Many of the music venues that defined Greenwich Village in the 1950s and ‘60s—Cafe au Go Go, the Gaslight Cafe, Gerde’s Folk City, the Village Gate—have long since gone the way of rotary phones and “far out, man.” But several of the hottest spots from the heyday of Village iconoclasm remain.
178 Seventh Avenue South (off Waverly Place)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has performed at Village Vanguard every Monday night for more than 50 years. Yet when it debuted at the club in 1966, the Vanguard had already been around for more than 30 years, having opened in 1935. It originally spotlighted poetry readings and folk and blues music (Lead Belly, perhaps best remembered today for “Goodnight, Irene,” used to perform here). By the 1950s, though, jazz came to dominate. John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins are among the jazz greats who recorded live albums here, and jazz continues to be the driving genre. Upcoming shows include the Scott Colley Quartet (January 7-12), the Julian Lage Trio (January 14-19), and the Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet (January 21-26).
57 Grove Street (between Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker Street)
As long as Arthur’s Tavern is around, you can rest assured that you will be able to listen to live jazz or blues any night of the week. Founded in 1937, Arthur’s came to be known as “the home of the Bird” because the legendary jazz sax player Charlie “Bird” Parker played here regularly until his death in 1955. Do not come here expecting a swank, sophisticated supper-club vibe. This intimate spot is nondescript in appearance (except for the Christmas lights that remain strewn about the walls year-round), but it more than makes up for that with its music—and its lack of a cover charge. The Grove Street Stompers play Dixieland jazz every Monday night, just as they have since 1962, followed by R&B singer Toni Menage (aka Little Toni Marsh). Jazz vocalist/guitarist Eve Silber, who has played Arthur’s regularly for several decades, appears on Wednesday evenings. The Eri Yamamoto Jazz Trio holds court Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, followed by the likes of blues singer Bobby Harden, chanteuse Alyson Williams, and guitarist extraordinaire Stew Cutler.
147 Bleecker Street (between Thompson Street and La Guardia Place)
The Bitter End is another Village venue where you can hear live music every night. When it opened in 1961 as a coffeehouse, however, you were just as apt to hear comedians such as Woody Allen and Henny Youngman. Soon after, it began hosting Tuesday night hootenannies, where folk artists including Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul, and Mary performed. Eventually everyone from Randy Newman to Curtis Mayfield, the Isley Brothers to Chris Rush recorded live sets here. Now the club holds a Monday night jam session where musicians in the audience are welcome to join Richie Cannata, the original sax player for Billy Joel, onstage; aspiring acoustic musicians can participate in the Saturday afternoon open-mic sessions. The rest of the time you can hear a variety of local, up-and coming, and cult performers; singer/songwriter Theresa Sareo, the R&B-meets-pop Amanda Barise Band, and funk/jazz/hip-hop band Fullmoon Groove are among those who recently played here.
155 MacDougal Street (at Minetta Lane)
Cafe Wha? predates the Bitter End by a few years; Manny Roth (uncle of Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth) opened the club in 1959, and one of its 1961 hootenannies was said to be the site of Bob Dylan’s first performance in New York. Mary Travers waitressed here before Peter, Paul, and Mary hit it big, and Jimi Hendrix played here with the Blue Flames back when he was known as Jimmy James. Through much of the 1970s and ‘80s, after Roth sold it, Cafe Wha? was rebranded as Cafe Feenjon and featured world music. By the late ‘80s, though, it was Cafe Wha? and a rock venue once again. The Cafe Wha? House Band, which holds court Wednesday through Sunday evenings, plays everything from Motown to alt rock and has a devoted following that includes many big-name performers who sit in when in town. Tuesdays are Funk Night, where a nine-piece band covers the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Prince; if you perform with the band during the after-midnight jam session, your cover charge is waived.
Iconic Clubs of Greenwich Village