Live Music for a Song
Where to hear quality rock and jazz most of the time with little or no cover charge.
BY JENIFER VAN VLECK
Discover bar bands and singer-songwriters who'll be headlining at Bowery Ballroom in a few years. And how's this for thrift: The owners resolved to keep the sign of the bodega that once occupied this space. No cover.
95 Stanton St., 212-358-1633.
Arthur's isn't much different from when it opened in the sixties, with the downtrodden mixing with the wannabe downtrodden for free live jazz and smoky old-world charm. No cover.
57 Grove St., 212-675-6879.
Like the local bar in a Midwestern college town, replete with scrappy, earnest folk and rock bands. What you'll hear may not be earth-shatteringly original, but it will be solid enough to merit the $5 or less cover.
157 Avenue C, 212-677-8142.
The Cajun has been showcasing some of the best big-band jazz in the country an infectious mix of nearly forgotten twenties and thirties jazz classics that you won't hear anywhere this side of a Woody Allen film soundtrack. No cover.
129 Eighth Ave., 212-691-6174.
If you've always wanted to sample the city's jazz scene but have been scared off by high cover charges, twenty-hour PBS documentaries or chin-stroking "aficionados," this is your place: an unpretentious basement showcase for new players and new styles. Cover: $5 to $10.
55 Christopher St., 212-929-9883.
Lenox Lounge is the clubland equivalent of the new VW bug: It's slick and true to its legendary history and still doesn't cost a bundle. When live acts aren't on the bill, DJs spin a stellar mix of underground disco, hip-hop and reggae.
288 Lenox Ave., 212-427-0253.
The Living Room
A contemporary folkie haven with a revolving door of troubadours, from cable access rejects to popular regulars such as Lianne Smith and ex-Fleshtone Robert George Warren. There's a one-drink minimum, but the bartenders exert only modest pressure to honor it. Cover: Free to $10.
84 Stanton St., 212-533-7234.
A West Village institution, this piano bar dishes out cheap drinks, cheap music (everything from jazz standards to '50s rock) and ample doses of camp. Happy hour (4pm to 8pm) means half price on everything, even top shelf. Cover: $5 to $15.
55 Grove St., 212-366-5438.
The place to see the best jazz musicians you've never heard of. A meager charge gets you a full night of music from whenever you arrive until 8am and you don't have to worry about $12 martinis either: This diminutive spot is strictly BYOB. Cover: $5 to $10.
183 W. 10th St., 212-929-7565.
Smoke hosts a revolving cast of terrific jazz bands. Big names like George Benson drop in to jam with the marquee acts, and many of the city's best side men play Sunday through Wednesday for absolutely nothing more than your applause. Cover: Free to $15.
2751 Broadway, 212-864-6662.
Up Over Jazz Cafe
Lionel Hampton reportedly once called this reasonably priced jazz joint "sweet honey for the ears." Over the years, Up Over has hosted major headliners as well as up-and-coming players from the 718 and beyond. Cover: Free to $10.
351 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, 718-398-5413.
Small, subterranean club that heats up every night with first-rate jazz and world music. Guests have included such luminaries as Astrud Gilberto and Roy Hargrove; Latin, Brazilian and African beats dominate the latter part of the week. Cover: $5.
90 W. Houston St., 212-477-8337.