Music venues, like dive bars and long-standing restaurants, are the heart and soul of a city. And while many of New York’s most beloved clubs have closed (pour one out for CBGB and Paradise Garage), dozens remain. These are the ones you can’t miss.Less
When this storied Midtown theater fell into debt in the late 1970s, then-owner Rockefeller Center considered turning it into a mall or a theme park. New Yorkers weren’t having it. After a series of passionate protests (the Radio City Rockettes danced on the steps of City Hall), it received city landmark status. In the years since, the Art Deco gem has brought culture-shaping artists like Pink Floyd and Lady Gaga to Rock Center. Take a backstage tour for a closer look at history.
A pricey 2017-2019 renovation updated this landmark building with new bathrooms, better acoustics, and a revamped lounge, but many original details, like the Art Deco walls and scalloped balconies, were preserved to honor the hall’s rich history (it has been a Prohibition-era hot spot, Perry Como’s recording studio, and a playground for New Wave bands). The main ballroom has hosted some of music’s biggest names (Madonna, The Rolling Stones) while the smaller rooms welcome fresh, emerging voices.
A sprawling campus on the Upper West Side, this world-class venue is home to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Ballet. Its state-of-the-art Rose Theater—the world’s first hall specifically designed to capture the warmth and clarity of jazz—sits on rubber isolation pads that mute city noise. In 2022, the orchestra’s David Geffen Hall reopened after a major renovation. Stately trimmings (gold-leafed tiles, “dancing” chandeliers) make it grand as ever.
Widely considered the city’s best midsize concert venue, this Delancey Street institution is one of the few places where fans can see established indie bands, rappers, and DJs right up close. Beloved by music purists, it offers a near-perfect concert experience: a downstairs bar for pre-show drinks, a state-of-the-art sound system, a few precious tables perched on the wraparound mezzanine, and uninterrupted sight lines from almost every angle. Shows often sell out, so grab tickets early.
Even among the world’s most famous musical institutions, Carnegie Hall stands apart. A cultural touchstone synonymous with history and prestige, this palatial Midtown theater—surprisingly unassuming from the outside—is as deeply tied to New York’s identity as Grand Central Terminal. It opened in 1891 with a performance from Tchaikovsky and in the years since has hosted the best in jazz, classical, and world music, as well as era-defining popular musicians like The Beatles and Björk.
It’s impossible to capture this theater’s significance in a single sentence, but Nat “King” Cole biographer Will Friedwald came close: “Just as the theater itself is in the geographical epicenter of Harlem, the Apollo has always been ground zero for every major development in African American vernacular music, from swing bands in the 1930s, to bebop and R&B in the ’40s, gospel and soul in the ’50s and ’60s, followed by funk, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and every sound that has come since.”
After runs as a Polish American community center, a burlesque house, and a dance hall, this Union Square venue came into its own as a live-music destination in the 1970s with gigs by the Ramones and Talking Heads. But once De La Soul played their first show here in 1988, the club opened its arms to hip-hop. In the years since, hundreds of bands, MCs, and DJs—from genre-defying pop stars like Billie Eilish to the tastemaking rapper Earl Sweatshirt—have had their names on the famous marquee.
When The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik described NYC as an “inverted garden, with all the flowers blooming down in the basements,” he was referring to the Village Vanguard. Down a steep staircase, the darkly lit, wedge-shaped, great-sounding West Village haunt has weathered every storm since the mid-’30s and remains the platinum standard for jazz achievement. Live albums from the Vanguard are a vital subgenre, spanning from Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to Brad Mehldau and Gerald Clayton.
Few venues defined the ’60s and ’70s like this Greenwich Village gem. A Bleecker Street coffeehouse turned folk music institution, it was an early stop for era-defining artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor, and has long billed itself as the city’s oldest rock club. (Thanks to its landmark status, bestowed in 1992, the club’s brick walls and small stage are intact.) Bookings have shifted to bar bands and jam sessions, but the spirit of the Beat Generation lingers in the air.
For many musicians, playing Madison Square Garden is the pinnacle of success. This colossal, circular Midtown arena, which sits directly over Penn Station, doubles as a home base for New York sports teams. You can usually tell the night’s activity based on the crowds that fill the surrounding bars: Tie-dye? Phish. Bell-bottoms and boas? Harry Styles. Jerseys? Rangers. Billy Joel, who has performed here more than 100 times, has fondly called MSG “the center of the universe.” Enough said.