The Music Lover’s Guide to NYC

The best record stores, venues and musical landmarks you'll find in the five boroughs

May 16, 2023 6:00 am
Music Lover's Guide to NYC poster
These are the spots any music fan needs to hit on their next trip to NYC.
Danica Killelea

New York City — ever heard of it? There is no genre of popular music that hasn’t been touched by the Big Apple, so designing a “Music Lover’s Guide” to the place might feel like a fool’s errand. But here in New York, we’re not afraid of a challenge.

Below, you’ll find a collection of record stores, landmarks, venues and miscellanea for the rap fan, the tortured punk, the classic rock aficionado, the techno raver, the future reggaetonero and more. And you’ll only be scratching the surface of what New York City’s rich sonic culture has to offer. Some people spend a lifetime in this town trying to take in all of its music magic — but you’ve got to start somewhere. And frankly, this list is a lot more involved than some of the AI-generated takes you might’ve come across. So, without further ado, this is NYC: for music fans.

A-1 Record Shop
A-1 Records

Best Record Stores

El Barrio Music Center

1870 Lexington Avenue # 4, New York, NY 10029

In East Harlem, just off the 116th 5 and 6 trains, sits El Barrio Music Center, a neighborhood music store that specifically caters to the music of Puerto Rico and greater Latin America. You’ll find legendary releases and the latest in reggaeton, salsa, bomba y plena, bachata, ranchera and more. In an era where record stores are shuttering, niche spots like El Barrio are especially at risk. But NYC comes out for its community, and this place is an institution.

A1 Record Store

439 E 6th Street, New York, NY 10009

Owned and operated by Isaac Kosman (who also runs The Thing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — another great record store for those unafraid to literally dig through piles of used records and emerge covered in a thin layer of dust), the East Village’s A-1 Records is a legendary spot best known for its impressive collection of dance floor groves: everything from hip-hop and house to jazz, disco, funk and soul. (And beyond, of course, but you’re in New York City! When you have the opportunity to shop with specific genres in mind, you should jump at it.)

Generation Records

210 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012

Punk’s not dead at this Greenwich Village locale. First opened in 1992, Generation Records is home to all things heavy guitar music. A generous selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, cassettes, shirts and other various accouterments make it a can’t-miss spot. If you’re looking to grab a last-minute graphic tee with the cover of Swans’ 1983 debut album Filth on it, this is the only place in town to do exactly that. Not that we know from experience, or anything.

Material World Records & Tapes

184 Noll Street Office #1, Brooklyn, NY 11237

Formerly known as Heaven Street Records, this Bushwick record store specializes in punk, metal, fringe, avant-garde and DIY music — but that also means techno and industrial electronica, a godsend when considering the shuttering of Halcyon Records in 2020. As for that name: hey, punks love Madonna, too — and we are living in a material world, and as record collectors, we are material girls.

Academy Records Annex

242 Banker Street, Brooklyn, NY 11222

There are two Academy Records locations in New York City: the first outpost on East 12th Street in the Village, and the massive Academy Records Annex in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s the latter you’ll want to check out, if you only have time for one. The sheer size makes it impressive, but also, its collection of new and used vinyl.

music lover's guide to nyc
Radio City Music Hall
Getty Images

Best Music Venues

Carnegie Hall

881 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10019

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, and pra…take the N, Q, R, W or F to 57th street. Look, we could litter this section with the great, short-lived DIY venues that make up New York City’s underground music scene (and read on, there’s a little bit of that) but for the most part, if you’re only in NYC for a few days, you’ll want to check out the heavy hitters. If it’s mind-blowing architecture, gorgeous acoustics and an impressive history of performances, look no further than Carnegie Hall. If you don’t have time to catch a show there, tours are given six days a week.

Apollo Theater

253 W 125th Street, New York, NY 10027

In Harlem, just a few blocks away from the National Jazz Museum, is the famous Apollo Theater. Does it require an introduction? First opened in 1914, all of the greats have performed on its spellbinding stage — Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill, to name a few — a remaining beacon of Black music history and because of that fact, all popular music.

Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10020

You could see the Rockettes here, the “Showplace of the Nation,” as it has been affectionately nicknamed, or you could see the biggest names in music history, past, present and certainly future. Or, if you’re running short on time and have your eye on Madison Square Garden, you could opt for the 75-minute Radio City Stage Door Tour and experience the storied history of the place in an abridged, behind-the-scenes fashion.

Madison Square Garden

4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York, NY 10001

Is there a better-known, more beloved, or more famous arena on the planet? No music lovers’ trip to New York is complete without a detour to Madison Square Garden, located in the heart of Manhattan’s Herald Square. It’s the place to see and celebrate Billy Joel and Harry Styles in equal measure, as well as remember the iconic live events held in this space:  like “The Concert for New York City,” held after 9/11 and the Hurricane Katrina benefit concert “From the Big Apple to the Big Easy.”

Market Hotel

1140 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11221

Independent music venues, especially the kind that cater to a DIY, indie/punk rock music market, rarely last very long. It’s not due to a lack of interest: cops shut things down, sound ordinances are violated, someone sells out…there’s a myriad of reasons why unofficial art spaces are at risk. However, some of these places morph into fully-functional, legal venues without losing their spirit, and that’s the case of Bushwick spot Market Hotel. If you’re lucky, you might catch a curious David Byrne standing in a corner, checking out whatever band was just named Best New Music on Pitchfork.

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music lover's guide to nyc
Flowers and candles are left on the “Imagine” memorial in honor of John Lennon on the 40th anniversary of his death at Strawberry Fields in Central Park on December 08, 2020.
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Significant Landmarks

The Birthplace of Hip-hop

1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, NY 10453

On August 11, 1973, a resident of the affordable housing building 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx who went by the name DJ Kool Herc wanted to entertain his sister at a back-to-school party in the community room. So he decided to mess around on his turntable, toying with rhymes and record spinning, inadvertently giving birth to hip-hop in the process. Neat, right?

In the early 2000s, it looked like a real estate investor was going to turn the building into high-cost market-rate apartments — that is, until the housing market crash. In 2011, the Workforce Housing group took over the property, and now it remains a beacon of affordable housing in the city — and the perfect place for a hip-hop pilgrimage.

Chelsea Hotel

222 W 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011

The Chelsea Hotel’s reputation runs deep: Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, Madonna, and Patti Smith all called this place home. The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious did, too — it is also the site where he presumably fatally stabbed his partner, Nancy Spungen, in Room 100. It’s been designated a New York City landmark since the ‘60s, and it is still a fully functioning hotel. So stay there, if you dare.

Café Wha?

115 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012

What hasn’t happened in the 60+ years of Café Wha? It’s where Bob Dylan played his first New York gig, immediately enrapturing the crowd. It’s where The Animals’ Chas Chandler first caught Jimi Hendrix and convinced him to come to London. Bruce Springsteen’s played here, too. If you go on a weeknight, you might be tricked into catching some mediocre comedy, so check out the schedule. Because when the chords hit, so too does your enjoyment of the place.

Strawberry Fields

The West 72nd Street address of Central Park (West Side between 71st and 74th), New York, NY 10019

Beatles fans, this one’s for you. After John Lennon’s tragic death in the archway of the nearby Dakota building, where he and his wife, the uber-talented avant-garde artist Yoko Ono lived, plans for a memorial were swift. Ono worked with the city to design Strawberry Fields, with plants from all over the world meant to celebrate his eternal message of peace. (According to the official website, Ono said Lennon wouldn’t have wanted a traditional statue of himself in the park, and we have to agree. That’s corny!)

CBGB’s at John Varvatos

315 Bowery, New York, NY 10003

The world-famous punk club CBGB’s is no more, and on its gravesite is a high-end men’s fashion store called John Varvatos. JV’s has kept the black awning (how dare they) and the graffiti/stickers adorning the walls (the crap-tastic toilets are no more) in an effort to keep the spirit alive. But let’s be real, that sucks, and so much of enjoying music in New York is finding the correct things to be upset about. This one is for the curmudgeons.


Bars That Play the Best Music

Duff’s Alcohol Abuse Center

168 Marcy Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

True kitsch can be hard to find in a city that is undeniably cool and leaves the big chains for the tourists in Times Square, but when it’s good, it’s great. Enter: Duff’s Alcohol Abuse Center, a heavy metal dive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that’s fairly nondescript from the outside (save for the fretboard-shaped door handle) and a total metalhead’s paradise on the inside, complete with drink specials andhorror/metal/biker themed memorabilia adorning the walls like it was designed to be a T.G.I. Fridays in hell. The soundtrack, of course, is killer.

Tokyo Record Bar

127 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012

If it’s fancy cocktails and eats you’re after, the Village’s Tokyo Record Bar, designed like vinyl record listening bars in Japan, is the spot for you. In addition to the izakaya-style tasting menu, you get to play DJ, pulling from their extensive vinyl collection. It’s a bar/restaurant that plays the best music because you’re the one choosing the music. 


674 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222

It’s not so much that Eavesdrop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, plays the best music (and they do, their record collection is deeply impressive, and their curators deeply knowledgeable) but it is likely the best-sounding bar in the borough. Its sound system is seriously impressive: Technics turntables, a MasterSounds rotary mixer, Danley Sound Lab SH60 loudspeakers, Seaton Submersive subwoofers and wall and ceiling acoustic treatments. Plus, it’s beautiful.

Bemelmans Bar

35 E 76th Street, New York, NY 10075

A true New York rite of passage is enjoying live music at a piano bar. Bemelmans Bar, located in the Carlyle hotel, is known for a few things: life-changing martinis, its whimsical illustrated wallpaper courtesy of Madeline creator Ludwig Bemelman, and live music. There are many piano bars in the city, but none with the legacy and romance of Bemelmans.


85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Once home to the Old Del Posto, the Meatpacking District’s Discolo is a new kind of underground cocktail bar, one that will blast disco and house with the best of them — the perfect spot to hang out at if you’re uninterested in clubby-remixes of Katy Perry tracks and want to hear more of the serious dance club stuff. (The light-up ceilings, too, are a nice touch.)

The Jukebox Bar at TV Eye
TV Eye


Caffe Dante
79-81 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012

In the 100+ years Caffe Dante has been open, the Italian spot has catered to its fair share of noteworthy clientele. In the 1970s bohemia that was Greenwich Village, Patti Smith and Bob Dylan could be caught stopping by for an espresso or several here — or maybe an aperitivo. You can do the same.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

34-56 107th Street, Queens, NY 11368

One of the greatest house museums of all time is based in Queens — the Louis Armstrong House Museum, a place that had you not read about it on this list, it’s unlikely you would’ve ever known it exists. Armstrong lived here with his wife Lucille Wilson from 1943 until his death in 1971, and most famously, it is the spot where he wrote “What A Wonderful World,” as inspired by the neighborhood kids. You can’t miss this one.

Trash and Vaudeville

96 E 7th Street, New York, NY 10009

Since the mid-’70s, St. Marks’ Trash and Vaudeville has been outfitting rock and rollers in New York City — and curious travelers looking for some new edge in their lives. Whether you fancy yourself glam, Mod, a hippie or a Beatnik, there’s something for you here. Trust us on that one.

TV Eye

1647 Weirfield Street, Ridgewood, NY 11385

In Ridgewood, Queens, the hippest spot in NYC, sits TV Eye, a live music and performance venue with a killer bar, fantastic eats and bartenders who will be mean to you in a hot way. The bands of tomorrow are playing there today, so check it out. (And if you end up falling in love with TV Eye, make sure to spend your next night at Public Records, the Cobble Hill spot that is a hi-fi record bar, vegan eatery and European nightclub all in one. NYC is a big place, after all.)

Taylor Swift’s Cornelia Street apartment

23 Cornelia Street, New York, NY 10014

It’s the source material for her song, “Cornelia Street,” a place of pilgrimage for the diehard Taylor Swift fan, and just a lovely Manhattan street to walk down (even if she says she’ll never do it again in the song). NYC is full of former/famous residences, but the accessibility of Taylor’s Cornelia Street makes it a can’t-miss. There’s something enchanting about that narrow street, whether you’re strolling along it with someone who doesn’t give a damn, or the biggest Swiftie of them all.

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