The historically important venues are still in Manhattan, but if you learn to navigate the no-wave fusion on the other side of the East River, Brooklyn houses more than a few worthwhile musical watering holes.
Founded by two members of the Rogers Sisters, DADDY’S (435 Graham Avenue, 718-609-6388) was perhaps intended to give ironic mustaches and H&M cowboy shirts a context. The well-honed jukebox—Scissor Sisters to Skynyrd—indulges the more palatable consumption habits of the urban hipster.
For the claustrophobic, ENID’S in Greenpoint (560 Manhattan Avenue, 718-349-3859) is as big as a warehouse. The DJs, perched on high behind the bartender, are generally unaffected enough to mix “Radar Love” and “Hot for Teacher” before descending back to earth for a beer.
The live DJs and for-sale retro furniture at HALCYON (227 Smith Street, 718-260-9299, halcyonline.com), Cobble Hill’s cafe/bar/record store hybrid create an ideal space for kids who imbibe Ecstasy, laptop electronica, and Grooves magazine.
A particularly proper DJ at Fort Greene’s hip-hop bar MOE’S (80 Lafayette Avenue, 718-797-9536) inspired two wallflower friends from Buffalo to awkwardly freak out one another and strangers alike. For the rhythmically adventurous, the yellow-and-red walls and colored lights illuminate your every Kid ‘N Play-inspired move.
Former stomping ground of Elliott Smith, O’CONNOR’S (39 Fifth Avenue, 718-783-9721) is a low-key ex-speakeasy with mismatched linoleum and indoor/outdoor carpeting. The jukebox, blasting classics by Love, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Star, Merle Haggard, Television, and the Who, makes it a Park Slope favorite. And of course there’s stuff by Smith, who wrote XO at a table in the back.
In an Alpine lodge down a Williamsburg side street, PETE’S CANDY STORE (709 Lorimer Street, 718-302-3770, petescandystore.com), offers Scrabble, Bingo, and free nightly music (Will Oldham bowing before a velvet curtain). A rotating cast of specialty drinks à la the Holiday Helper—egg nog and Mount Gay with a dash of nutmeg—brings to mind the kitschy, unaffected air of a fruitcake on a red tablecloth.
Sitting on the floor at SOUTHPAW (125 Fifth Avenue, 718-230-0236, spsounds.com) to watch Catherine Irwin made perfect sense, as did leaning against the back wall to catch TV On The Radio. Behind its almost blank facade, this Park Slope club has more consistent sound than Northsix, plus you can play Erotic Match Up and still see the stage.
At SWEET WATER TAVERN (105 North 6th Street, 718-963-0608), Williamsburg’s old-school punk haunt, the jukebox spits angst in many forms: Cro-Mags, Johnny Cash, New Model Army, Jesus Lizard, Manowar, and Wu-Tang Clan. The pressed-tin walls make sure the sounds hit you from all directions, and the oversexed anthropomorphic graffiti by the bathrooms is ripe for your drunken analysis.
Rock out to Mudhoney while old men eat kielbasa! Sounds like Fellini, but the odd juxtapositions at WARSAW (261 Driggs Avenue, 718-387-0505, polishnationalhome.com), my favorite Polish cultural hall, beautifully evoke suburban hardcore shows at the local VFW.