Easy Listening

Making Sense Out of the Musical Mayhem

The city's got live music happening every night—good live music, and lots of it. But you need to know where you're going, or you could end up sipping a $6 ginger ale and wishing you were back home listening to your roommate phone Mom. Here's our cheat sheet for some major local venues: who plays there, what the scene's like, how likely you are to get in if you're underage or flat broke, and sample smooth talk to impress habitués.


Arlene Grocery
95 Stanton Street, 358-1633

What's onstage
Earnest singer-songwriters and local bands building mailing lists and waiting for their big industry break.

Vibe
Collegial, clubby, self-celebrating, tiny, hopeful. Bands and audiences tend to be regulars, both on and off the stage.

Tips
Bands get paid by passing the hat, so be generous. Best drinking game: "Spot the A&R Guy."

Too young to rock?
Yes—they're pretty serious about carding.

Best pickup line to use
"These guys have some great tunes on MP3.com—I can download them for you if you'd like."

How to get in free
Show up with a convincing ID—it's always free to get in (unless there's some kind of shmancy industry showcase going on).


Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

What's onstage
Their bread and butter is big-name indie rock, but they'll try anything: jam bands, DJs, even the odd tribute act.

Vibe
A weird cross between posh and bohemian—brick walls and fancy drapes. Excellent sound system. Crowd is young but not excessively hipster-y.

Tips
The balcony looks like it has better sight lines, but doesn't. If you just want to sit down, the velvet-curtained chambers upstairs are comfortable.

Too young to rock?
Most shows are 16+ or 18+, but the bouncers are badasses, so check the listings first.

Best pickup line to use
"Didn't you used to go see these guys play at Brownies, too?"

How to get in free
Arrive in a stretch limo, with bodyguards who look like even bigger badasses than the bouncers.


Brownies
169 Avenue A, 420-8392

What's onstage
Touring indie rockers, emo kings, and locals with a stable following, punctuated with the occasional industry showcase.

Vibe
Relatively personality-free, which can be a good thing: You buy your drinks, the bands play, you leave.

Tips
Make sure you're not in the Corridor of Visibility Hell between the bar and the wall when the show starts.

Too young to rock?
They do all-ages shows once or twice a week, but are hardasses about ID, since they've gotten some police pressure.

Best pickup line to use
"This band sucks. Wanna play Ms. Pac-Man?"

How to get in free
Befriend the opening band.


CBGB
315 Bowery, 982-4052

What's onstage
Generic, anonymous rock bands sniffing at the remains of the Cradle of Punk. There's still an occasional good hardcore show, though.

Vibe
Well-preserved—the walls are practically an anthropological landmark—but also dismally nostalgic in a please-shut-up-about-the-'Nam way.

Tips
Don't go down to the bathroom! Never, ever go down to the bathroom!

Too young to rock?
Door is usually 16+; bar might give you a hard time if they're up to it.

Best pickup line to use
"You know, Johnny Thunders once OD'd in my kitchen."

How to get in free
Hope ancient biker guy/CB's founder Hilly Krystal is at the door; engage him in a conversation about electric violins.


The Cooler
416 West 14th Street, 229-0785

What's onstage
Good local rock bands, weirdo ambient DJs, and whatever else might fill the room without making people dance (cabaret license problems).

Vibe
A former meat locker with rickety tables, making for a strange underworld experience.

Tips
If you're looking for fresh-baked bagels or transsexual prostitutes, they're conveniently available mere steps from the club's door.

Too young to rock?
They card, but the lighting is dim enough that a reasonable fake ID will do.

Best pickup line to use
"You used to come here on Vampyros Lesbos nights, didn't you?"

How to get in free
Show up Monday nights, when the lineup is usually decent and all you need to get in is a pulse.


Continental
25 Third Avenue, 529-6924

What's onstage
Punk Fucking Rock: third-generation acolytes of the Ramones, and very occasionally an actual ex-Ramone.

Vibe
Iggy photos on the walls, too much leather on the crowd, paint-peeling volumes, a gratifyingly seedy atmosphere.

Tips
If you sit down, they'll make you order a drink.

Too young to rock?
Aside from all-ages weekend matinees, they're 21+ and mean it.

Best pickup line to use
"Nice vintage Docs. Wanna fuck?"

How to get in free
Come on a Monday or Tuesday night. Alternately, sit on St. Marks Place and ask for "spare change."


Knitting Factory
74 Leonard Street, 219-3006

What's onstage
Nonsmooth jazz types, some of them quite famous, as well as nifty indie rockers, oddballs, and cult performers from all over the place.

Vibe
Self-consciously eclectic—in decor, booking, and clientele—and overwhelming (four stages going simultaneously), with self-promoting/look-how-wired-we-are undertones.

Tips
Befriend the (exceedingly nice) bartenders, and the Knit is your oyster. Also, get there early if you want a seat on the balcony.

Too young to rock?
Nah. They sometimes card at the bar, rarely at the door.

Best pickup line to use
None. Knit audiences think sex is so 1994.

How to get in free
The downstairs Tap Bar is always free—small jazz groups play there after 11. You need a ticket for the other rooms, and the Old Office has a drink minimum.


Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place, 777-6800

What's onstage
Second-tier commercial radio bands, road warriors with big followings but no recent hits, occasional huge stars looking for a relatively intimate one-off.

Vibe
Pretty slick—shows actually start on time!—and pretty large, but just small enough that you can find friends who've wandered off.

Tips
Pain-in-the-ass lines, both coming and going; obligatory bag check. Don't stand anywhere near the speakers if you want to hear tomorrow.

Too young to rock?
Merciful 16+ policy only requires ID if you want a wristband to drink.

Best pickup line to use
"So, how many of those free Lifebeat condoms are you planning on using tonight?"

How to get in free
Radio stations give away tickets to Irving shows like candy.


S.O.B.'s
204 Varick Street, 243-4940

What's onstage
International groove music: The name stands for Sounds of Brazil, but there's also reggae, soca, charanga, and occasionally funk and hip-hop.

Vibe
Part Brooklyn-bohemian, part touristy, part beat-freak central. Straw-thatch/quasi-tiki-hut motif is a little unnerving.

Tips
Dress to sweat. Not dancing is de rigueur at most NYC live-music clubs; it is unforgivable here.

Too young to rock?
They rely heavily on the bar, so they're careful about who gets in; there are often long lines, anyway.

Best pickup line to use
"Do you dance merengue? . . . No, I know that's not what they're playing."

How to get in free
Difficult. Tickets are superpricey to begin with, and they're into getting people to make dinner reservations, too.


Tonic
107 Norfolk Street, 358-7503

What's onstage
Improv, postjazz, and experimental music, much of it from the orbit of John Zorn and pals. Quirky electronics in the Subtonic lounge. Klezmer and songwriters on Sundays.

Vibe
A pleasant, laid-back, international mix of young skronkmaniacs and old jazz hands. Many audience members own cell phones, but refrain from using them.

Tips
Early birds get good seats. Tonic is also the only music club in town where the food is both a good deal and tasty.

Too young to rock?
Now that they've got a liquor license, they do tend to card.

Best pickup line to use
"Is that an Other Music bag?"

How to get in free
Show up with an electric tuba and claim you're sitting in with the headliners.


Wetlands
161 Hudson Street, 386-3600

What's onstage
Jam bands, plus the occasional dose of hip-hop, metal, and reggae. Musicians who really love pot, basically.

Vibe
Hippie heaven, with a converted VW bus and lots of free political literature, much of it about hemp.

Tips
Downstairs lounge is dim, cushy, and make-out heaven. Shows inevitably run very late.

Too young to rock?
Almost everything's 18+.

Best pickup line to use
" . . . Jerry, man . . . "

How to get in free
Hang around out front, waving and yelling, "I need a miracle!" On second thought, don't.


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