Grandlife guide


back to list

In the course of NYC’s cultural cycle, the only thing you can count on is change. The city evolves so quickly that what seemed like the center of the universe can feel out-of-fashion in five years time, or even five months.

So when it comes to live music venues, many legendary locations filled with NYC lore—CBGBs, the Mudd Club, Fillmore East, the Gaslight Cafe—came and went. But a number of the city’s most iconic venues still remain and are arguably more vital institutions than ever. GrandLife walks you through four of the most vital outposts in the Manhattan music scene, with some help from the critics and concert-goers themselves.

Bowery Ballroom

While Bowery Ballroom has been the center of ownership controversy in the last few years, the space itself remains one of the most iconic rooms to take in a show, or to play one. (There’s a reason why its sister venue, Music Hall of Williamsburg, has the exact same floor plan.) Bowery Ballroom is pretty much ground zero for any indie rock band on the come-up, playing their first headlining tour, or an anchor for genre acts revitalizing credibility.

The venue has also proven a mainstay for some of music’s most notable names including “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith, who in 1998 began a string of New Year’s Eve performances at the venue that lasted until 2012. According to Rolling Stone, Smith’s final New Year’s Eve gig at the ballroom included a guest appearance from former R.E.M.frontman Michael Stipe, who sang a rendition of the Jimmy Webb tune “Wichita Lineman.”

In recent years, the stage has given way to a more eclectic mix befitting our genre-less times—emo, country, rap. It’s all happening.

6 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002; T (212) 260-4700

Beacon Theater

Beacon Theater is a throwback. While it’s best known for hosting legacy acts—think Steely Dan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, the Allman Brothers—Beacon also rolls out the red carpet for St. Vincent and Tame Impala, musicians that evoke New York as it used to be.

“I remember seeing David Byrne carrying his bicycle helmet into a Sufjan Stevens show at Beacon,” says music journalist Larry Fitzmaurice, who has written for Spin, Pitchfork, and Vice. That’s the Beacon, in a single scene.

And who could forget John Lennon’s 1974 rock spectacle Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, which ran for 66 performances at the Beacon Theatre.

1746, 2124 Broadway, New York, NY 10023; T. (212) 465-6500

Mercury Lounge

For the last 20 years, Mercury Lounge has been the spot where many emerging acts got their stage legs—think groups like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ariel Pink, basically any group mentioned in Lizzie Goodman’s exhaustive scene history Meet Me in the Bathroom. It’s a small room, a performance space in the back of a bar, so it still occupies that rung on the ladder. In the late-aughts, it was a pretty conventional space to host an industry hang—this is how it comes to be that 20 A&R people might be watching the next big thing at 4pm on a Wednesday.

“There were four acts on the bill at the Mercury Lounge; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the openers, and it was still light out when they took the stage,” wrote Goodman for the New York Times, recounting the fall of 2000. “The band was elemental: guitar and drums, no bass. But the singer, who called herself Karen O, was otherworldly. She was dressed in a kind of Clockwork Orange burlesque, with cutout hearts as pasties. Before the show, she doused herself in olive oil. Onstage, she danced around like a lunatic, manically grinning and flinging droplets of oil from her hair into the crowd.”

217 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002; T. (212) 260-4700

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall has the reputation as the best sounding room in the city, and I’d argue that this is absolutely true. But, you also have to be prepared to pay for it, in one way or another—while it’s been renovated, the seating area is small and the venue is particularly old-fashioned.

“When my parents took me there as a kid to see the Christmas Spectacular, I remember thinking it was the fanciest place I’d ever been,” writes New Yorker staff writer and vinyl expert Amanda Petrusich. “A gilded palace of high-kicking ladies and sparkling things!”

“So it was surreal to see The Strokes there decades later….That’s New York: fancy and raw as hell at the same time.”

1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020: T. (212) 465-6741

WORDS Corban Goble

PHOTOGRAPHY Ebet Roberts/Getty Images; Morrisey and The Smiths performing live onstage at the Beacon Theater

You May Also Like

New York Film Festival 2019 Noah Baumbach Illyse Singer

Lens Crafters: New York Film Festival Musts

Roxy Cinema curator Illyse Singer offers up her top picks and commentary. 
Babs Restaurant Greenwich Village New York Interview

New Classics: Babs Opens on MacDougal

We talk with the boys behind the newly opened neighborhood spot about the influence of the Basque Country, the importance of longevity, and why simplicity is key.
Editor Recap NYFW New York Fashion Week Laura Brown

NY Editors Recap the Week that Was

art & design
As we close out NYFW, we get the lowdown from a few influential editors on the looks, the vibe, and the downtown hotspots they favor.
How to Travel: The Ultimate Survival Guide

How to Travel: The Ultimate Survival Guide

Two Condé Nast Travel Editors on the travel accessories to know about before your next long or short-haul flight.
Fort Tilden New York Best Swim Spots

Get the Skinny on New York's Best Dips

Get yourself to any of these locations and come back once the sun has backed off enough to enjoy the cool air of the city's beautiful summer nights. 
Downtown Karaoke Bars New York Baby Grand Planet Rose Sing Sing Up Stairs Bar

No-frills, all thrills: Downtown Karaoke Bars

bars & nightlife
Our favorite downtown karaoke bars have something for everybody and we’re sharing them with you. 
Best Tacos NYC

A Taco Tour of NYC

These Mexican restaurants meet firmly in the middle between great taste and exciting atmosphere.
Summer Reads McNally Jackson Sam MacLaughlin

McNally Jackson Summer Reading List

art & design
For your reading pleasure. McNally Jackson’s Sam MacLaughlin shares his must-read list. 
Choose Your Stay
the hotel that made soho grand
meet me at the roxy
Book Now