Few things are more disappointing than going out to hear live music but paying too much for a dry tourist burger, bad wine, and a dessert that tastes like it came from the convenience store around the corner. This doesn’t have to happen to you! You can have your (freshly baked) cake and eat it too; that is, you can hear great music and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced food. Read on for 10 of the best places in New York City to make your time and money go as far as possible.
1. Ginny’s Supper Club at the Red Rooster
At this modern speakeasy, acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson cooks up American soul food with influences from all over the world, particularly Sweden, where Samuelsson spent most of his childhood. Dishes like fried chicken with white mace gravy, mashed potatoes, and bread-and-butter pickles share menu space with Swedish-inspired gravlax and Helga’s Meatballs with lingonberries. Music is mostly jazz, with performances by musicians like guitarist Bobby Broom and bassist Ben Williams, but it can run the gamut from gospel to Ethio-funk on any given night. Head upstairs to the Red Rooster for an expanded menu and live DJs. A gospel brunch is available on Sundays.
South Park Slope, Brooklyn
This Central European restaurant is known for its burger encased in dough and then deep fried. If the dish name “deep fried burger” does not get you to start making travel plans, here are some more enticing details. The restaurant makes its own beet ketchup, pickles, spicy mustard, and organic beer; features dishes like haluzky (small potato spaetzle), spicy Hungarian beef brisket goulash, and a seasonally rotating list of salads; and provides entrees made with local ingredients, farm-raised meats, and sustainable seafood.
Go on a Tuesday night for the Konceptions Music Series: live jazz and improvised music, curated by pianist and composer James Carney and his wife Heidi Bayer. Time Out New York calls the series a “valuable Park Slope progressive-jazz showcase,” and internationally acclaimed jazz musicians appear weekly, including Tony Malaby, Tim Berne, Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch, and Matt Wilson.
3. Tomi Jazz (best deals!)
Tomi Jazz is conveniently located in the Midtown East neighborhood of Manhattan, not far from Museum Mile and the Broadway theater district. This is a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. At Tomi Jazz, local jazz musicians play nightly, often with no cover charge and only a 5 or 10 dollar minimum order. Menu highlights include Cod Roe Spaghetti, Hayashi Rice, bucket of fries, and honey toast, and the bar boasts an extensive and moderately priced wine list, a good selection of sake, and Japanese whiskeys. Come for their “super happy hour” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and stay for the music later in the evening.
4. Chez Josephine
If piano bars are your jam, Chez Josephine is a great New York option with live music nightly, décor straight out of bohemian Paris, and classic French fare. The New York Times calls it “the Soul of Paris in the Heart of New York.” Named for American-turned-Parisian singer-dancer Josephine Baker, this cozy bistro has walls bedecked with portraits of its namesake. Dishes include French onion soup, lobster bisque, roasted duck breast, and escargots, and you can sip wine, cocktails, or their famous martinis while the pianist plays your requests.
5. National Sawdust: Rider
National Sawdust, a performance venue that opened in fall 2015, was named so because it is housed in a former factory that processed sawdust in the 1930s. Its eclectic mix of music ranges from N.E.A. Jazz Master Sheila Jordan to a multimedia theater project by award-winning opera composer David T. Little to new music performed by 1B1, National Sawdust’s orchestra in residence. It has added food to the mix; a new restaurant, Rider, headed by James Beard Award–winning chef Patrick Connolly has opened in spring 2016. The restaurant promises “innovative and soulful dishes” such as Oyster Ricotta Toast with Pancetta, Crisped Kale, and Lemon; Roasted Parsnip and Yam with Whipped Feta, Smoked Sable, Pistachio, and Horseradish; and Pine Nut Capaletti with Mint Pistou and Crispy Lamb Shwarma.
6. Silvana (best deals!)
This Middle Eastern café hosts live music seven days a week, often three or more different sets a night. The music is free with a suggested donation for the bands. Enjoy reasonably priced dishes such as hummus, falafel, and tabouli (the baba ganoush and the fried cauliflower are particularly delicious) while you listen. Music ranges from original rock and pop groups to hip hop, folk, and cover bands. Hookahs are available with multiple flavors, the beer selection is small but well curated and includes Lion Stout and Delirium Tremens, and frozen margaritas and piña coladas are dispensed from machines. While the quality of the music can vary, the performances are always entertaining. Plus, you can’t beat the food, drinks, and prices at this hip neighborhood venue.
7. Threes Brewing
This Brooklyn brewery puts out craft brews with esoteric names like “Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More,” “What’s the Point,” and “The Parlance of Our Times”; these and a few beers from other local breweries make up twenty rotating taps, and the bar has a good selection of wines and cocktails. The kitchen also rotates: guest restaurants (past restaurants have included Fanny’s, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Roberta’s Pizza, and the Meat Hook) set up an outpost for a three-week stint, so you can have a different culinary experience almost every time you visit. Bands play in the main room, where no cover is charged, but a separate listening room also hosts live music nightly—everything from bluegrass to free improvisation.
8. The Cupping Room Cafe
This Soho restaurant has been serving up bistro food and live music since 1977. Their music series, Music Without Borders, runs Wednesday through Saturday nights and offers music from all over the world, with a skew toward modern interpretations of Gypsy Jazz, a popular style of jazz from 1940s France. The solid café fare—sandwiches, burgers, soups, and salads—is not cheap but tasty, and the music is free. Come during happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. for drink deals and stick around for the music at 8. You’ll be within walking distance of famous jazz clubs like the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard if you’re looking to make a night of it!
9. Cornelia Street Café
This café has been around since the 1970s. A New York mayoral proclamation calls it “a culinary as well as a cultural landmark.” A meeting place for artists, musicians, actors, and poets, Cornelia Street is also known for its French bistro–inspired food and wine and nightly live performances, hosted in its intimate downstairs performance hall. Jazz, klezmer, live storytelling, poetry reading, belly dancing, classical music, and even science discussions are all options here, making this one of New York’s most eclectic venues. Artists and photographers exhibit their works on the walls. Gaze at the art before you head downstairs to listen to the music, quaff your wine, and munch on steak frites, mussels, and pâté.
10. (Le) Poisson Rouge
There’s practically no genre you can’t find at this intimate venue—80’s tribute bands, electronic music, afrobeat, experimental, folk, fusion, etc. The restaurant is “serving art and alcohol,” as its website announces, as well as simple-but-delicious soups, salads, and pressed sandwiches. The sandwiches, like the Artichoke (marinated artichoke, roasted tomato, lemon aioli, and minted goat cheese) and the Spicy Chicken (sliced fried chicken, roasted tomato, pickle, herb mayo, and smoky ghost pepper jack cheese) are all served on bread from the Manhattan-based Amy’s Bread. Salads include the Hearty Green (broccoli rabe, shaved Brussels sprouts, toasted almonds, and fried country sourdough bread with lemon vinaigrette), and there is a good selection of cocktails and beer. Top off the experience with cookies and milk for dessert.
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