On any given night within New York’s incalculable array of musical venues, you can find pretty much every act imaginable. From whisper quiet jazz quartets, to over-distorted art rockers, to spoken word slam poets backed by garbage can percussionists, the nightly roster of musical acts can be as diverse as the city itself.
Regardless of your melodic tastes, there’s bound to be a show each night that you’ll find at the very least amusing, but honestly the venues themselves all fall a bit flat. Music clubs in New York used to have as much (if not far more) character as the bands that played in them, but nowadays, these venues just sort of blend together. Whether big or small they all just feel boring, if not altogether sterile. So let’s reset the record and raise a glass, or at least raise the volume to New York’s rowdy, raucous, rough-around-the-edges clubs of yore.
The Cotton Club
Location: 644 Lenox Avenue
Famous Performers: Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Avon Long, Aida Ward, The Dandridge Sisters, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Earl “Snakehips” Tucker
Fact: Despite being located in Harlem, and showcasing many black performers, The Cotton Club actually had a strict “whites only” policy.
Location: 596 Lenox Avenue
Famous Performers: Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Fess Williams, Teddy Hill, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk
Fact: Back when dance fads were popular, The Flying Charleston, The Lindy Hop, The Stomp, The Big Apple, and The Jitterbug Jive were all invented at the Savoy Ballroom.
Location: 289 Hudson Street
Famous Performers: Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Mann, Cannonball Adderley, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland
Fact: Owner Mike Canterino was one of the first promoters to book integrated acts, also allowing them to play as long as they wanted, breaking the normal forty on/twenty off pattern.
The Gaslight Cafe
Location: 116 MacDougal Street
Famous Performers: Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Link Wray, Bonnie Raitt
Fact: The club started out as a performance space for Beat poets including Allen Ginsberg.
Location: 126 East 14th Street
Famous Performers: Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult, KISS, Fugazi, The Clash, The Boomtown Rats, Graham Parker & The Rumour, U2, Roxy Music, John Cale, Ramones, Patti Smith, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, Lil’ Kim, P. Diddy.
Fact: Today the club, much like many places downtown, is an NYU dorm.
Max’s Kansas City
Location: 213 Park Avenue South
Famous Performers: The Velvet Undergound, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Talking Heads, Sid Vicious, Television, Bad Brains, Beastie Boys.
Fact: In his first New York City show, Bob Marley opened for Bruce Springsteen at Max’s in 1973, kick-starting his success on a global scale.
Location: 105 Second Avenue
Famous Performers: The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Derek & The Dominoes, King Crimson, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Johnny Winter
Fact: Through 1971 bands were booked on weekends to play two shows a night, one at 8 and one at 11.
Location: 315 Bowery
Famous Performers: Ramones, Misfits, Television, Patti Smith Group, The Dictators, The Cramps, The B-52’s, Blondie, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Talking Heads.
Fact: Despite their importance to Punk in New York, CBGB actually stands for “Country, Blue Grass, Blues.”
The Bottom Line
Location: 15 West 4th Street
Famous Performers: Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, The Police, Prince, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Barry Manilow, Laura Nyro, Loudon Wainwright III, New York Dolls, Dolly Parton, Ramones, Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Melvin Van Peebles, Billy Joel, Patti Smith, Cheech & Chong, The Violent Femmes
Fact: Much like The Palladium, The Bottom Line now houses NYU classrooms.
Location: 36 West 62nd Street
Famous Performers: Suicide, Johnny Thunders, Mission of Burma, The Slits, The Feelies, David Bowie, Sid Vicious
Fact: After Ian Curtis committed suicide, the members of Joy Division regrouped at Hurrah to form New Order in 1980.
Location: 1546 62nd Street Brooklyn
Famous Performers: Metallica, Kiss, Blue Öyster Cult, Megadeth, Guns N’ Roses, The Ramones, Slayer, Poison, Anthrax, Quiet Riot, Motörhead, Cheap Trick, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, Faith No More, Cro-Mags, Iron Maiden, Hatebreed
Fact: Known as the “Rock Capitol of Brooklyn”
Location: 30 West 21st Street
Famous Performers: Madonna, New Order, Duran Duran, Billy Idol, The Smiths, Squeeze, Cyndi Lauper, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Run-DMC, Depeche Mode, Butthole Surfers, The B-52’s, RuPaul, Berlin, Sonic Youth, Swans, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Cult, Karen Finley, Violent Femmes, Soft Cell, The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Rob Zombie
Fact: Owner John Argento founded a Danceteria outpost in the Hamptons in 1984, becoming the first major club promoter to do so.
Closed: Early 1990’s
Location: 119 East 11th Street
Famous Performers: U2, Guns & Roses, Depeche Mode, Ozzy Osbourne, Run-DMC, Duran Duran, Sting, Iggy Pop, Danzig, Bo Diddley
Fact: MTV debuted at The Ritz in the 80’s.