New York’s best live music venues

By Edmund Vallance for British Airways High Life magazine

Photography by Erick Nguyen / Alamy

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August 2016

The city that brought you Lou Reed, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z has never been short of venues. Whether it’s blockbuster bands or hot new talent you’re after, Edmund Vallance suggests eight of the best places to hear live music.

Radio City Music Hall

Sweeping stairways, curving balustrades, and gold foil murals: the scarlet interior of this Art Deco mid-town monster beggars belief. Once the stomping ground of Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, the 6,000 capacity theatre has recently presented shows by Damien Rice, The Smashing Pumpkins and Spiritualized.

Where? 1260 6th Avenue, between West 50th Street and West 51st Street (

Nearest subways: B, D, F or M train to 47th-50th/Rockefeller Center; or N or R to 49th Street.

The Metropolitan Opera

Bring a friend. Bring a lover. Just make sure you get to The Metropolitan Opera at least once in your lifetime. This glass-fronted monolith is a genuine architectural marvel. And the giant Marc Chagall paintings in the lobby will break your heart before you’ve even heard a note. The 2016 and 2017 season highlights include Puccini’s La Bohème, Verdi’s Aida, and Bizet’s Carmen.

Where? Lincoln Center, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, between West 62nd and 65th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues (

Nearest subway: 1 at 66th Street (Lincoln Center)

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  • The impressive exterior of The Metropolitan Opera

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    Look out for the striking Swarovski crystal chandeliers in the lobby of the Met. A gift from the Austrian government as a thank you to America for its aid following World War II. Book return flights from London to New York, plus a 7-night hotel stay from:£600 pp

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Mercury Lounge

Interpol, The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: every New York indie band worth its salt has played this small, low-lit club deep in heart of the Lower East Side. Come for the band of the moment. Come for the beautiful people. Come for the cheap(ish) beer. And watch out for the herds of A&R men biting their nails in the back row.

Where? 217 East Houston Street (

Nearest subway: F to 2nd Avenue

Join the toughest crowd in America at Amateur Night at the Apollo – you might just witness the next James Brown

Apollo Theatre

‘I was at The Apollo Theatre the whole time, skipping school. That’s how I started with doo-wop,’ said funk legend George Clinton of his early days at this Harlem landmark. Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and The Jackson 5 also got their start here. Join the toughest crowd in America at Amateur Night at the Apollo – you might just witness the next James Brown.

Where? 253 West 125th Street (

Nearest subway: A, B, C, D, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 trains to 125th Street

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  • Discover the next James Brown or Gladys Knight at Harlem’s Apollo Theater

    Did you know… ?

    One of the oldest traditions at the Apollo is the rubbing of the stump of the original ‘Tree of Hope’, a tall ‘wishing tree’ that once stood in front of Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre. It was chopped down in 1934, but the stump was recovered and given a home on the stage of the Apollo. Ever since, it has become a tradition by contestants performing in Amateur Night to rub the tree for good luck.

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  • Bargemusic: a cool, floating concert hall that’s moored beneath Brooklyn Bridge

    Hit the right float

    Violinist Olga Bloom gave up her career to create Bargemusic in 1976. She chose a 100-foot steel barge – which was built in 1899 and served as a vessel delivering sacks of coffee – as her ‘floating concert hall’.

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Presenting over 200 concerts a year, this floating wood-panelled concert hall provides a unique experience for classical music fans. The renovated coffee barge is moored just beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and its floor-to-ceiling windows afford eye-popping views of Lower Manhattan. July’s ‘Masterworks Series’ includes piano and string quartet recitals of Schubert, Beethoven, and Bach.

Where? 2 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn (

Nearest subways: A or C to High Street station in Brooklyn (Fulton Street Exit); F to York Street; or 2 or 3 train to Clark Street

Music Hall Of Williamsburg

This 500 capacity former factory boasts three bars, two levels of seating, and one of the best sound systems in the city. Up-and-comers share the limelight with indie mainstays like Deerhoof, Death Cab For Cutie and James Blake. This summer’s schedule includes indie pop band Joywave and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Emily King.

Where? 66 North 6th Street, Brooklyn (

Nearest subways: L to Bedford Avenue

Village Vanguard

If you’re a jazz lover in Manhattan, you’re spoilt for choice. Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, and Jazz Standard are all world-class venues – but nothing beats the authentic charm of Village Vanguard, a basement joint in Greenwich Village. Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, the club has played host to jazz giants like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans.

Where? 178 7th Avenue South, below West 11th Street (

Nearest subways: 1, 2 or 3 at 14th Street; or B, D, F, M, A, C or E at West 4th Street 

Issue Project Room

Since opening in 2002, Brooklyn’s leading experimental music space has seen performances by Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, among many others. The 1926 Beaux-Arts building is undergoing a multi-million dollar refurbishment, but shows are running nonetheless.

Where? 1000 Dean Street, Suite 208, Brooklyn (

Nearest subways: C or S to Franklin Avenue; S to Park Place; or A and C to Nostrand Avenue

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