The Best Live Music Venues in NYC for Every Type of Show

barclays center crowd
Barclays Center | Mitchell Leff
Barclays Center | Mitchell Leff

Picking the best live music venue in New York City -- much like picking the best restaurant -- is an impossible task. Among hundreds of bars with stages and open mics, DIY spaces, and boldface venues, the options seem endless. But the vast majority of notable concert venues in NYC are owned and operated by a few huge promoters who have homogenized everything to the point that much of that illusion of choice is just that… an illusion.

Still, as far as live music cities go, New York is hard to beat. It’s a must-stop destination for even the smallest tours, a hub for record release parties and insider events thanks to the presence of so much music industry press, and ground zero for more than a few notable past and present “scenes” over the years.

To find a favorite venue, you have to know what you’re looking for. Some people like big, expensive arena shows, some live to chase underground artists in cheap, basement hideouts; some want to dance, others prefer to enjoy a concert from their seat; some won’t journey all the way to Brooklyn, others are too cool for Manhattan. And with so many options, seemingly subtle things like the layout of the crowd space or the price of beer can make or break a venue’s reputation.

No matter what your preferences may be, these are the best NYC venues for every kind of show:

bowery ballroom
Courtesy of Bowery Ballroom

Bowery Ballroom

Lower East Side, Manhattan

The never-fail fan favorite
Whether it’s the charm of the hardwood floor, the favorable layout -- a decently sized bar and lounge downstairs and stairs at both the front and the back of the 575-person capacity performance space help keep crowd movement fluid -- or the place’s knack for catching acts just as they are beginning to have their moment, there’s a special alchemy that makes a show at the Bowery great. It also doesn’t hurt that Bowery Ballroom is smack in the middle of the food and drink hub of the Lower East Side, providing fantastic options for pre- and post- show fun. -- Alex Garofalo

mercury lounge
Mercury Lounge | Michael Loccisano/Entertainment/Getty Images

Mercury Lounge

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Best spot for up and coming artists
The 250 capacity room at Mercury Lounge solidified its reputation as a hotspot for up and coming artists when the Strokes were discovered here in 2000. It’s somehow maintained this cred despite ditching its independence in 2017 to team up with promoter Live Nation under the Mercury East banner (which also includes the Bowery Ballroom). Fantastic programming and cheap ticket prices still draw fans to the small, barebones room, show after show. -- AG

Market Hotel

Bushwick, Brooklyn

Best spot for small shows
Hidden inside an old building facing the elevated JMZ train, Market Hotel could be easy to miss if it weren’t for the gaggle of concert-goers smoking out front. Originally an artists-in-residence space when it opened in 2008, Market Hotel endured a shutdown and renovations before reopening as a concert hall in 2015. Its unique history and commitment to curating talent with cult-like followings helps the smaller spot retain its underground vibe. The room’s odd V shape doesn’t hinder dancing or crowd surfing, and it’s a feeling like no other when the rickety floor shakes from both the bass and the trains passing through the nearby Myrtle-Broadway station. -- Sadie Bell

barclays center
Barclays Center | Mitchell Leff

Barclays Center

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Best venue for an actually enjoyable arena experience
Manhattan’s iconic Madison Square Garden may be NYC’s most famous arena, but Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is an upgrade. First opened in 2012, Barclay’s has a clean, modern aesthetic, and it was designed with an eye toward the future of entertainment, featuring featuring improved acoustics and seating that make even the nosebleed seats worth the price of admission. And unlike MSG, it’s a world away from Midtown, meaning the massive concert crowds don’t have to compete with droves of tourists. -- SB

brooklyn steel
Brooklyn Steel | Taylor Hill/Entertainment/Getty Images

Brooklyn Steel

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Best venue for big shows, but not too big
Terminal 5 enjoyed a long reign as the city’s de rigueur few-thousand capacity venue. But Terminal 5 is... bad. Its Hell’s Kitchen location is inconvenient, and the layout lends itself to gridlock. It’s enough to make New Yorkers miss the subway. Luckily, since Brooklyn Steel opened in 2017 the Greenpoint sister venue -- both are owned by Bowery Presents -- has been cutting into Terminal 5’s share of mid-sized bookings. It isn’t perfect, but ample space and adequate sightlines make it the best of its kind in New York. -- AG

Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater | Shahar Azran/WireImage/Getty Images

The Apollo Theater

Harlem, Manhattan

Best venue for a taste of history
Nothing tops showtime at the legendary Apollo Theater for a traditional experience amid Old New York ambiance and ornate design. The neo-classical theater is a cathedral of African American cultural history that made or broke stars of yore. Ella Fitzgerald debuted here, James Brown recorded one of the greatest albums of all time here, and a young Jimi Hendrix won an amateur night contest here in 1964. Greatness permeates the landmark building. Plus, a show at the Apollo is an excellent occasion to take advantage of Harlem’s excellent restaurant scene, including soul food classics like Amy Ruth’s and Sylvia’s and newer spots like Clay, ROKC, and Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster. -- AG

lehman center
New seating in the Lehman Center | Piotr Bond

Lehman Center for the Performing Arts

Jerome Park, the Bronx

Best fine arts venue
Lincoln Center might seem the obvious choice here, but the not-for-profit Lehman Center gets credit for bringing the fine arts beyond Manhattan. With venues like the Paradise Theater and the Olympic Theater Concert Hall shutting down over the years, the Bronx has had bad luck holding onto large performance spaces. But year after year, the 2,278-seat Lehman Center brings acts like Janelle Monáe, ballet performances, world dance and Salsa groups, and tributes to David Bowie to its stage. -- AG

Elsewhere | Luis Nieto Dickens


Bushwick, Brooklyn

Best spot for an electric night
From the team behind the former Williamsburg club Glasslands Gallery, Elsewhere is an arts space/venue housed in a converted warehouse in Bushwick. The multi-room neighborhood staple is able to host two separate bills every night, and its trendy upper-level/rooftop bar is always open for business after the show. An eclectic lighting set up and large open floor make Elsewhere’s main room particularly great for the DJs and electronic musicians who spin sets there late on Friday and Saturday nights. The industrial atmosphere feels like an art scene rave. -- SB


Ridgewood, Queens

Best place to see hip-hop
H0L0’s entrance is almost as obscure as its minimal online presence, giving your stop here a twinge of hush-hush cool. Inside, the industrial, intimate, gallery-like space is equally fit for DJs, pop acts, and rappers. Technicolor lights and visuals further the artsy air. Here, you’ll get up close and personal with emerging artists and you’re likely to catch the next underground great. -- SB

rough trade nyc
Rough Trade | Matthew Eisman/Entertainment/Getty Images

Rough Trade

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Best for events beyond a live set
Originally a British music label and chain of record stores, the sole Rough Trade on this side of the Atlantic features the same vibe as London’s Rough Trade East: a duel record store/music venue combo. The back performance area is tiny, but its retail adjacency has its perks. In addition to concerts, artists also often sign records before or after shows, there a few free, acoustic sets on weekend afternoons, and fans can score invites to exclusive listening parties ahead of album releases. -- SB

Trans-Pecos | @store_front_nyc


Ridgewood, Queens

Best place to discover DIY artists
Trans-Pecos, one of the area’s few standing, all-ages DIY venues, hosts some of the most exciting emerging artists in the city. Some small tours pass through, but you’ll typically see Brooklyn bands and local students on Trans-Pecos’ humble stage. The small space is adorned with house plants and frequently features kaleidoscopic projections on its walls like it’s an art school dorm room -- appropriate for its younger-leaning crowd. Check your scenester proclivities at the door, no matter how cool its underground patrons seem, Trans-Pecos regulars are just looking to enjoy new music and dance (or mosh) on the floor. -- SB

bar lunatico stage
Courtesy of Bar Lunàtico

Bar LunÀtico

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Best bar with live music
Many NYC music venues are attached to a bar, but here we mean a place where the music and the bartending happen in same space. There is no better spot than Bar LunÀtico. The Bed-Stuy restaurant and bar sports a live act every single night from an impressive range of global, jazz, blues, and rock acts -- Daptone soul singer Naomi Shelton regularly performs at the Sunday gospel brunch. The hyper-intimate space, mostly occupied by small café tables, and first-come-first-served policy makes for a truly unique neighborhood vibe. Coming for a drink, meal or coffee is like listening to music at a friend’s house. -- AG

An Beal Bocht Cafe

Riverdale, the Bronx

Best open mic
This traditional Irish bar says its Tuesday night open mic is he longest running (and best) in the Bronx, and we’re not going to argue with them. It also serves A+ pub food and hosts great local rock, folk, and traditional Irish artists from the neighborhood most other nights of the week. The Bronx has seen its fair share of venues disappear over the years, and An Beal Bocht, which shares ownership with other live music hotspots in the city like the Lower East Side’s Arlene’s Grocery, ensures there’s still someplace left in the borough for a band to call home. -- AG

forest hills stadium
Forest Hills Stadium

Forest Hills Stadium

Forest Hills, Queens

Best venue for outdoor shows
When the weather warms up, the best place to catch a show in en plein air is in Queens. Forest Hills Stadium, the 1920s home of the US Open, and 1960s venue for the Beatles, Diana Ross, and the Rolling Stones was renovated in 2013, reinstating its rank as one of the city’s best summer music venues. There’s not a bad seat in the modestly sized stadium, the calendar is always filled with great acts, and its borough’s edge location gives it the real estate for a food and drink spread fit for a small festival -- not to mention turns off enough people to keep ticket prices somewhat affordable. -- AG

Snug Harbor music hall
Music Hall | Courtesy of Snug Harbor

Music Hall at Snug Harbor

Snug Harbor, Staten Island

Best excuse to explore Staten Island
There’s plenty to see in Staten Island. Just board the ferry for the city’s best speakeasy, then continue your trip back in time at Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Built in 1892, it’s among the oldest concert venues in NYC, right behind Carnegie Hall. The 686-seat theater doesn’t host shows as often as the other venues on this list -- check out Mother Pug’s saloon if you’re craving a daily dose of live punk, rock, and indie -- but the acoustics and architecture make it worth the trip when it does. Norah Jones and The xx have played here in recent years, and its proximity to the rest of the Snug Harbor district’s architecture and nautical history makes a show there the perfect excuse for a day trip. -- AG

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment editorial assistant at Thrillist.
Alex Garofalo is the senior SEO manager and an editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @LikeJaneane or look out for him at one of the spots above.