The world-class Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, and Carnegie Hall tend to overshadow Midtown’s smaller venues. If you prefer to listen to music in a more intimate locale, however, you will want to check out the neighborhood’s restaurants, bars, and clubs where you can hear everything from Russian folk music to classic rock to jazz. Below, a few of our favorites.
70 West 36th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
This underground piano bar is not easy to find; it is beneath the Ragtrader restaurant/bar, and you can enter through there. Cozy and dimly light, with Tiffany-style lampshades and stools that resemble beer barrels, it offers classic cocktails and modern-day interpretations, spirits, wine (including champagne by the bottle or the glass), and a small but inviting menu (sriracha deviled eggs, fried-chicken sliders, artichoke-and-olive pizza with a cauliflower crust). And starting at eight in the evening Wednesdays through Saturdays, pianist Skip Brevis plays everything from standards to contemporary songs. Sometimes there are guest vocalists, other times you are welcome to sing along.
254 West 54th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
An old-school supper club, Feinstein’s/54 Below boasts red damask walls, elaborate moldings, well-padded leather seating, and a handsome polished bar. The menu pays tribute to the glory days of supper clubs, with dishes such as steak tartare and pan-seared scallops, while embracing modern-day tastes with the likes of vegan red-quinoa pilaf and cocoa-bean soup. Most important, the shows (two or three each night) prove that cabaret is alive and well. Upcoming highlights include two-time Tony nominee Christine Andreas singing songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Cohen, Billy Joel, and others during her solo show “And So It Goes” (January 29-February 2); “Starry,” a pop-rock musical about Vincent van Gogh (February 25 and 26); and the twice-monthly “54 Salutes Frank Sinatra,” featuring numerous Broadway and nightclub stars.
Nine East 37th Street (between Madison and Fifth Avenues)
Fine & Rare’s speakeasy vibe extends from its decor (button-tufted leather banquettes and gleaming Deco fixtures) to its cocktails (its Smoking Scotch Old-Fashioned, which includes Glenfiddich single malt, maitake mushrooms, and your choice of hickory, applewood, and four other smokes, exemplifies its “something old, something new” attitude) to its food (a 38-ounce porterhouse steak, raw oysters, 28-layer chocolate cake). Completing the scene is the live jazz nightly and at brunch on weekends. The Brandi Disterheft Duo, Miss Maybell and the Jazz Age Artistes, and the Jason Ewald Trio are among those to have recently taken the stage.
1615 Broadway (at West 51st Street)
The Iridium was a jazz club when it opened in 1994, and jazz artists still make up much of its calendar. The Scott Henderson Trio, for instance, is scheduled for January 28 and 30, and Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock, and Tim Lefebvre will play January 31 and February 1. But other music genres can be heard as well—fitting for a club where country/rock/jazz guitar legend Les Paul played weekly from 1995 until his death in 2009 (at the ripe old age of 94). Pop-rock veterans China Crisis play January 23, Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü and Sugar on January 29, and new-wave legend Midge Ure on February 6 and 7.
The Kitano Hotel, 60 Park Avenue (at East 38th Street)
This eatery features live jazz every evening of the week except Sunday—but it makes up for that with a Sunday jazz brunch with the Tony Middleton Trio, whose namesake vocalist is still going strong at age 85. Open jam sessions keep the joint jumping on Monday nights, and Tuesday evenings feature on-the-rise performers. Upcoming shows include the Steve Swell Quartet on January 23, the Helio Alves Quartet on January 24 and 25, and the Roni Ben-Our Quartet on January 31 and February 1.
The Chatwal Hotel, 132 West 44th Street (between Sixth Avenue and Broadway)
The Lambs Club dates back to 1868, when it was founded as a social club for theater professionals. The actual club has not been headquartered in this building since 1975, but the restaurant of the same name still features in its dining room an 18th-century fireplace that architect Stanford White gave to the organization. Star chef Geoffrey Zakarian oversees the menu, which includes classics with a twist such as 28-day dry-aged steak with shallot confit, Nova Scotia lobster spaghetti, and curried crab. Live jazz accompanies Saturday and Sunday brunch (the Dutch baby with spiced apples and vanilla mascarpone is a sure-fire winner) as well as dinner on Wednesday and Friday nights. The Redux Jazz Orchestra, the Via Paris Jazz Band, and Melanie and the Bianco Martinis were among those who recently serenaded diners.
Hotel Edison, 228 West 47th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
The Rum House has a definite speakeasy vibe, with its red walls, coffered ceiling, upright piano, and copper-top bar. Along with classic cocktails it offers its own concoctions such as Manhattanhedge (pecan-infused rye, rum, Giffard Vanille de Madagascar liqueur, Benedictine, and Bittermens Tiki Bitters). Just about every night of the week, and on Sunday afternoons too, jazz and swing artists play. Recent performers included Kate Curran & the Rogues’ Gallery, Nadine Simmons, and the Matt Parker Trio.
256 West 52nd Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
This Russian restaurant’s piano was a gift from Mikhail Baryshnikov, and it gets put to good use every evening. As you might expect, Russian folk music often accompanies the borscht, stroganoff, pelmeni, and nearly two dozen flavors of vodka (garlic vodka, anyone?). But resident pianists also play classical music, jazz, and show tunes. Swing by on Sunday afternoons for the jazz jam sessions.
Small Venues, Big Sounds