Lincoln Center is unarguably the best-known place to see live music on the Upper West Side, with rock and pop venue the Beacon Theatre a close second. Prefer to hear live performers in smaller, more intimate settings? You will find a number of spots where you can do that too. As a bonus, at the places below, you can eat and drink as you make merry while listening to the music.
254 West 72nd Street (between Broadway and West End Avenue)
Of course a restaurant founded by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the songwriters/producers behind such songs as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman,” would have live music. “Nuttin’ but the Blues” on Tuesday evenings, hosted by Damara Lynn Greene and the Sugar Bar Blues Band, often includes guest performers (singer/pianist Aziza Miller, for instance, was scheduled to appear throughout December), and audience members are more than welcome to take the stage as well. Jazz band Electrikana holds court on Wednesday nights, and the Sugar Blues All-Star Band backs the performers who take part in the Thursday open-mic nights. A variety of artists perform on Friday and Saturday nights. December alone sees pianist/singer Charles Duke return for his annual “Hello Christmas” show (December 8), Afro-Haitian jazz Mozayik band (December 21), and a night of live music and poetry hosted by performance artist Alexander the Griot (December 22), among others. While you are at Sugar Bar, treat yourself to some Southern- and Caribbean-inspired food (catfish fingers with Cajun tartar sauce, seafood stew, collard greens) and a cocktail or two (the Sugartinis go down almost a little too easy).
2485 Broadway (at 92nd Street)
Every night is jazz night at Cleopatra’s Needle. The music begins at eight o’clock most evenings, an hour earlier on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at four p.m. on Sundays, and it does not end till the wee hours, as jam sessions are held every evening after the main performance has ended. The Marc Devine Trio has a Tuesday night residency, veteran jazz pianist Keith Ingham hosts the Sunday open-mic sessions, and the Les Kurtz Trio does the same on Wednesday nights. Julia Banholzer, Nathan Brown, and Art Lillard are among those who have recently performed here. Cleopatra’s does not have a cover charge—perhaps because the owners know that once you are inside you will find it almost impossible to resist ordering from the Mediterranean menu. Spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, lasagna… What’s more, along with a solid selection of beer, wine, and frozen drinks, the bar offers myriad martini and alcoholic-coffee options.
503 Columbus Avenue (between 84th and 85th Streets)
Given its name, its speakeasy-appropriate dim lighting, and the drawing of a flapper that is part of its logo, you might expect Prohibition to be another jazz lounge. But the restaurant/bar, which hosts live performances just about every evening, is wide-ranging in its musical tastes. Rock, blues, funk, hip-hop, Latin, folk, soul, and yes, jazz can all be heard here. (If you are a regular viewer of “Saturday Night Live” or “Morning Joe,” you will know that Joe Scarborough’s eponymous rock band plays here on occasion.) The roster for December includes the Uncle Jesse Band, specializing in ‘90s covers (December 8) and ‘80s tribute band White Wedding (December 14). Singer/songwriter Alex Miller, top-40-meets-R&B band Eastside Mix, and versatile vocalist/songwriter Christine Baird are among those who regularly perform here, and Monday nights are open mic. Prohibition might be as well known for its jumbo pretzel appetizer—served Central Europe style with two types of mustard—as for its live music. Pizzas, salads, quesadillas, sliders, and steak and fries are other menu options. House cocktails include the Bindle Punk (Rutte Celery Dry Gin, rhubarb bitters, cucumber puree, lime, and simple syrup) and the Flappers Delight (small-batch Irish whiskey, Mandarine Napoléon, Golden Falernum, pineapple juice, and lime).
2751 Broadway (between 105th and 106th Streets)
An intimate club with exceptional acoustics, Smoke serves jazz alongside Southern-influenced dishes just about every night of the year. Upcoming musical highlights include Allan Harris performing “A Nat King Cole Christmas” (December 7-9), Carolyn Leonhart (December 12), and the Cyrus Chestnut Trio (December 13-16). Jam sessions are held every Monday night beginning at 10:30, and Mike LeDonne’s Groover Quartet performs most Tuesday evenings. While the music is the main draw, the food does not suffer by comparison. Appetizers include ham-and-cheese croquettes, a smoked-salmon platter, and onion soup with Gruyère and black truffle; Cajun lobster bouillabaisse, buttermilk fried chicken, and braised short ribs are among the entrées.
955 West End Avenue
Aficionados of Broadway tunes, drag shows, and cabaret probably already know about the West End Lounge and its weekly live shows. “Callback Mondays” are open-mic nights with an impressive level of talent, aided and abetted by frequent Broadway pianist Mason Griffin; the shows have proven so popular, they now take place on Tuesday nights as well. “So You Think You Can Belt” is a singing competition held on Wednesdays, with the winner of each 10-week stint awarded the opportunity to perform a solo show at the club. Drag queen/singer Lagoona Bloo hosts her own show later on Wednesday nights. On Thursday evenings, “Bound for Broadway” showcases up-and-coming vocalists; while the show that follows, “Ultimate Drag Pageant,” may not be musical, it certainly is entertaining. “All Star Cabaret,” featuring on-the-rise singers, takes place one Sunday evening a month, and one-off performances are held throughout. The food menu is full of fun options such as fried pickles with chipotle aioli, mac-and-cheese with bacon, and tater tots topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, sour cream, and cheese. Also fun are the adult-only milkshakes such as the Gobsmacked, a potent potable of whipped-cream vodka, Bailey’s, Kahlua, and rum.