt-rock musicians like Peebles, but lends itself to a variety of performers.
709 Lorimer St; Williamsburg
Pinebox Rock Shop
Named after the casket factory that once occupied its space, this bar hosts a similar rotation of acoustic-based musicians as Pete’s Candy Store. As Peebles explained, “a lot of people at Pete’s or Pinebox are cutting their teeth”—working on a new EP or releasing full albums independently. There’s ample space in the high-ceilinged, reclaimed wooded front room to spread out, but the crowd usually errs rowdy rather than relaxed. Try the super-strong “Sam in a Sweater” cocktail for an extra seasonal boost.
12 Grattan St; Bushwick
This welcoming, community-oriented pizzeria slash bar boasts a brick oven, excellent drinks, and a live jazz session every Tuesday night. Sami Stevens, a soul/R&B/jazz musician, said that on Tuesdays, “the neighborhood really comes out, in addition to a lot of young jazz musicians, which is a really nice mix.” Also: they’re serving hot toddies and hot cider spiked with rum all winter long.
705 Flatbush Ave; East Flatbush
Image via Baby’s All Right Instagram
Baby’s All Right
Emerging and established musicians converge at this spiffy, South Williamsburg club. The eclectic menu (bangkok papaya salad, nachos, poutine), unusual decor (astrological charts, banquet-perching crocodiles), and scintillating performance room (think: kaleidoscopic LED light board) distinguish it from the deluge of other neighborhood bars. As Sam Cantor of Minor Moon put it, “it’s a place where a lot of musicians really do hang out at the bar after shows … which is definitely not the case at comparable venues.”
146 Broadway; Williamsburg
To the right of this unassuming dive bar, there’s an unmarked door that leads to a performance space. On the weekends, the couch-strewn room is cleared out for a DJ’d dance sesh; on Wednesday nights though, expect a more low-key, improvisational jazz jam treat. Stevens has been going there since she first moved to Brooklyn, and confirms that on Wednesdays it attracts “really good and really high quality players.”
629 Vanderbilt Ave; Prospect Heights
Tchotchkes line the walls and hang from the rafters at this beloved Red Hook bar. It first opened in 1890 and has cycled through past lives as an Italian restaurant, a bar for longshoremen, and now as the heart of the neighborhood. Huddle into a christmas light-strewn booth, get a round of Narragansetts for your table, and enjoy the liveliest bluegrass and country bands every Saturday.
253 Conover St; Red Hook
Thaw out at this coffee shop by day, craft brewery and homey bar at night. In true Gowanus fashion, the space is sprawling but the vibe is down-home and cozy during the winter months. Hoppy IPAs and dark, chocolate-y lagers taste all the better while listening to an 8-piece funk band or The National’s bassist covering the Grateful Dead.
333 Douglass St; Gowanus