New York is bursting with vibrant bars, clubs, galleries, and other hidden treasures. But with so many choices, it’s difficult to find the real pulse of the city. This selection of five spots pulled from our city guide, Indie Guides New York, will save you from the typical tourist traps and soulless dives. With a secret bar serving cocktails in teacups, an intimate theatre, a stage for DIY concerts, and more—discover the places keeping New York’s underground alive.
Trans-Pecos: Community-driven DIY space
Situated on the Bushwick/Ridgewood border, Trans-Pecos (pronounced like “peak-oh”) is one of a handful of places that make Ridgewood a favorite spot among artists and musicians.
It’s the definition of DIY with a real focus on the coming-together of art and community – and you can definitely see how that plays out in this multipurpose space. They’ve got two performance stages where you can catch a variety of acts, a café (for your more low-key nights), a bar, yoga classes, a woodworking shop, and loads more. The music venue curators come from a variety of different backgrounds, so what you end up with is a place that attracts all ages and caters to the needs of artists and art-lovers in a way unlike most other venues in NYC.
9-15 Wyckoff Ave, Ridgewood, Queens, NY 11385
Opening hours: see their program
Arlene’s Grocery: Versatile venue with killer hip-hop nights
What started out as a corner store/deli is now a sick venue on the Lower East Side. Arlene’s Grocery is known for its long-time support of up-and-coming artists and for being a place that always has something going on – no matter what day of the week it is.
Guaranteed to have a good time, you can catch some killer hip-hop, indie rock, punk, metal, and literally everything in between. Shows are usually no more than $10 and it’s not uncommon to come across a great freebie. An added bonus: it’s located just around the corner from some other amazing NYC venues for up-and-coming acts like Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos, and Cake Shop (mentioned in the guide).
95 Stanton Street, New York NY 10002
+1 212 358 1633
Open daily from 4pm to 4am
Printed Matter: Bookstore and art gallery with a visual eye
What was once a small, cluttered art store is now a massive, industrial space housing over 15,000 books. Although Printed Matter has been around for about 40 years, they’ve only been in their new space since October 2015 – and the multi-story, minimalist layout lends itself well to browsing the wide selection of items.
The kind of stuff you’ll find here varies, but it’s all heavily centered around art and literary expression – art prints, periodicals, posters, rare and out-of-print art books, audio/video pieces, and enough zines to fill an entire apartment.
And Printed Matter doesn’t stop there: The large space also allows for frequent events to be held – such as book signings – and the front area of the store includes loads of free pamphlets and a community board for artists. It is hands down one of the best art and book shops in the city. And if you are an artist (or fan of visual art), you will regret not checking this place out.
231 11th Ave, New York, NY 10001
Open Monday through Wednesday and Saturday from 11am to 7pm, Thursday and Friday from 11am to 8pm and Sunday from 12pm to 6pm
Music Inn: Cozy world music shop in West Village
Set in the diverse West Village neighborhood, where jazz and live music venues are a-plenty, Music Inn is definitely a nice break from the NYC norm. When you first walk in the shop it’s not uncommon to hear instruments being tuned or played, or to catch a conversation with musicians in the downstairs area.
The shop is very intimately sized, with rows and rows of world music instruments lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Here you’ll find harps, sitars, guitars, maracas, and a large selection of drums and bongos on the lower level.
The main floor of the shop houses a modest selection of well-organized, second-hand vinyls at exceptional prices. What’s great about this place is that it doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not – or to appeal to everyone, like so many other New York music and record stores. The staff are very knowledgeable and down to earth, making this place feel like a nice home away from home for musicians both local and visiting.
Added bonus: As if the shop needs any other selling point, they also host a $5 open mic.
169 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014
Open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 7pm
The Back Room: A true speakeasy
It’s been said that New Yorkers love a good speakeasy, and The Back Room proves this to be true. Sure, the city is so full of hidden bars and speakeasies that most New Yorkers try to avoid them for fear of being lured into a tourist trap, but The Back Room is one that still retains the original vibe without a ton of tourists.
Located in the back of an underground alley, it’s easy to walk right past the entrance (there is a metal gate outside with a “Lower East Side To Go” sign in the front). But once inside, you’re transported back in time to an actual 1920s Prohibition-era speakeasy, with a dimly lit interior, a fireplace in the main room, velvet plush seating, and cocktails served in little white teacups. Although the cocktails are $14 (a pretty average price for the Lower East Side), the mixology is unparalleled – and the drinks are relatively on the strong side.
In true Prohibition fashion, there is a private room behind the main room – visible only thanks to the revolving bookshelf. But unless your cocktail comes with Klout, it will be really difficult to get behind the shelf! When the late-night crowd dies down, take your party next door to Nurse Betty’s (you won’t regret it).
Tip: A password is asked to enter the place on Monday nights, you can find it on their Facebook page.
102 Norfolk St, New York, NY 10002
Open Monday through Sunday from 7:30pm to 4am
Discover more alternative and cultural spots in New York with our city guide Indie Guides New York.