520 E. 6th St., between Aves. A and B; 212-473-9093
With dark wood paneling and animal heads, this bare bones haunt pays tribute to the average Joe who wears jeans (not the $200 variety) and likes a heavy twang with his Pabst. Two-step around the pool players to get to the Texas-sized jukebox and you’ll find a litany of country’s brightest lights: Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. Crossover appeal is provided by Steve Earle, Faith Hill and Shania Twain, while Tom Waits and Led Zeppelin reassure you that you’re still north of Mason-Dixon.
497 Fifth Ave., at 12th St. (Brooklyn); 718-768-2040
When veteran bartender Ray Gish left Park Slope’s Great Lakes, he took most of his ass-kicking indie mixes with him. His new homebase Commonwealth (which he owns) is squeaky clean, but the jukebox remains grunge-laden, culling from legends like The Kinks and the Velvet Underground as well as more contemporary tribes like Idlewild, The Decemberists, and The Shins. Gish’s older compilations—sporting stick-figure drawings and juxtaposing big names like X and T-Rex with lower profiles like The Wrens or the Silver Jews—linger on at Great Lakes sister bar Boat.
331 W. 4th St., at Jane St.; 212-242-9502
Often overlooked in the hooplah over this tavern’s beloved burger is a jukebox filled with jazz greats. While most customers here may favor classic rock, Miles Davis and Bird dominate the board (with at least three LPs) and Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong collections are sure to satisfy Big Band traditionalists. More progressive ears can choose from Tito Puente’s Latin rhythms or Charles Mingus’s laid-back West Coast improvisations. Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton, and Billie Holiday—no slouches themselves—also make cameos. You may have to sit through a Rolling Stones number or two before Bitches Brew begins, but just like the burgers, it’ll be worth the wait.
28 N. 3rd St., at Kent Ave. (Brooklyn); 718-302-0411
Horror artifacts. Doll heads. Taxidermied animals. The altar-like bar at Duff’s is a veritable shrine for the headbanging hordes. The jet black jukebox, which looks more ominous than a headstone, screams for Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell. Whatever your metal poison, chances are owner Jimmy Duff has it covered—from the early demons (Black Sabbath, Motorhead) to double-bass thrashers (Anthrax, Megadeath) to pop preeners (Iron Maiden, Slayer). A rare pre-Highway to Hell AC/DC compilation may even win a few converts to the dark side.
204 Ave. B, between 12th and 13th Sts.; 212-475-4600
Dingy red walls, a tin ceiling, and red lights cast an aura of squatter-era rebellion at this Alphabet City dive. Debut releases from The Clash, The Damned, a Sex Pistols mix, and The Buzzocks’ classic Singles Going Steady readily satisfy English punk predilections, while domestic din-makers Fugazi, Sonic Youth, and the Descendents complement with eighties stateside anxiety. Lest too much discord sour the mood, there’s also a campy dose of Reagan-era hair metal.
Mulberry Street Bar
176 1/2 Mulberry St., at Broome St.; 212-226-9345
You’re as unlikely to hear a Brooklynite burr as an English brogue. Even so, wiseguy character pervades this Little Italy throwback where the speakeasy decor is enhanced by a Rat Pack-infused soundtrack. With no less than six LPs by Old Blue Eyes—everything from late career duets to Big Band standards—and a slew of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., it’s easy to imagine a mob-style sit-down in the back room. If hearing The Lady Is a Tramp for the fiftieth time makes you want to whack someone’s cousin, a solid set of Oldies will help to soothe your soul.
Soul and R&B
140 W. 44th St., between Sixth Ave. and Broadway; 212-221-9510
The rough charm of this Times Square throwback demands a juke with character. Amid pictures of boxers and old fight flyers plastering the stucco walls, a collection of pre-Hip Hop-era classics suffuses the space with soulful resonance. A goldmine of Stax recordings (Booker T., Otis Redding) mingles with sixties R&B (Barry White, Al Green) and bebop jazz. But it’s Jimmy’s blends of Classic Soul Ballads (Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass) that add the suave layer to the chatter of the regulars and burnish the authentic vibe.