Jazz and blues have had a deep history in this city, which was once host to pioneering joints like Cotton Club, Lenox Lounge and the original Birdland. And though a lot of the old-school spots have since bitten the dust—with some others devolving into tourist traps—there are still plenty of clubs around town where you can go to immerse yourself in the real stuff. Here are a few of our favorites; we expect you'll leave yours in the comments.
Jazz Standard (via Facebook)
JAZZ STANDARD: This upscale Flatiron spot falls somewhere between the gaudy Time Square tourist traps and the smaller, serious West Village clubs, offering up jazz, blues and barbecue in its swanky, spread-out space. The club has hosted jazz bigwigs like Bill Frisell and Jimmy Cobb in the past, and the spectacular 10-piece Mingus Big Band plays residency there, swapping "Mingus Monday" night shows with the Mingus Orchestra and Mingus Dynasty. Plus, Jazz Standard sits beneath barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke and serves their food on its menu, so you can pair your tunes with a brisket sandwich or fried chicken plate. Cover charges are pricey (typically $20-$35, they can climb higher than $40), but there's no drink minimum, so you can skip the $12 cocktails if you choose and stick with the music instead.
Jazz Standard is located at 116 East 27th Street between Park Ave South and Lexington Ave in Flatiron (212-576-2232, jazzstandard.net).
The Allen Room (via Yelp)
JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER: Even reluctant jazz listeners will find the Time Warner Building's gorgeous Allen Room worth a visit. The circular space, modeled after a Greek ampitheater, boasts a wall-to-ceiling glass window that offers a stellar view of Columbus Circle and Central Park just beyond the stage. Jazz at Lincoln Center also holds performances in the massive, 1,200-plus capacity Rose Theater and the glamorous Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola restaurant. Artistic director Wynton Marsalis has spearheaded plenty of great programming here, hosting big events like the John Coltrane Festival and his own tot-centric Jazz for Young People series, along with individual artists and a few lesser-known names, too.
Jazz at Lincoln Center is located at Broadway at 60th Street on the Upper West Side (212-258-9800, jazzatlincolncenter.org).
THE IRIDIUM: The Iridium, once frequented by late, great guitar god Les Paul, has hefty cover charges, drink minimums and a Time Square locale. But when it comes to the music, it's still one of the most prestigious spots in town. Keystone Korner Nights are particular highlights: former San Francisco jazz joint Keystone Korner owner Todd Barkan has helped reinvigorate the club's repertoire by booking burgeoning talent and big jazz and blues names like Jimmy Cobb and Ulysses Owens. Next month, the Iridium will be hosting a "British Invasion," featuring bigwigs from across the pond like Ginger Baker, Mitch Winehouse and John Mayall. Steep covers can climb as high as $40, and there's a $15 food/ drink minimum per person, so be prepared to shell out a few bucks when you make your visit.
The Iridium is located at 1650 Broadway between 50th and 51st Street in Midtown West (212) 582-2121, theiridium.com).
VILLAGE VANGUARD: This 78-year-old subterranean West Village temple to jazz is arguably the most serious club in town. Referred to by some musicians as "the Carnegie Hall of jazz" the little room boasts excellent acoustics and perfectly subdued mood lighting to accompany the often thrilling performances. The seating can be cramped, and if you don't get there early you may end up swiveling your head like an owl to see the band, but the Vanguard isn't about watching, it's about closing your eyes and being transported by some of the most acclaimed jazz musicians in the world. Thelonious Monk played here. Bill Evans played here. Miles played here. The room still resonates with those vibrations.
Tickets are $25 each, plus a one drink minimum. Seating is first-come, first-serve, and it doesn't hurt to show up a half hour early if you want the prime positions by the band. On the other hand, the club is small enough that there isn't a bad seat in the house, acoustically. For the second half of September the Bill Charlap trio will be packing them in. — John Del Signore
Village Vanguard is located at 178 7th Ave South between Perry Street and Waverly Place in the West Village (212-255-4037, villagevanguard.com).
BARBES: This intimate jazz-meets-beer-bar in Park Slope isn't as flashy as some of the city's bigger joints, but performances here are so finely curated, and the bartenders are so sublimely laid back it'll impress even the snobbiest and most claustrophobic jazz fan. Shows are technically free, though you'll probably be solicited for a (worthy) $10 donation; in addition to jazz, they've also got lots of global music, including a stellar Slavic Soul Party, and weekly performances by Brooklyn-based cumbia band Chicha Libre and the Guinean Mandingo Ambassadors.
Barbes is located at 376 9th Street between 6th and 7th Ave in Park Slope, Brooklyn (347-422-0248, barbesbrooklyn.com).
SMALLS: A million years ago a friend brought me to Smalls jazz club, a dark little cave down some stairs on West 10th Street. It was BYOB, and you could sit and drink out of a mug and smoke your cigarettes while listening to whatever stellar musicians were sweating away on the small stage in front of you. The space was raw, but filled with music and people who wanted to be around that music—and you could head there any time, day or night or dawn. After many returns, one day the doors were shut! Owner Mitch Borden had gone bankrupt—surely the fact that he had only been making money off a $10 cover (which you could talk down easily if you were short on cash) did not help. Thankfully, he was able to revive it after a few years, and aside from the no smoking, the doubled cover charge ($20, though sometimes it's $0), and the full service bar, it still feels like the old Smalls. — Jen Carlson
Smalls is located at 183 West 10th Street between 4th Street and 7th Ave South in the West Village (212-252-5091, smallsjazzclub.com).
SMOKE JAZZ CLUB: Lovers of fried chicken and smooth jazz 'n blues can't do much better than this UWS club, which has hosted the likes of George Coleman, Bill Charlap and the aforementioned Wynton Marsalis in the past. The space is small, and you can usually expect an entertainment charge ($20-$40) and food/drink minimum, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. But Smoke feels like an old-world jazz joint—elegant and mellow, with top-notch acoustics and music that goes late into the night. And when it comes to the menu, Smoke is a step up from some of its compadres, serving tasty dishes like buttermilk fried chicken ($24.95) and dark-and-stormy short ribs ($33) for hungry crowds. Do reserve tickets in advance, since it sells out fast on popular evenings.
Smoke Jazz Club is located at 2751 Broadway between 105th and 106th Street on the Upper West Side (212-864-6662, smokejazz.com).