Williamsburg. The music capital of New York… if you know where to look. If you want to see music in Williamsburg, it’s not always the easiest to figure out where to go. Especially if you only have a day or two to make it happen. So this is a catalog of places where you can see music in Williamsburg. Specifically, independent venues. You don’t (usually) have to buy a ticket in advance to see bands here. Tickets are usually $10-$15.
I’m also linking to the calendars of these venues, not their websites. The hardest part when you’re trying to see indie shows in Williamsburg is that every venue’s website is something someone put together in twenty minutes, then never updated again. I’m mapping out these venues into three categories that I made up: The Proper Williamsburg Precinct, The East Williamsburg Warehouse Corridor, and the Morgan Hipster Strip. Basically, this list starts near the Williamsburg Bridge, then goes into Bushwick. Also, they’re all places I’ve been that have tickets under $20.
The Proper Williamsburg Precinct
1. Baby’s All Right
146 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The last time I was at Baby’s All Right, two guys played a DJ set on the dance floor while a pulsing spotlight shimmered on a giant plant.
That is the exact vibe you can expect when it’s not a peak time. Touring acts come through here a lot, so you might have heard of someone who has heard of these bands sometimes. The sound quality is amazing, drinks are on the cheap side, and you can even go to brunch the next day if you stayed out too late and forgot your credit card (speaking from experience here).
2. Rough Trade
64 N. 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11249
In the grand spirit of Williamsburg multipurposing, Rough Trade isn’t any one thing. It’s a record label, a record store (complete with headphones you can use to preview records), and a venue. Some established acts may come through here and tickets can often exceed the $20 mark, so it’s worth checking the calendar to see what’s happening.
As a Bowery-owned venue, Rough Trade is more of a traditional venue and less of a fire hazard. But the music is good and the sound is great, while line-ups veer toward the about-to-be-mainstream and local Brooklyn acts.
3. St. Mazie’s
345 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Prefer something a little quieter, jazzier, classier?
St. Mazie’s is a great bar to grab a seat, drink, and watch some jazz. It’s tucked away in a backstreet and it’s usually pretty easy to get a table. There’s a beautiful backyard, too, if you care less about seeing the music and more about having some pleasant background music to your dinner.
The best part is that St. Mazie’s is free of charge. Just tip the musicians when they come by and you’ve done your duty.
4. The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The Knitting Factory is a cult classic when it comes to seeing Brooklyn music. Sometimes, there’s stand-up comedy at the bar in the front. The venue is down a hall and it’s also a good size. Again, local bands and touring acts will come through here a lot. Better known than a lot of the other venues on this list, it still holds up strong for indie rock credz.
Also, has a functional website!
5. The Gutter
200 N 14th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
A dive bar! A bowling alley! A place to see punk!
The Gutter has it all. Located right on the edge of what I would call “Proper Williamsburg”, (anything before the BQE) this is a bar that is more of the old school, defiant and decorative variety of Williamsburg – as opposed to the minimalist Apple store variety.
As such, the music you’ll find here usually borders on punk and rock, with an edge. The space is down a hall away from the actual gutters of The Gutter, with another bar and a small wooden stage. It’s a great place to high energy rock. Just bring earplugs.
6. Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
A few years ago, the building of Brooklyn Bazaar was a Polish function hall. Proms, anniversaries, and other festivities took place there. And, when you enter the building, you can only imagine how awesome those must have been. Yes, it’s technically in Greenpoint. But I haven’t been to St. Vitas or Warsaw or the new place on Kingsland to properly categorize what I could call the Greenpoint Gutter Punk Turf.
From video screenings, drag shows, indie rock, black metal, karaoke, DJs, Brooklyn Bazaar has a little something for everyone. When I started going, they were still experimenting on where to put ahem, less mainstream bands. You could end up in the cement basement if you were unlucky.
Today, you can see some of Brooklyn’s best indie rock in the basement in a hall of mirrors. DJs and bigger bands tend to go upstairs, where you can watch them perform against the backdrop of a beautiful stained glass mirror. Everyone at Brooklyn Bazaar is an experience – even the menu seems to rotate – and if the music gets to be too much, you can always play pool, arcade games, and pinball.
The East Williamsburg Warehouse Corridor
1031 Grand Street, Brooklyn, New York 11211
Walk down Grand Street. Then walk further down Grand Street, further than you think you should. Once you see the smokestack, you’ve reached Sunnyvale. Inside, you’ll find a strangely retro-but-futuristic venue. DJs, psych rock, and folk all grace the stage here.
The downside? There’s no subway station anywhere close.
8. Union Pool
484 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Built into an old pool supply store, Union Pool is a sprawling club-venue-backyard that’s been around since 2000. An ecosystem of other divey bars, like Roc-a-Rolla, have thrived on other ends of the little triangle right on the edge of BQE.
And, while Union Pool is almost synonymous with hook-ups to all local Williamsburgers (patent pending on that term), that same edgy 2000 vibe still isn’t totally gone. Pay a cover for one of the shows in the back room and you’re likely to see rock, punk, or grunge.
Just do it before midnight – after that, the doors are thrown open and you’re more likely to see a DJ dropping the bass while projecting an anime movie. Which, to be honest, is often just as good.
9. Our Wicked Lady
153 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206
In the winter, Our Wicked Lady forces bands and listeners into the downstairs bar, where the band plays against a psychedelic backdrop and tries not to blast everyone’s ears off.
In the summer, it’s one of the most magical places in Brooklyn. The rooftop, without the traditional skyline views, instead will treat you to warehouses and broken old buildings. A traditional Brooklyn view. I’ve seen some of the best shows in New York here, because the energy on the rooftop in the summer is so unique.
Founded by musicians, this is a bar that attracts the local Brooklyn artist community – especially since it’s just down the street to The Sweatshop, the enormous practice space where any hipster who has so much as strummed an instrument has probably ended up at one point.
Too hip to even have a functional calendar page on the website, you’re better off keeping track of events on the Instagram – and immediately going any time you see the word “rooftop.”
10. Paper Box
17 Meadow Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206
Just within a stone’s throw from Our Wicked Lady’s rooftop is Paper Box. An enormous warehouse with an equally enormous bar, I’ve seen indie rock at Paper Box, but you’re just as likely to find a rave or a thoughtful, artist-focused event.
This isn’t a venue that you can always walk to and expect to find music. You’ll want to look at the calendar and see if it’s even open, first. Otherwise, you’ll walk right by it and think it’s just another dilapidated building in the East Williamsburg Hipster Corridor.
11. The Well
272 Meserole Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206
The Well’s main attraction really depends on what you want out of life. Do you want 60+ beers on tap? A giant backyard that’s often empty on weekdays, with beanbag and other yard games? A music festival-like experience?
Or do you want to see upcoming bands shred everyone’s ears to ribbons in a giant cement tomb?
At The Well, you can get it all. Just don’t try to use the website to figure out what’s happening there – like Our Wicked Lady, the Well is too hip to tell you what’s going on. You have to find out.
You’re better off relying on Instagram for glimpses of what you can expect. Then just going for the beer and seeing what happens.
12. Wayward Social
35 Ingraham Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
While we’re on the topic of places that are too hip to do websites, let’s go to Wayward Social. This is pushing it into the Morgan Dust Strip, but Wayward Social is more close to the East Williamsburg Hipster Corridor. It’s a hole in the wall that will jam bands and equipment next to the crowd just to see what happens.
But what if you want to know what to expect before going?
Too bad. All you can do is check out the hashtagged events to see what you might end up getting.
The Morgan Hipster Strip
13. Pine Box Rock Shop
12 Grattan Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
In prime Morgan Hipster Strip territory, Pine Box Rock Shop answers the age-old question: what does music sound like if it’s played in an old coffin factory?
The answer is…. well, it depends. But bring earplugs. And go on Tuesdays, when there are 2-for-1 beer deals. Most shows here are free, too, so this may be one of the most cost-effective ways to dip your toes into the scene without actually investing anything. Or, alternatively, playing a show.
Bands, be forewarned: before you get your set started, call out to the crowd to try and tell them it’s free and they should come. Otherwise, you may be playing all alone in a tomb built for one.
599 Johnson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Launching into the scene more recently, Elsewhere is the best venue in Brooklyn if you’re trying to show off to visitors or you’re a visitor yourself trying to absorb the heart of the Bushwick art scene.
With two different concert venues playing indie acts and bigger touring groups, there’s also the rooftop: where, amid the dusty rooftops of factories and warehouses, you can just see the sliver of the Manhattan skyline.
Not only that, the broken and rusted shell gives it a distinctly dystopian vibe. Elsewhere is, literally, elsewhere: an empty street off of another street. There’s even a cafe where, during the week, you can go to freely Art to your heart’s content.
140 Wilson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Want to see the most popular acts that no one outside of Brooklyn has heard of?
Alphaville is the place.
Hosting acts almost every night, most of which you can actually find on a working calendar (albeit a calendar mysteriously located on a third-party website), Alphaville is a staple of the Brooklyn indie rock scene. And, as of today, probably the venue that I’ve found to play the most consistently good, strange, indie rokc acts.
With an emphasis on cement, a patio, a bar, and booths, seeing a show at Alphaville is like visiting a diner after an apocalypse. Or a diner at the edge of the universe.
Only recently did I realize that there’s a 1965 movie called Alphaville, by Jean Luc-Goddard, about a secret agent who has to visit an alien city. And, with that fact, hipsterdom intensifies.
16. Gold Sounds
Like noise rock? Thrash metal? Prog metal? Punk metal? Post-metal? Sludge metal?
Gold Sounds is half-unassuming, clean and shiny bar and half-fully functional stage and expensive soundsystem. For those that prefer the harder, louder, and more aggressive, this is probably the best bar to do it. While you can find prog metal and heavy, heavy metal at Warsaw and St. Vitas, Gold Sounds tends to steer just a little lighter with the nihilism.
The Rest: Bed-Stuy, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Prospect Heights, Etc.
The broader Williamsburg-Bushwick area has the best density (aside from maybe Lower East Side) when you’re wandering around and trying to find a show that doesn’t cost a bunch of money. But there are interesting venues across all of Brooklyn (The Way Station, Friends & Lovers, C’mon Everybody) and a growing population in Queens (The Footlight, H0L0, Knockdown Stadium). I’ve also neglected cool but usually overpriced places like Brooklyn Steel.
But, to not lead people astray, I only wanted to include places I’ve been a bunch of times, not one time when I was drunk. The point is that the indie music scene is rich all across Brooklyn and the center is still Williamsburg and Bushwick. There are plenty of venues to go discover local music that doesn’t suck and, even better, you don’t have to set fire to your wallet and hand it over to Ticketmaster to do it. I’ve never been to any places on this list when they were sold out (I think?), so you can just show up at the door and pay the door fee.
So check each all of these places out and support the local music ecosystem! Support music!