When R.E.M. decided to play an invitation-only New York show to promote its most recent album, Up, the then-six-month-old Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey Street; 533-2111) was the natural choice. Ditto for the Black Crowes, when they held a few low-key warm-up shows before launching their current tour. "It's really comfortable for the band and the audience," says Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. With the best sound in town, unobstructed sight lines, and snazzy décor, the Bowery has set a standard for midsize rock clubs in New York. The majority of the bookings aren't slumming arena-rockers, as appearances by Brit sensation Robbie Williams, downtown heroes Cibo Matto, and southern buzz babies Olivia Tremor Control will attest.
"I guess I'm sort of disqualified from talking about Maxwell's," says Shelley, who recently became a part-owner of the storied Hoboken club (1039 Washington Street; 201-653-1703). We're allowed to talk about Maxwell's, though: Shelley's business partner is Todd Abramson, a former Maxwell's booker, whose return signaled a revival of the club's taste-making heyday. Again, big acts en route to Manhattan stop for a night of up-close-and-personal rock.
As for clubs he doesn't have a stake in, Shelley cites newcomer Tonic (107 Norfolk Street; 358-7503). "They have the best booking policy in the city," says Shelley. Tonic's lineup is a Knitting Factory-ish smorgasbord -- with a distinctly Lower East Side flair that includes Sunday-afternoon klezmer brunches and a Monday-evening film series. "They've got everything from singer-songwriters to outside jazz. Even their movie bookings are great."