New York, in my opinion, is the center of music history spanning most of the past century. I would give anything to have been young on the Greenwich Village scene in the sixties, or to have seen the rise of punk further east.
Even since I’ve been in the City, things have changed. Old musical hotspots have closed or gone downhill, even as others have opened up. I’m a sucker for history. I also get attached to places and eras very easily, probably moreso than most people. I still miss Bleecker Street Records, and wish I could’ve been to CBGB (my best friend’s father actually played there when he was young…very jealous). When I was in college, the Continental—a dirt cheap, old favorite of Iggy Pop—went downhill with bad management and eventually closed. Following multiple reviews calling the new owners racist. My friends and I spent a lot of time at Manitoba’s (owned by Handsome Dick Manitoba, lead singer of the Dictators). They closed too. Various downtown classics, like the Pyramid Club and The Bitter End, have somehow ceased to feel cool.
So the past several years have felt like a lesson in watching things pass on, at least in terms of New York cultural history. But there are still some great spots around the City for music fans, even in the absolute mess that is 2020.
Search and Destroy: An old punk / vintage store, full of band tee shirts in alphabetical order, gas masks and the smell of latex. Kinda creepy and trashy in the best way. I can spend forever here just browsing. It’s an East Village classic, a remnant of the golden age of punk, and a great start to a night out east of 3rd Ave.
Cafe Wha: Iconic club in the Village, now serving streetside. Also, live music and outdoor concerts. The food is very decent, but that’s not why most people go Cafe Wha. Bob Dylan got his start there. Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen also played there early in their careers. You can feel it, which I know sounds stupid but there really is something intensely moving about being in a place so steeped in cultural history.
Strawberry Fields: Memorial to John Lennon in Central Park. Right by the Dakota, where he lived and died. It’s beautiful and a great place to sit and think. I used to go there all the time to read when I lived on the UWS. I find it especially peaceful in the fall.
Debbie Harry mural: At the corner of Bleecker Street and Bowery—right across the street from where CBGB once was. The mural is beautiful and like Debbie Harry in real life, incredibly photogenic. But more than anything, the location itself and the historical significance just inspires me.
Joe Strummer mural: The future is unwritten. Right by Tompkins Square Park, at Avenue A and 7th Street. Another piece of my personal history—one of the first places I took a picture when I moved to the City. I absolutely love the Clash, and I also absolutely love this street corner portrait. It never fails to inspire me. It also makes Joe look significantly more attractive than he actually was.
Lou Reed mosaic: ONE more giant portrait of a punk icon. In the 72nd street Q station. Despite the fact that the guy was, in many ways, a complete asshole, he was also a genius. I find him absolutely fascinating, and always nod at him when I take the Q uptown.
Dante: Old favorite of Dylan and Patti Smith…it used to be much more of a low-key cafe. It’s since gotten a little annoying and is significantly more dressed up. But it’s pretty good. They now serve classy but reasonably priced Italian food, and they do admittedly have a pretty awesome bar. It was actually ranked number one as the best bar in the entire world. So hard lol, apparently nobody other than me finds the energy of the place irritating.
Sweetleaf Coffee (Long Island City): Music themed cafe off the Queensboro Bridge stop. Amazing tea, CBD soda, and of course, coffee. There’s a huge mural of the Ramones, and another of Louis Armstrong. A photo collage of music icons papers one wall. It’s also a really chill place to work, although they’re only open for carry out right now.
*The Apollo Theater in Harlem and Radio City Music Hall near Rockefeller Center are classic venues that I think everyone should see a show at at some point. But they’re currently closed, until further notice. Same for my favorite club in Brooklyn, Baby’s All Right. Music there is always great.