Best NYC Musicians by Genre, Clubs, and Comedians
Lucius is NYC's Best Indie Band
It's out! This year's Best Of Issue is, if we say so ourselves, the best. It features (rough count here) 1,000,000 write ups about the unknown or undeniable things that make our city great. Here, we run down some of big Best Of Winners for music, bars, clubs, and comedy. Check it all out and get back to us about whether or not you agree. (You will.)
Best Guitarist: Yonatan Gat
A few short years ago, three hairy men from Tel Aviv, Israel, routinely stalked the States with a boisterous rock show built from pure chaos, piss, and gnashed teeth. Monotonix were all punkified Black Sabbath chords and gritty distortion, lead singer and Doug Henning lookalike Ami Shalev flinging his sweaty body about sweatier crowds with no regard for his personal safety. He was Monotonix's madman focal point, but the protein in the meal was provided by way of guitarist Yonatan Gat, who managed to miss nary a note even while being pummeled in the surrounding maelstrom. Monotonix are no more, but Gat goes on. Now he's living in New York, adding his wild guitar improvisations (which vary from caress to shred) to a music and film project with Elisa Da Prato, Ex Caves. It's a spontaneous blast, and it puts Gat's virtuoso guitar playing front and center, where you can (finally) view it without threat of being injured.
Best Comedy Open Mic: Loose Tuesdays
Alphabet City dive No Malice Palace hosts a weekly open mic that's the most entertaining joke lab in the city. Loose Tuesdays is run by Will Winner, easy to spot because he's the lovable goof lobbing Ed McMahon-ish quips between sets. Winner has built a warm, welcoming room where you'll see both new and established comics bashing their material into crowd-killing form. Thanks to the emcee's childlike enthusiasm, the place has a clique-free energy that hums with generosity rather than judgment. It's so much fun, there's usually a small crowd of non-comics in attendance (about as rare as hen's teeth in NYC). Want to get up? E-mail the man himself a day ahead of time. For the price of one drink, you get four to six minutes of stage time (depending on the day) to do with what you please. If you want to try stand-up, there's no better place to start.
Best Vinyl Record Store: Academy Record Annex
While most record stores specialize in a single genre, Academy Record Annex manages to carry something for everyone. Where else in New York can you stop in to buy the latest indie release and scoop a first pressing of a Sun Ra record? This Greenpoint outpost just relocated from its original Williamsburg digs but hasn't lost any of its charm or endless sea of wax for your perusing pleasure. The staff remains generally helpful and chipper, a rarity for most jaded record counter jockeys. They probably won't even look at you like an idiot if you ask if they have any Hall & Oates albums. And with such a constantly replenished epicurean stock including their own imprint of rare African releases, Academy remains a mecca that record junkies can visit every day to get their fix.
Best Jukebox: Boat Bar
Boat Bar is a dark, affable little hipster dive whose name you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere on its bright-red exterior. You have to guess it once you're inside, using clues like the life preserver hanging on the wall, the drooping pirate flag, and the stuffed squid holding court behind the cash register. One place where it doesn't stay genre-pure, thankfully, is the glorious jukebox, which is mostly made up of mix CDs with hand-lettered track lists. Someone is clearly a big fan of vintage soul and r&b. You'll find lots of regal, sadly obscure ladies like Barbara Lynn and Linda Lee, alongside the obligatory Kills and Velvet Underground every Brooklyn bar is legally required to play. In a time when soulless electronic jukeboxes are eating every bar in the city, Boat's is a glorious anachronism.
Best Comedian: Mark Normand
Get on the Mark Normand train now, before people ask if you've heard of him. The Louisiana native has spent the past few years quietly becoming the best joke writer in a city full of them. Combine that with a punishing performance schedule (he'll perform north of 90 stand-up sets a month) and you get a comic in title-shot shape. In the past year he's told jokes on John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show and Conan, and has opened for Amy Schumer on her nationwide tour. He also co-hosts (with Matt Ruby) the hugely entertaining We're All Friends Here at The Creek and the Cave. Billed as a "comedy chat show with boundary issues," We're All Friends Here uses Normand's folksy charm to get New York comedians to reveal terrible things about themselves to a global audience (the confessions are then turned into a podcast). Plus, the guy sounds like a 1940s baseball announcer. What's not to love?
Best Rapper: Ka
Ka, the rapper-producer from Brownsville who is rumored to spend his days working as a firefighter, seems like the kind of man who has read the lengthy, murky section on conspiracies in Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy very closely. But his primary source of knowledge is experience: He knows there are dangers lurking around every corner, for he has spent as much time facing threats as he has being one. It is this flexible, thoughtful, strategic perspective that makes his new, self-released album, The Night's Gambit, so matchless and astute, an incredible display of his talent for noir-like storytelling. His voice is always calm, and his vivid tongue-twisters reveal infinite wisdom. Listen closely: Ka might save your life.
Best Comedy Club: The Comedy Cellar
If you have cash to spend, and don't want to gamble on some young bucks at UCB, the best guaranteed world-class night of funny in New York is still The Comedy Cellar. Known to a nation of discerning stand-up fans as the club in the opening credits of Louis C.K.'s hit FX show, Louie, the Cellar is the city's A-room of A-rooms, where crowds and comics combine to build the best energy in town. As well as true legends of the New York scene--your Dave Attells, Colin Quinns, Chris Rocks--the club is blooding a new generation, too, with future stars Michael Che, Nikki Glaser, and Big Jay Oakerson doing great work. Don't be put off by the cheesy website; this place is the real deal for seriously funny people. And if your tastes veer deep blue? Try the late-night Nasty Show at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and midnight on Thursdays. You'll hear the word "fuck" a lot.
Best Dance Floor Scrum: Tender Trap
"Best coke in the building!" was the first thing someone said to us when we walked into Tender Trap. The man wasn't a bartender and we don't think he was talking soda. His brazenness should give you an idea—if the bikini dancers on the bar twerking for dollar bills didn't—of the frenetic level of this Williamsburg bar. The spot, opened by one of the guys behind Santos Party House in Tribeca, takes its name from an old Sinatra film and is decorated like a soda fountain that a gang of rowdy boys turned into their clubhouse. Vintage light fixtures dangle over the bar; records and porn mags sit on the shelves beside a can of beans, a bottle of Cholula, and a canister of Barbasol. You don't come to Tender Trap for the ambience, though. You come for the hot, sweaty party that stuffs itself into the narrow corridor of a dance floor every Friday and Saturday.
Best Metal Bar: Duff's Brooklyn
If you spend enough time at Duff's Brooklyn, you'll wake up the next morning seeing red. The metal bar just off the Marcy stop of the JMZ line has hundreds of red chile pepper and what we'll call "bloodcicle" string lights hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the kitsch—elegantly framed band and movie posters, all-access laminates, old porn—covering every wall. There are more than a few clues that Duff's Brooklyn was formerly Bellevue Bar in Hell's Kitchen until rising rents shoved it south. This bar is still a pit stop for metal and hardcore bands on tour as well as regulars who come by on Sunday nights to run the jukebox for free. It's a curated collection that includes classic Judas Priest cuts (live! Chicago! '81!), New York bands like Carnivore and Cro-Mags (albeit their worst record), as well as new releases. Then there's the "Wheel of Misfortune" drinking wheel, which is why you might end up spending the entire night here.
Best Comedian on Twitter: Michelle Wolf
There are two types of funny on Twitter. There is "Weird Twitter," where people write nonsense like "my tits smell like pickles" and get retweeted by 1,000 basement-dwelling dopes. Then there is "Actual Joke Twitter," where actual comedians write clever jokes that are funny to people with real senses of humor. Very rarely is a person loved by both worlds. Michelle Wolf is that person, the Chosen One who the prophecy foretold would bring balance to the Twitter. She tweets things like, "Where will Tim Tebow be next season? I'm not sure, but we can definitely rule out the Jets and a vagina." That's a great joke. But she also tweets stuff like, "My friend wanted to feel like a princess for her wedding day, so I made her marry a man she never met in order to secure a French alliance." Very weird, but also very funny.
Best Brooklyn Dive Bar: Capri Social Club
We know you love, love, love the Turkey's Nest Tavern, which sells gallons of cheap suds in giant Styrofoam cups. You can have it. It's too crowded and full of youngs, and, eventually, cops are going to bust it when they catch on to all you dunces sneaking your booze across the street to McCarren Park. Nearby Capri Social Club is where you'll find us. It's empty. It's cheap. No one who drinks there on the regular is less than 100 years old. In other words, it's beautiful. Very welcoming, and open to all despite what the name may lead you to believe. Owner Irene is as nice as they come too, and her "club" can't be beat. Or, as one of its nine reviews on Yelp says, "Best place in Greenpoint to get an afternoon drink when youre [sic] girlfriend tells you she needs to get off the pill because it [sic] 'suppressing her artistic intellect.'"
Best Rap Album: Run the Jewels
Ironically, now that the bottom has fallen out of the economy, all mainstream rap is luxury rap. Rap music may have once been, to quote Public Enemy's Chuck D, "CNN for black people," a genre borne out of a desire to give voice to the voiceless, but it's hard to argue it's that now. Over the years, much of it has morphed into artists rhyming about their bank accounts, an endless stream of designer label dick-riding and wallet-weighing. Enter Run the Jewels, NYC rapper-producer El-P and Dungeon Family patron saint Killer Mike's attempt to correct all that's wrong with rap in 10 smoking tracks that collectively put a bullet between the eyes of capitalism and American greed. Run the Jewels is a top contender for rap album of the year, and, true to message, it's free.
Best Indie Band: Lucius
It's not a mystery why Lucius' twitter handle is '@ilovelucius'--it's nearly impossible to not fall in love with the infectiously poppy, mod-inspired band straight out of Brooklyn's Ditmas Park. With the united front of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe at the helm, Lucius is as much visual art as they are musical virtuosos. They match color coordinated outfits and Anna Wintour bobs all while belting in complete unison. This year saw the release of their debut album--Wildewoman--and Lucius' star rise on a continuous basis as they've extensively toured the country and caught the eye of more than just their NYC based fans. Plus, at a time when the sound of Brooklyn's indie scene has become dangerously homogenous, Lucius dares to be different, which makes their leading ladies a couple of wild women indeed.
Best Karaoke: Planet Rose
The best karaoke is the kind you don't remember. Because you're drunk. Real drunk. Any place with a working microphone and thick songbook will do, so long as the owners aren't gouging you on drinks. The famed Sing Sing on St. Marks Place could occupy this spot. So too could Karaoke one 7, Karaoke St. Marks, or any one of the countless spots you've spent a night wailing Meat Loaf's "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" off-key. (Pro tip: Never sing Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light.") But, for our money, there's no spot doing it quite like Planet Rose, the casual Alphabet City hang that gets bonus points for being a karaoke bar without the word "karaoke" in its name. Most nights it's packed full of eager-to-sing regulars who make for the best kind of attentive, understanding audience. Some of them can really belt it out, too.
Best Rock Bar: Lucky 13 Saloon
Smack dab in the middle of endless baby stroller traffic jams and kale emporiums of Park Slope lies a magical place, a seemingly quaint side-street bar with black curtains, where nary an appletini is served and Iron Maiden reigns supreme. Lucky 13 Saloon regulars swill cheap beer as C-rate slasher films splash copious amounts of blood across the muted TV and the loaded-to-the-gills jukebox blasts metal at all times. Be careful when you order a drink, as there's a good chance one of the go-go dancers strutting across the bar top might knock it over by accident. Hell, the tatted-up dancers might just steal it and spit it back at you with a smile anyway. Imagine Coyote Ugly, but with the kind of vibe where tourists would be beaten into dust. This place is disinfectant for squares.
Best Free Concert Series: Lincoln Center Out of Doors
One year before the excellent 2012 documentary A Band Called Death brought them to a bigger audience and wider acclaim, Detroit punkers Death rocked the stage of Lincoln Center. For free. They were technically outside the venue, playing the plaza in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, an open-air festival free to the public that features a diverse collection of acts made up of an assortment of old-time faves, just-starting-outs, not-yet-discovereds, and everything in between. This summer's lineup included indie pop hit-makers like My Brightest Diamond and Emily Wells, the L.A. cultural mash-up of Ozomatli, and a few nights of big brass bands that got the plaza as hopping as an all-seated (thank you, Lord God in Heaven) venue can get. There's a nice selection of beer and street foods located around the park, too, and the bandshell soundsystem is top-notch. Everything about Lincoln Center Out of Doors is, in fact. Impeccable quality from top to bottom for the beautiful price of nothing.
Best Indie Pop Star: Emmy Wildwood
Emmy Wildwood's punk beginnings make the sharp edge of her punk difficult to ignore. She first made a name in NYC's music scene as the lead singer of Velta and has since joined the raucous all-female Guns N' Roses tribute band Guns N' Hoses along with opening up her own vintage boutique and record company Tiger Blanket. The label--having recently acquired the glam rock outfit Mother Feather--has been the perfect outlet for Wildwood's own solo work and with two singles under her belt, the driving "Chick Chick Boom (Tired of Love)" and the sing-along friendly new track "Luxurious Problems." Of course, her style is as unique and colorful as her sound making her an automatic nominee for rising pop royalty.
Best Cover Band: Jessie's Girl
The point of a cover band is to pay tribute to a particular artist, era or scene. Undoubtedly, Jessie's Girl, who currently hold a Saturday night residency at Canal Room, are the epitome of '80s worshippers and as talented as the group are, their enthusiasm for the music they're performing is even more exceptional and endearing. Recently joined by American Idol and Rock of Ages-alum Constantine Maroulis, the main trio of lead singers--Jenna O'Gara, Mark Rinzel, and Chris Hall--are an ambitious bunch as they spend a few hours every Saturday evening switching in and out of their most decadent and ridiculous '80s gear and belt out tunes like the Rick Springfield hit that gave them their namesake. With Eric Presti, Mike Maenza, Drew Mortali, and Sky laying down some impressive musicianship throughout each show, Jessie's Girl is more than a band--they're a flat out good time.
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