Unpretentious jazz in New York City?
August 19, 2009 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What are some of the best and (most importantly) unpretentious jazz clubs in New York City?

I'm headed to New York soon and would like to check out some live jazz some night while I'm there. But, I want a place I can go to in jeans and a t-shirt (or equivalent).

For reference, I loved the old Small's (haven't been to the new Small's).

A cover charge isn't a problem as long as it's not too much. Should be in Manhattan, preferably midtown, though I'd travel a bit for the right location.

In terms of styles of jazz, anything from bop to the freest of free. Just none of that silly "contemporary jazz." Recognizable names are not important.
posted by laze to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Fat Cat on Christopher Street is amazing, and very unpretentious. Lots of billiards, ping pong, shuffleboard, great music. Very relaxed and everyone that is there wants to be there because its laid back and fun, not for any other reason.

The Village Vanguard also has great music.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:53 AM on August 19, 2009

Not a club, really - but I often used to go to the stone.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:09 AM on August 19, 2009

Oops. Scratch that - didn't notice you don't like contemporary.

I can second Fat Cat, though.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:14 AM on August 19, 2009

Actually, the stone looks great! When I said "contemporary" I meant more "smooth" jazz. I always thought of Zorn, etc. as post-contemporary. Yay for labels.

Fat Cat also looks excellent. The vibe there sounds great.
posted by laze at 9:18 AM on August 19, 2009

Nublu, on Avenue C, sometimes has jazz and jazz-y shows. Small, intense, fun. Love that place.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:31 AM on August 19, 2009

55 Bar is very low key and generally great music.

Smalls is back, albeit somewhat more expensive than its original incarnation now that it has a full bar.

And there's always the Vangaurd.
posted by andrewraff at 10:51 AM on August 19, 2009

I know you said Manhattan, but in case you decide to head out to the boroughs, Barbes in Park Slope is brilliant -- live jazz seven days a week, pay what you want, cozy back room, decent beer on tap.
posted by puckish at 10:58 AM on August 19, 2009

I went to Arthur's Tavern once and got to sit right up front and watch an excellent jazz set. Cozy, not elitist at all.
posted by Mach5 at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2009

Smoke, up on Broadway and 106th, is laid back and books some great bop players.
posted by nicwolff at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2009

Smoke is definitely not a place you want to go in jeans and a t-shirt. Took an out of town friend there once and ended up paying $70 for two coffee's and two deserts ($20 pp minimum, + $20 music cover pp)

That being said, for those times you want to dress it up, its great.
posted by dantekgeek at 11:12 PM on August 19, 2009

I've gone to a few shows at St. Nick's Pub on 149th Street and really enjoyed it. It's pretty far out of midtown, but the express A and D trains stop a few blocks away, which makes it a 15-20 minute subway ride. Very small, absolutely no frills club with low or no cover and an audience filled with local old-timers.

They have some African music nights as well as jazz, so I recommend checking the schedule before hauling up there. Jam nights on Sunday nights pull in a lot of local talent and have a fun atmosphere.

I don't think they serve food, and there's not much to eat around there, so I would eat before you get on the subway.
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2009

Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone! I think Fat Cat, the stone, and the new Smalls sound like they're most up my alley. And Village Vanguard's always an option (been there once before).
posted by laze at 5:38 PM on August 20, 2009

(Incidentally, I'm marking down all the suggestions thusfar and will take a closer look at who is playing when we're there before I decided for sure which venue to hit.)
posted by laze at 5:39 PM on August 20, 2009

Just wanted to follow-up -- I ended up going to Fat Cat and really enjoyed it. Great music (Zaid Nasser), cool vibe, and super super cheap ($3 with no drink minimum). Exactly what I was looking for.

Thanks for all the other suggestions! Going to keep them on hand for my next trip to the city.
posted by laze at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2009

The clubs in M. are pretentious bec. of economic reasons. Park Slope and Williamsburg are cheaper and more unpretentious. By going to those, you also support the music community.

In M. Fat Cat, Bar55 and the Stone are nice as mentioned. My favorites are Cornelia Street Cafe and Jazz Standard (JS is not down to earth, but jeans will do). Yes, Barbes is truly great in Park Slope. Peak also in the Cleopatra's Needle on your way to Smoke.

Also, SIM and Jim Carney's Konceptions organize good music, although they don't have fixed facilities. Read your Village Voice and join email lists, as there are tons of great music in the bars around the city, if you just know where and when. Have you been to Tea Lounge?

Village Vanguard is nice, but not down to earth in a sense, Smoke feels bad from musician's point of view.


posted by Doggiebreath at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2009

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