More Than Jazz in the West Village
The West Village may be synonymous with jazz, but you can find other live music too: show tunes at piano bars the Duplex and Marie’s Crisis Cafe, world music at S.O.B’s, blues at 55 Bar, and more.
55 Christopher Street (between Waverly Place and Seventh Avenue South)
A self-described “Prohibition-era joint,” 55 Bar offers an early show and a late show every night. The “stage” is not really a stage at all but instead a rear portion of the floor where a few of the round wood tables and chairs are pushed aside to make room for the musicians and their gear. That informality combined with the overall compact size of the bar and the dim lighting make this an especially intimate space for listening to live music and tossing back a few beers. While some of the performances are jazz (this is the Village, after all), there is plenty of blues, rock, and fusion to be heard as well. For instance, Brian Mitchell, a singer/songwriter/keyboard whiz who has played with Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Dolly Parton, and Dwight Yoakam, among (many) others, recently performed, as did Orlando de Fleming & Romantic Funk and vocalist Fay Victor, whose repertoire includes blues and even opera.
57 Grove Street (between Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker Street)
This venerable watering hole—it opened in 1937—is best known as a jazz venue; Charlie Parker and Roy Hargrove played here regularly. But blues, funk, and R&B performers perform the late show, beginning at 10, every night. On Monday nights Amadou Gaye and a Royal Crime perform their singular amalgam of blues, rock, funk, and soul. R&B singer Alyson Williams performs with the house band on Wednesday and Saturday nights; Sweet Georgia Brown, who has sung on Broadway as well as with George Benson and Koko Taylor, holds court with Off the Hook on Friday and Saturday evenings. Genre-crossing guitarist Stew Cutler, who has accompanied Meatloaf, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and many more, takes the stage on Sunday nights.
51 Christopher Street (between Waverly Place and Seventh Avenue South)
The Duplex professes to be the city’s oldest cabaret theater, but it is much more than that. Its upstairs bar—with the venue proclaims features “the smallest stage in the West Village”—hosts live performances from four in the afternoon to four in the morning. Singer/songwriter Dan Crowley and theater veteran Liam Daniels are among the regular performers. Performances at the downstairs piano bar also start at four p.m. and end 12 hours later. Here, the bartenders show that their talents extend far beyond mixing drinks and pulling pints; in fact, many of them have performed in musicals, at comedy clubs, and even with symphonies throughout the country. At around nine each evening the piano bar takes on the a true party atmosphere, one where it is not uncommon to find Broadway stars singing along with the piano players, the rest of the staff, and the crowd. As for the cabaret theater, since 1950 it has welcomed up-and-coming and established musicians, singers, and comedians. Before winning a Tony and five Emmys, actor Hal Holbrook was a director here, and Joan Rivers and Barbra Streisand are among those who played here before becoming household names. Upcoming shows include “Misbehavin’ Musicals,” interpretations of Broadway songs by burlesque artists and drag queens; “In the Trunk,” a performance by singer/songwriter duo Kevin Scott Hall and Ura Griban; and “Songs and Sarcasm,” singer Monique Morgan’s one-person show.
75 Christopher Street (between Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker Street)
Like Arthur’s Tavern and 55 Bar, Fat Cat is best known as a jazz club. But among its three nightly shows (four on Fridays and Saturdays), musicians of other genres perform too. Recently those performers included pianist/composer/producer Harold O’Neal, who plays classical, hip-hop, pop, and jazz with equal aplomb; flutist/composer Itai Kriss, whose music incorporates Latin, Middle Eastern, and jazz sounds; and salsa band Sonora Nuyorkina. When you’re not listening to music, you can shoot pool at one of the bar’s 10 tables or play ping-pong, tabletop shuffleboard, chess, foosball, backgammon, or Scrabble.
59 Grove Street (between Seventh Avenue South and Bleecker Street)
For those who love show tunes, singing, and making friends of strangers, Marie’s Crisis Cafe is heaven. On the other hand, if your ideal piano bar features a tuxedoed pianist quietly playing classical themes or Tin Pan Alley standards in a corner while you engage in earnest conversation, you might want to pass—though it really is a shame to not visit Marie’s at least once.
204 Varick Street (at West Houston Street)
S.O.B.’s entertainment & bar scene. Images: S.O.B.’s
Sounds of Brazil is the official name of this venue and restaurant, but you will be hard-pressed to find anyone refer to it as such. Since 1982 it has been a showcase for world music. Upcoming performers include the Salsa Riqueno Latin Band; singer/dancer DaniLeigh, whose music mixes Latin pop and hip-hop; and the Mass Appeal Starting 5, featuring hip-hop and rap artists Fashawn, Stro, Ezri, 070 Phil, and Cantrell. If you love the music of the Caribbean, do not miss Caribbean Saturdays, which kick off weekly at 11 p.m.