New York is home to some of the world’s best jazz clubs, so it can be hard to know where to start. You can squeeze into the same rooms John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong played in, take your analog-insistent parents to a supper club situation, or see something more avant-garde. Whatever you’re looking for, here are our favorite spots to tap our toes to some bass.
THE JAZZ SPOTS
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
This Japanese jazz bar is one of those rare Midtown spots that makes you forget you’re half a mile from Auntie Anne’s in Penn Station. Stop by for live music, sake, and delicious cod roe spaghetti any day of the week (with $10 covers on Fridays and Saturdays). Music typically starts around 6pm, but we recommend showing up early to get a seat. Tomi doesn’t take reservations.
Minton’s Playhouse is one of the most famous jazz bars in Harlem (and all of New York). It originally opened in the late 1930s, and it’s where bebop was first invented. They have a huge, sleek space, and shows happen almost every day. Also, this place shares a kitchen with The Cecil, so you can eat some steak or clams casino as you enjoy your live music.
In the basement of Harlem soul food restaurant Red Rooster, there’s a speakeasy of sorts called Ginny’s Supper Club. At Ginny’s, you can eat Red Rooster’s famous fried chicken and drink peach and pecan bourbon cocktails in a room where the jazz is so smooth that you won’t mind seeing a few fedoras around. They do live shows several nights a week, with late-night lounge hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
A foolproof way to justify all of your turtlenecks is by drinking martinis at Smoke on Broadway and 106th on the Upper West Side. The little jazz club brings in noteworthy musicians from all over the world to play on an intimate red-curtained stage. If you want to eat dinner while catching a show, we recommend making a reservation to ensure a table. But you could also show up, sit at the bar, and fall into a conversation with an ex-mayor of Philadelphia or someone else who could probably give you good life advice.
Arthur’s is a small, nondescript bar sandwiched between Via Carota and Marie’s Crisis, and it’s easy walk by without noticing it. If you’re into jazz or blues, make sure that doesn’t happen. This small bar, which has been around since the ’30s, has two shows a night, and while you usually won’t have any trouble ordering a beer or very strong Long Island iced tea at the bar during the earlier set, it gets as packed as its neighbors by the time the second show starts around 10pm.
St. Mazie is where you take someone when you aren’t sure if it’s a date. The place isn’t overwhelmingly romantic, but it’s dark and intimate enough that any chemistry will soon reveal itself. There’s live music most nights (they’re partial to jazz), and that really only increases the odds of your falling in love with whomever you’re shooting whiskey with. This nice, cozy Williamsburg bar tends to be the perfect amount of busy, and there’s a restaurant downstairs.
photo credit: Heidi’s Bridge
You don’t need to go out of your way to have dinner at Canary Club, a multi-floor Cajun spot on the LES. But you should make a reservation for the live music lounge downstairs, which has performances Tuesday through Saturday from 7pm until 3am. The red booths, large-format cocktails, and live jazz make it feel like a speakeasy in New Orleans, and it’s a great place to hang out with a first date or significant other.
Special Club is an intimate jazz venue in the basement below Niche Niche (from the same owners). With its white tablecloths and red velvet decor, it feels festive and old-timey, and it’s the perfect place to hang out with someone you’re romantically involved with. There are two seatings every night at 8pm and 10pm, and if you want a table, be sure to book in advance. But if you just want poke your head in and see what’s going on, there’s a little area by the entrance reserved for walk-ins. Just be aware that this place charges a cover and they only serve beer and wine.
If you’re looking for the type of jazz club you see in the movies—a hole-in-the-wall with good music where you can pretend you’re still allowed to smoke inside—head to Smalls. Seats in the cozy basement space go right up to the musicians’ toes, with a big portrait of Louis Armstrong looking down at you and a bar to the side. Smalls has a lower cover than a lot of clubs with the same name recognition, so shows usually sell out (and you should get here early to snag a good seat). If this place is full, head across the street to Mezzrow, another jazz piano bar from the same owners.
photo credit: Shrine Harlem
A few of Harlem’s storied jazz spots are still around, but there are also some exciting spaces in the neighborhood where new artists are keeping the genre interesting. At the Shrine, you can listen to jazz and funk in a vibey purple room almost every night. This is a low-key spot where you’ll discover stray records in the crevices and mingle with a fun, younger crowd. Happy Hour happens every day, and they’ve got a hearty menu with things like steak, mussels, and shepherd’s pie.
Even if you’re someone who doesn’t “get” jazz or finds it pretentious, give the jazz nights at Mona’s a shot. This divey bar in Alphabet City is a homey alternative to the old-school clubs and formal performance spaces. The music is great, the vintage bar is gorgeous, and the welcoming crowd is even better. It’s definitely music-centric, but no one will shush you if they can’t hear the bass line when you order a beer, and you can always hang by the pool table in the back.
Blue Note is one of New York’s most well-known jazz clubs— despite opening a couple decades after some of the legendary venues that were popular in the city’s jazziest eras. Here, you’ll get a lot of contemporary jazz artists who dabble in hip-hop, soul, and funk, with a younger, stylish crowd. It’s pretty cramped inside, and if you don’t have a table, you’ll want to arrive at least half an hour before showtime to snag one of the few seats at the bar. There’s a full dinner menu, and the coconut shrimp are pretty good for music venue food, if you ignore the music venue food price.
photo credit: Birdland Jazz Club
Birdland is a jazz club in the Theater District where the crowd leans “your dad,” “your dad’s dad,” and tourists who don’t happen to be at a Broadway show that night. But thanks to some good music and not-too-shabby Cajun food, this is a good place for an old-timey dinner date or a night out with visiting relatives. Just make sure to buy your tickets a couple days in advance, especially for the weekend, because they’ll be sold out the day of.
Bushwick has its own jazz club now, one that evokes genuine Village hey-day vibes and exclusively serves vegan food. We’re guilty of referring to this place as “the vegan jazz club” just to poke fun at the Bushwick of it all, but we’re actually really into this venue. It’s owned by the people behind Smalls in the West Village, but it feels more low-key and community-oriented. You can stop by for live jazz every night with no cover, and they occasionally host comedy shows and flea markets. There’s also a second floor with games where you can hear the jazz rising through the floorboards, in addition to a great rooftop where musicians perform in warmer weather.
The Stone is a venue at the New School where sceney jazz people meet academic jazz people (and you better not try to talk over the music). The non-profit was previously housed in a scrappier room in an old Chinese restaurant and was known for its hard no on serving refreshments or allowing bathroom use during shows. At the sleek new space in the school’s Glass Box Theater, you won’t be trapped inside hoping that Sean Lennon’s band keeps your bladder from bursting—but you’re still clearly supposed to focus on the music. More of a performance space than a club, the room functions like a classroom, with rows of lecture-room chairs in front of the stage and a focus on the freakier, avant-garde stuff.