The Best Venues for the Least-Known Acts


Published: October 8, 2009

Finding a good unknown band is both easier and harder than ever nowadays. Nearly every artist can be found on the Internet but the number of choices can make the process overwhelming. Luckily, there are always a few music venues that can be relied on to offer the best of the new bands. The groups booked at these New York City concert halls are usually acts most people haven’t heard of, but will have soon enough.

Bowery Ballroom, located on 6 Delancey St., offers the under-21 crowd a wide range of musical acts in an intimate atmosphere. (Lucy Sutton /The Observer)

All the locations listed here book the smaller acts as headliners. A small indie band playing in support of Coldplay at Madison Square Gardens doesn’t count in the Gardens’ favor. You’ll almost never see today’s top sellers in concert at these venues. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll see tomorrow’s biggest acts instead.


Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY 10002

Mercury Lounge is one of the smallest venues that you’ll find in the city. While many other 250-person capacity places with live music are often bars or dancehalls, Mercury is the real deal. Even though it’s been a venue for only 16 years, it’s already held artists who moved on to huge success later in their careers. Some of these performers include Jeff Buckley, The Strokes and Interpol. Unfortunately, nearly all the shows at the Lounge are restricted to a 21-and-over crowd. However, there are some performances that are only for people over the age of 18. The acts here range from the alternative rock of Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band to the noise pop of the Japandroids.

The Living Room
154 Ludlow St.
New York, NY 10002

The Living Room has almost a Ma-and-Pa-store feeling since the co-owners are married. Make no mistake though—this venue can bring the goods. Where many other locations book what groups look to be the stars of tomorrow, the Living Room has so many different artists in one month that they’re bound to find a few who will make it. Within an average week, the music hall will host over 30 different performers. Many of them also have their own unique style. Within one night, you can hear prog-rock, acoustic jams and powerpop right after each other. The club is strictly for a crowd of 21+ but the lack of a cover charge makes it worth it. The best part of this venue is that many of the artists seem to be just starting out. Some don’t even have record deals yet. So if you’re in a band, The Living Room may be the place to go to get your music heard.


Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St.
New York, NY 10002

Bowery Ballroom is a theater based on the idea of intimacy.  The music hall has a capacity of only 550 people. The stage’s low height and close proximity make it feel like you can reach out and touch the performer. The Ballroom’s entrance is also right in front of the Bowery Station subway stop for the J line. While there’s no standard age limit for the nightclub, restrictions do exist based on who’s performing. Almost all the shows are only 16+. Many put this limit up to 18+ but only a couple of acts prevent anyone under 21 from attending the show. The acts here range from indie (The Cave Singers), to pop (Little Boots), to metal (The Horrors).

Webster Hall
125 E 11th St.
New York, NY 10003

Within walking distance of Union Square, Webster Hall has made a name for itself as one of the best small venues around. The main feature of the about 1,500-person capacity club is its three unique rooms. One of the rooms is a large dance hall that’s always packed during the Saturday night Circus feature. The Grand Ballroom is where you’ll find many different rock acts showing what they’ve got. A bar at the back of the hall gives the audience a place to hang out before moving towards the stage for the music. While many of the acts here aren’t well known, you may have seen them mentioned in a music magazine or heard their songs on college radio. Some upcoming acts performing here include White Lies, Manic Street Preachers and Airborne Toxic Event.  Just added in 2008, The Studio is a 300-person capacity space for artists that are generally under-the-radar. Every Monday concert is absolutely free, encouraging music lovers everywhere to check out what’s happening in the New York music scene. The age restrictions are the same as Bowery Ballroom, though it rarely offers a problem to the college students who make up the majority of the crowd.