A guide to Brooklyn venues by Nick Neyland and Amanda Farah.
66 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222
This new-ish former wood shop turned venue was put firmly on the map earlier this year when M.I.A. joined Sleigh Bells on its stage for a couple of verses of ‘Rill Rill’. It’s the archetypal sweaty back room of a bar, making it a dark and dingy anomaly compared to all the high-end restaurants opening up at a furious pace in this part of Greenpoint. Fortunately, anyone whose ears are affronted by the noise billowing from the cramped venue can escape to the cheap food and booze in a separate bar area at the entrance of the venue.
98 Meserole Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Europa is a crapshoot—it’s become a popular stop-off point for local metal bands and bigger touring acts, including Helbastard, Liturgy and Saint Vitus. But you’re just as likely to catch Sebadoh or Ice-T playing here, allowing indie rockers and/or rap fans to mingle with the local Polish community and revel in the venue’s gaudy décor. The stage is too high and the dancefloor is huge, but there’s a certain Eastern European charm to Europa that you won’t find in many other venues in the city.
261 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Back in the day, Warsaw staged some of the early “big” shows by a number of upcoming Brooklyn bands. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars are among the artists that have graced the enormous stage and ballroom, although it took a while for the venue owners to become accustomed to indie rock, as anyone who has fallen foul of Warsaw’s oafish bouncers will recount. Shows are only booked here sporadically at present, but you can order delicious perogies from the kitchen, which makes it more than worth the trip.
Sound Fix Records
44 Berry Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Sound Fix is principally a record store that has also built a reputation for having some of the best in-store performances in the city. The original location of the store on Bedford Avenue came with a bar attached that staged a notoriously riotous Black Lips show and more sedate affairs, such as a secret show by the Last Shadow Puppets. But the noise complaints from neighbours never abated, and now Sound Fix is located in more snug surroundings on Berry Street, where they still stage intimate in-stores with an indie rock hue from the likes of Ra Ra Riot.
The Cameo Gallery
93 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The first hurdle with the Cameo Gallery is finding it. It’s located in the back of a restaurant named the Loving Cup Cafe, requiring gig goers to squeeze past the tables of hungry diners on their way to the show. But it’s worth the hassle and potential embarrassment, as the small space is spectacular, with a tentacle-like light installation dominating the room, and the ear bleedingly loud PA playing host to eclectic up-and-comers, such as the artists assembled to play the excellent Paw Tracks showcase at last year’s CMJ.
70 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The varied booking policy at Public Assembly, which replaced Galapagos after it vacated the space for a move to Dumbo, means you can see just about anything here. The venue encompasses two stages in two rooms, with scant décor and a bare bones feel that means the owners can pack in crowds for their goth, dance and indie rock clubs. Cover charges can be prohibitively high for those events and less so for the indie and metal bands they book, but mostly everyone just remembers the reflecting pool on the way in, which is a hangover from the Galapagos days.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 North 6th Street, Brooklyn NY 11211
The scrappy but charming Northsix, which formerly occupied this spot, was the fulcrum around which the Brooklyn scene of the early 2000s turned. Bands practiced and played here, providing some unforgettable shows amid the oddly placed bleachers and pillars. Ask anyone who attended a show at Northsix and they will all tell you how much they miss the venue in its original form. The ever expanding Bowery Presents organization refitted the space a few years back, turning it into a super slick three-floor performance venue with great sound and sightlines, but shaving off a big part of its soul in the process.
258 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211
Zebulon is the yuppified future of Williamsburg, where the sound of chinking glasses overflowing with expensive wine punctures the hushed tones of tasteful jazz or world music floating from the stage. Most shows here don’t cost money—instead a tip basket is handed around for the benefit of the musicians. Needless to say, the well-to-do patrons of Zebulon are usually more than generous with their offerings. The two owners have exquisite taste, as demonstrated by the LP sleeve décor and their between-band DJ sets, which should appeal to anyone enamored by the Soul Jazz label’s broad reissues programme.
Death By Audio
49 South 2nd Street, Brooklyn NY 11211
Death By Audio is fast becoming an institution. A resolutely DIY venue that somehow manages to keep the cops at bay and also provides a home for a burgeoning FX-pedal business and local acts like A Place to Bury Strangers and Sisters, there are few artists worth a damn who haven’t passed through its halls at some stage. The design changes frequently and the temperature reaches Dantean levels of tolerance in the summer, but it’s a testament to its stature that touring bands who have long since outgrown it often revisit DBA for a secret show or two.
289 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211
Making the transformation from a makeshift DIY loft/warehouse space to a legit venue isn’t easy, but Glasslands is one of the few places to pull it off. Thankfully, it retains most of the allure that made it such a draw in the first place, with ever changing art instillations filling the walls and the tiny performance space offering a stage to a mixture of up-and-coming talent and experimental solo shows from the likes of Thurston Moore and Tunde Adebimpe. There’s even a creaky balcony to view the bands from if the main space gets too crowded.
57 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
A recently opened edition to the DIY/all-ages scene, sandwiched amongst warehouses that are shuttered by show time and a bar the underagers can’t go into. Though not an exclusively punk venue, most of the bands that pass through the Acheron fall somewhere along the spectrum of straight edge to hardcore. They also recently began hosting a monthly comedy night—an economical alternative to New York’s comedy clubs—and are one of the few venues in New York that regularly books metal bands passing through town.
20 Meadow St. Brooklyn, NY 11206
Named for the former home of the Mets baseball team in Queens, the Brooklyn Shea is the project of So So Glos and producer Adam Reich. The all-ages performance and recording space has one of the best sound systems of any DIY venue in New York. The investment in the PA also allows Reich to record bands live, whether they’re nationally known . For bands that don’t yet have demos recorded, it’s a cost-effective way to get exposure, and allows everyone who plays, much in the fashion of the Beatles, to have recordings “Live from Shea Stadium.”
957 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Opened in 2007 by So So Glos and promoter Todd P, Market Hotel is the largest of the all ages spaces, which has allowed them to hold shows for Bands like No Age, but also has made them a target for the police. The venue is in the rickety space above a cornershop, parallel to an elevated Subway track, with a grand staircase and creaky floorboards that are definitely not up to code. The Market is currently undergoing renovations, but will hopefully preserve its cavernous appeal and quirky murals that cover the walls.
929 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11206
While ‘Party Expo’ is a pretty good name for a club, it actually comes from the space itself; the space is a former party supply store that was cleared out but never completely converted from its past life (including the sign on the storefront). Display windows facing Broadway (different from the Manhattan Broadway) feature large-scale installations by local artists. Gigs can be sporadic and Xpo’s webpages are usually inadequately updated, but they have hosted the likes of Japanther and the Death Set. Unlike virtually every other venue in NYC, Party Expo hold dry gigs, neither selling alcohol nor allowed BYOBs.
915 Wyckoff Ave, Ridgewood, NY 11385
A long-standing DIY venue on the Queens side of the fuzzy border between Bushwick, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens, Silent Barn is a small, ramshackle house curiously placed in a business/industrial area. The space is still residential, and living room furniture is shoved into a corner during shows so bands can plan in the open-plan kitchen. There’s also a basement, which is favoured in the summer if for no other reason than its air conditioning. It’s also the infamous location of Bradford Cox’s on ‘stage’ blow job a few years back, though nothing quite that exciting has happened since.
90 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Though an early adopter of the DIY scene, Don Pedro is, first and foremost, and Ecuadorian restaurant. But, with a kitchen that closes at 7pm during the week and a convenient proximity to the more fashionable parts of Williamsburg, Don Pedro is ideally situated for those looking to go someplace “less obvious” where cheap, crap drinks are equal to authenticity. Though they only hold shows a couple nights a week, the highlights are impressive; Yeasayer played one of their first gigs here, and the Vivian Girls are no strangers.
Goodbye Blue Monday
1087 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Known more for open mic nights and book club events than touring bands, Goodbye Blue Monday has been the saving grace of many an artist needing to book a last-minute New York show. It’s also serves the crucial role of the hip bar in the otherwise depressed neighbourhood. The decor is a fascinating collection of antiques, artwork, and bric-a-brac, precariously balanced upon each other and threatening to tumble down onto patrons if they breathe the wrong way. There’s also a sculpture garden (similarly organised), that allows for open air gigging when the weather’s nice, or at least gives visitors somewhere nicer to smoke their cigarettes than the street.
376 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215
The tiny back room at the back of Barbès in Park Slope has offered up just about everything at some point in its brief history. Movie screenings, stand-up comedy and talks by authors from the 33 1/3 series are a few of the non-musical happenings here, but it’s primarily used to show off world music and jazz talents. Barbès is a south Brooklyn counterpart to Zebulon in Williamsburg, which is similarly designed to attract an older crowd who insist on niceties like seats and expensive wines, all delivered in a setting reminiscent of a dingy Parisian cafe.
Brooklyn Masonic Temple
317 Clermont Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205
Who wouldn’t be tempted to go and see a band play in a Masonic Temple? The sound is gut wrenchingly loud and the décor is disappointingly thrifty—the edict that Mason’s are supposed to meet in a place representing King Solomon's Temple sadly doesn’t hold true here—but the chance to see acts like Sunn O))), TV on the Radio and Big Star (who have all played here) is difficult to resist. Shows take place in a medium sized space that is endearingly rundown, with uncomfortable wooden seats in the balcony and an oddball ticket purchasing system required when purchasing alcohol.
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11243
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is more than just a simple music venue—you can watch ballet, movies and theater here, or clink glasses with yuppies shuffling in from Park Slope in the bar/restaurant upstairs. If you’re here to see a band play, chances are it’s going to be a one-of-a-kind performance. Grizzly Bear and Joanna Newsom played with full orchestras, the National were filmed by DA Pennebaker, and Laurie Anderson brought Dirty Projectors to the stage when she curated a BAM event. It’s a huge all-seater venue containing impeccable sight lines and sound, with lofty ticket prices to match.
141 South 5th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
If you think you’ve wandered into an apartment when you enter Dead Herring, do not be alarmed—this isn’t a loft or warehouse conversion, it’s a simple living space turned into a venue. It’s small and you might find yourself leaning against the kitchen sink to get a good view, but the cheap booze, friendly atmosphere, and great lineup of bands make it all worthwhile. You can glimpse the traffic flying by on the Williamsburg Bridge behind the bands, but judging by Dead Herring’s impeccable past bookings, those folks playing here could well be future stars in the making.
361 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Previously located in an unhip part of Lower Manhattan, the Knitting Factory moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to the former location of the Luna Lounge (previously located in a hip part of Lower Manhattan, currently located nowhere). Bands are on most nights—usually the punkier side of indie—but a divided front bar and main space allows for DJs, comedians, and TV/film screenings. The Knitting Factory is one of the rare licensed club venues (as opposed to DIY venues) that will consistently let in the under-21 set, and will let in under 18s with parental accompaniment.
245 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Midwestern fetishism is big amongst Brooklyn hipsters, especially in their bars, and Bruar Falls manages to make the trend palatable. The mock rustic interior makes it a comfortable place to get a drink when bands aren’t playing. Many shows are free, and the ones that aren’t are on the cheap, plus they usually only separate the stage area from the rest of the bar by a curtain, so you could still listen in for the cost a drink. A few touring bands pass through, though it’s really an ideal place to familiarise yourself with what’s going on locally.
ISSUE Project Room
232 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11215
ISSUE Project Room isn’t much of a venue; it’s more of an art gallery that occasionally hosts concerts. The board of directors of the space is a weird amalgam of Hollywood (Steve Buscemi) and avant garde (Tony Conrad), and an art advisory board headed by Yoko Ono—obviously it’s only going to escalate from there. Generally you’ll find large-scale installations and specially commission pieces with an emphasis on unknown and “emerging” artists. ISSUE is currently raising money that will allow them to assume a 20-year, rent-free lease in the site of the former Board of Education building in Downtown Brooklyn.
622 Degraw, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Littlefield has done less than the other former warehouse venues to hide the fact that it was previously a warehouse. The floors are poured concrete, there’s tyre rubber on the walls, and while just about everything in the venue is made from recycled materials, it maintains a very industrial feel. The live space would definitely be called intimate, but also allows for pretty decent sound in that kind of room. In addition to indie rock, film screenings, and book readings, Littlefield is also friendly towards dance and electronic bands, allowing for an unpredictable crowd.
125 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
In 2002, Southpaw filled a major gap in Park Slope, a hip, gentrified, but not especially music-friendly neighborhood, providing a Manhattan and Williamsburg alternative for local and touring bands alike. Southpaw maintains a lower profile in the indie world, but also doesn’t cater to specific tastes; you’re as likely to see a country band there as you are to see a hip-hop collective. It’s a rite of passage (and really cheap press kit fodder) for bands to get a strip out of their photo booth. The loss of their juke box is still lamented.
702 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215
The diminutive older brother of the Bell House, Union Hall was build with pain-staking attention to design. The bar upstairs feels a bit like a library, complete with fireplaces, but also has a Bocce court in the middle of it (league competitions are on the weekends). The live room is in the basement, and maintains that same sense of style, playing host to an array of events from musical to intellectual. Buzz bands pass through constantly, but regular lecture series are also held. And the decided separation between bar and live room means there are actually regulars who float about.
The Bell House
149 7th St Brooklyn, NY 11215
Former warehouses converted into performance spaces aren’t especially thin on the ground in Brooklyn, but few manage to combine exposed brick, chandeliers, and antlers. The Bell House also has the added advantage of being larger than the other greater-Park Slope venues, drawing bands that would otherwise be lost to Music Hall of Williamsburg or - gasp! - one of the larger Manhattan clubs. Granted, the cocktails are named after different albums (including that Weezer album everyone still likes), so that’s a bit too cute. But as it’s one of the area bars that ‘modern’ parents won’t try to bring their babies to, the cuteness cancels out.
The Rock Shop
249 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215
A half-sibling of Music Hall of Williamsburg with the former booker of Union Hall/Bell House, the Rock Shop is Brooklyn’s most recently opened venue. There’s a bit to be sceptical about on the surface: while they claim not to be a sports bar, they’ve got about 10 TVs up on the walls showing whatever game is on, and yeah the name is a bit kitsch. But their affiliations with other major venues have allowed them pull in some great bands in a really intimate space (just over 100 capacity), and while their roof deck bar doesn’t offer any kind of special view, it does offer fresh air and a place to smoke other than the pavement.
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