In a perfect world, jukeboxes aren’t Top 40-spewing robots, those glowing ATM-like contraptions hooked up to an infinite Internet playlist that charges $2 a song and inundates you with too many choices to the point where you’re just playing The Outfield’s “Your Love” on repeat for the billionth time. Jukeboxes, good ones, are curated experiences that either stick to a theme (bluegrass, MoTown and soul, etc.) or catalog the classics in order to appeal to regulars and patrons popping in for a first pint. The best ones reside in bars that enhance this experience, the kind of haunts that emphasize the connection between the music you’ve carefully chosen for yourself and your surroundings for the evening. You could be home and plugged into your iTunes or a turntable, but you’re not–you’re here, in this bar, with these strangers, drinking this Sixpoint Sweet Action or PBR or what have you–and you’re listening to exactly what you need to hear exactly where you need to hear it.
These jukebox bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn are our favorites for this reason, this totally perfect sense of time and place that’s solidified with the perfect song. In an age where robo-jukes are taking the place of vintage beauties across all boroughs, we’re happy to stock up on quarters and hole up in any of these bars, even if we are playing “Your Love” without a shred of irony or dignity. Or both.
See also: The 10 Best Bars in Park Slope Not Yet Ruined by Babies
118 Rivington St.
Though some old dependables are missing from the jukebox at The Magician (the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, but you’ll be too busy knocking back $3 glasses of wine at happy hour and blasting the Black Keys to care. This modest LES dive is dependably comfortable on a weeknight, where you can actually sidle up to the bar or snag a table and feed the juke some cash for some shame-free returns to Cheap Trick’s catalog.
The Rusty Knot
426 West St.
Picklebacks, hot dogs, beer specials and a galaxy-themed pool table are reason enough to trek to the West Side Highway haunt, but a massive jukebox? The standing musical encyclopedia that awaits you seals the deal. Jay Z’s one of the partners behind this tiki bar, and the standard held to the musical focal point of the establishment is seemingly up to HOV standards: it’s comprehensive, classic and provides exactly what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it. Any situation that involves “Bad Moon Rising” and Abita on tap is a good one–especially when you’re surrounded by nautical knickknacks in a place where you can scratch your initials on the tabletops.
224 Ave. B
Any bar that hosts Johnny Cash live cuts on the jukebox and live jazz during the week is one worth calling home, and East Village staple Mona’s fits the bill on both fronts. They’re not afraid of volume at Mona’s either, so choose wisely, as you’ll elicit some eyerolls for throwing “Don’t Stop Believin'” on there as a tired joke. The pool table and the jukebox are cozily nestled in the back, so if you plan accordingly, you could easily wind up dominating both for the better half of an afternoon–just stock up on quarters before you head over, and take it easy on playing through At Folsom Prison more than twice.
140 W. 44th St.
Though we’d normally discourage anyone and everyone from intentionally seeking out a bar this close to Times Square, Jimmy’s Corner is an exception to the rule, and one that you should flock to should friends crashing on your couch insist on hitting a show the next time they visit. It’s an Internet juke, and that’s no fun, but a tone of Motown, Soul, Rat Pack classics and other staples from your parents’ record collections is set by owner Jimmy Glenn, whose long-time career as a boxing trainer and cut man is in photo evidence plastered all over the bars old mirrors and walls. Additional bonus: snack time! Jimmy’s is big on free bar fare by way of Chex mix, which totally helps when you realize you’ve been listening to the best of Marvin Gaye for upwards of four beers.
Welcome to the Johnson’s
123 Rivington St.
The sign on the front of the bar is a neighborhood landmark, and for a reason: Welcome to the Johnson’s is a fairy light-strewn must for those interested in nothing more than a beer for pocket change and seriously good tuneage below Houston. Come for the $2 PBRs and kitschy surroundings that wouldn’t feel out of place in a deleted scene from Wet Hot American Summer; stay for the juke and the picks of your fellow patrons, who might surprise you with new favorites or reacquaint you with the Elvis Costello or Dolly Parton deep cut you accidentally flipped over when you were perusing tunes.
The Brooklyn Inn
148 Hoyt St.
Candlelit nooks and crannies, Old Speckled Hen and Shiner Bock drafts, the perfect back pool table room and a classic rock goldmine of a jukebox have catapulted The Brooklyn Inn to the top of the Best Bars list for the Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens set. When the bar closed for renovations earlier this summer, multiple notes–we’re talking five deep–were taped to the front door by those who had planned to take over the bar for a birthday party, clearly showing how loved this spot is and why people want to celebrate any occasion here. Their jukebox can see you spinning Bowie, the Kinks and Buffalo Springfield for hours.
152 Metropolitan Ave.
Hot peanuts, frozen coffee full of secret ingredients (and, ultimately, hangover fuel) and a jukebox that may as well have been transplanted from a Nashville dive circa 1975: Skinny Dennis is a Williamsburg staple for a reason, and the music has plenty to do with the excellent vibe. You don’t see a stuffed squirrel riding a motorcycle or a velvet painting of Willie Nelson in just any bar, and the musical selections that the jukebox provides are immensely appreciated–they fit the modern honky tonk theme like a glove.
131 Atlantic Ave.
Familiar with Union Hall, the cavernous Park Slope bar with bocce on the first floor and rock shows in the basement? Floyd is the Atlantic Avenue sister establishment–the bocce court inside may be a dead giveaway in that regard–but it’s far less of a night out destination and more a neighborhood haunt for those with a penchant for bourbon. If the beer cheese, stupidly comfy sofas and bocce don’t sway you, the jukebox should, as it’s roughly the size of a studio apartment in the area and with an expansive selection to match.
36 Wilson Ave.
Not to play favorites or anything, but Cain’s was the Reader’s Choice pick for our Best Jukebox of 2012, and we’d be hard-pressed to disagree. The bartenders, vintage vibe between the tin ceiling and neon and proximity to the Morgan L stop are all checks on the Excellent List, but the jukebox–the main attraction of the spot–is free on Wednesdays, and that seals the deal on an amazing juke destination entirely.
Tip Top Bar & Grill
432 Franklin Ave.
As everyone and their mother moves to Bed Stuy (if they haven’t already), here’s a solid dive bar recommendation: head to the Tip Top Bar & Grill and the Tip Top Bar & Grill alone for all your cheap booze and jukebox needs. This place used to cop a speakeasy-like existence–actually, they used to operate without a license, so that technically makes it an actual speakeasy–and shades of its former self remain as little’s changed since the beers started pouring. Work yourself into a frenzy over “Band of Gold,” head out to the patio to cool off, take advantage of the $5 well drinks and ask the bartenders about Black Velvet, aka Charles Bradley, who would perform James Brown cover sets at the Tip Top back before he cut a record we fell in love with.
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