Dogstar’s Guide to the Top 10 NYC Open Mics

Dogstar is ……

…..a born and bred Londoner who, for the past 13 years, has lived (and been adopted) into the ‘self-penned’ musical capital of the world ‘Liverpool’ UK.  As recently as November 2014 ‘the dog’ touched down in NYC with the aim and ambition of ‘testing the water’ on the musical range of The Big Apple ……  for the past 70 days she has trekked, traipsed and tinkered to and fro to discover which venues and hosts are the best of the best on the music circuit here in NYC.  Within that time frame (having part mastered the New York Metro, which is a must if you really want to get to these places) Dogstar now pulls together for you (who wish to follow in the footsteps of rhythm, melody, harmony, color and adventure) all thoughts and experiences to bring a well-rounded and personalised top ten favourite list of the New York Open Mic tour …..

1.     Pete’s Candy Store : 709 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY11211 / Tel : (718) 302-3770

This open mic takes place every Sunday from 5pm to 8pm – sign up commences about a quarter to five and is pretty fast and furious as there are many performers who turn up from around 4.30pm and thus you really do have to stand your ground in getting your name on that list. You will find that as with many of these open mic ‘sign ups’ the difference in just a few minutes of your arrival time at the venue could put you anywhere from top of the list to the very bottom (which can often mean a good two to three-hour wait before you actually reach the stage) …  This open mic has been running for over 14 years and is currently hosted by the very charismatic Bruce Martin.  Original compositions are preferred but there are some performers who throw in the odd cover here and there, however it is not wanted to be renown as being a ‘covers forum’.  No ‘singers to track’ or full bands are allowed at this event.  The Open Mic at Pete’s is intended as a high quality affair for musicians to present their original material.

The location is pretty easy to navigate; closest tube station is Lorimer Street on the L Train.  The open mic takes place at the back of the venue in a small intimate portion of space that gives off an ambient of being on the ‘Orient Express’ with its dark red upholstery and narrow channeled wooden room. The bar at the front feels cosy and the barmen/women friendly and attentive, drinks are reasonably priced (it’s all pretty expensive in NYC to be honest)… my favoured hot toddy with a ‘well’ scotch or rye mash was 10 bucks (which equates, at this moment in 2015 time to GBP 6.60) …if you’re hungry you can get some basic fare (sandwiches) for 7-9 bucks and then if you’re up for cocktails (which are pretty stacked in alcohol) you can indulge yourself for 11 bucks.

You must be 21 to participate.  There is no cover charge and no minimum drink rules here so this creates an easier relaxed atmosphere without that ‘pay to play’ feeling.

Pete’s Candy Store actually did used to be a Candy Store many moons ago.

I give this event 4/5 stars …. ”A welcoming charm”

at petes candyPhoto Courtesy of : Azbo Drums

2.     The Bitter End : 147 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012 / Tel : (212) 673-7030

Taking place on a Saturday afternoon makes this open mic a great alternative to all those nightly affairs. Sign up is at 1pm and it runs until 6.30pm. Getting to the venue just a bit before 1pm can make all the difference for achieving a performance slot that’s higher up on the list, otherwise you could be number 20 plus before you know it and have a long wait whilst the rest of the crowd hog the spotlight. The very lovely Evan Kremin is your host and you’re in good hands with this guy as each week he’ll open proceedings with a thorough outline of what is to occur. He takes the time to sound engineer you and then turns photographer to snap you in full flow and on top of this you can get yourself a live recording on CD for just ten bucks if you give him the nod before you head on up to the mic. All photos are then displayed on the facebook page so you can save and download. A nice little piece of memorabilia for your scrapbook. You’re ensured a very warm welcome from him every time you attend and although the audience is predominantly like-minded musicians/performers (poets, comedians and spoken word are welcomed too) there is a good community feel here and your performance is actively listened to and appreciated.

Occasionally there is ‘live stream’ video taking place.

You can reach this ‘heart of Greenwich Village’ venue by taking the (Green) 4, 5 or 6 Train direct to Bleecker Street and then you have about a 7 minute walk to reach your entrance. There is no cover charge and no minimum drink purchase rule so this is another wonderful place where you can relax and not feel like you have ‘paid to play’.

One gripe to point out is that (in my personal opinion) the level of bar tending is below par. On three separate occasions (from the same member of staff) service emitted a ‘moodiness’ and ‘lack of customer appreciation’ … and the drinks are expensive. On one occasion I was charged $5 for a rank coffee and it was served with a scowl to boot. Not sure whether the bartender in question was just having ‘off’ days but thrice the service marred the otherwise loveliness of the experience.

This venue established itself in 1961 and is known as the oldest rock and roll club in New York City. The stage not only boasts a classic red brick backdrop but also has the most beautiful grand piano which has had many a great artist tickle its ivories ….. although this venue has a 230 crowd capacity as a nightclub it still has the ability to emit an intimate vibe on these Saturday afternoon jollies.  The historic venue is almost as iconic as its headliners having had legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Gavin DeGraw, Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, Norah Jones, Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, and thousands more grace the boards.

I give this event 3.5/5 stars …. ”Does what is says on the tin”

10906389_1528170694128018_4626317323952911230_n Photo Courtesy of : Evan Kremin

3.     Bijan’s : 81 Hoyt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217 / Tel : (718) 855-5574

This is a particular favourite. Bijan’s is a stylish, quaint and quirky place, has an open log fire and serves some of the best cocktails and cuisine for a fair price.  Bartender Ross is great at his job and always greets you with a welcoming smile and his service is second to none, with attention to detail being paid with every drink served. The Persian inspired food is delicious and after four visits I’d happily return again and again.  This place and the people within it aspire to offer the very best in hospitality and indeed succeed on many levels. The host of the open mic, which takes place every Tuesday night, is Sharief Hobley and this guy not only makes you feel welcome from the outset but also offers a genuine friendship into his community.  On top of this he is one heck of a musician. The quality of performers at this open mic will make you up your game tenfold. Sharief makes you feel cordially received into the music mix at this laid back, casual yet classy night. The stage may be small but the benefits of playing are big. You get listened to and appreciated and there are always a plethora of highly skilled ‘players’ ready to accompany you if you wish.  The night starts around 10pm and goes through till the wee hours so is great for the ‘night owl’ musician.

Pretty easy to access if you find your way to Dekalb Avenue metro station which can be reached via the B,Q and R Trains (Careful not to confuse this Dekalb stop with the Dekalb Avenue on the L Train). When you surface at street level you look for Fulton Street and walk for about 5 minutes until you swing a left onto Hoyt Street.  Another five minutes and you’ll find Bijan’s on your left hand side.

I give this event 5/5 stars ….. ”Sparkling”


4.     The Sugar Bar : 254 West 72nd Street #1A, New York, NY 10023 / Tel : (212) 579-0222

Even though I only went once I feel this open mic deserves a mention, if only for the high-caliber and possible epitome of music performance. The ‘Sugar Bar All Star’ house band’s competence and ability was nothing short of phenomenal and indeed the incredible musicians were referred to numerous times as ‘The Band That Can’ …. all singing artists were made of sheer greatness and my breath was taken away a little bit more each time a new act got up to perform. This is not for the fainthearted, notwithstanding however that all are welcome to this well renown NYC oasis.

Owned by Ashford & Simpson (of ‘Solid (As A Rock)’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’ to name but three of the many hits from this famous duo) and this is possibly a reflection to the distinction of each performer that graces the stage at this Venue. Again, another open mic that sets a standard beyond anything you may have experienced before. One thing is sure, it will be memorable.

For a relatively ‘new’ open mic (this event has run for the last three years) it’s already hugely popular and the clientele is booming.  It’s every Thursday Night, sign up at 9pm (one song only). Your host is Andre Smith, not a particularly welcoming master of ceremonies but a compellingly flawless and impressive singer nevertheless. No ‘singing to CD tracks’ but covers are allowed (indeed most of the singers performed covers) original material is openly welcome. There is a cover charge of $10 and drinks are expensive (so it really does have the ‘pay to play’ feel about it) although totally worth it for this golden opportunity. The bartenders, though not the greatest at first (I sat for twenty minutes before either one of the two on duty gave me the slightest flicker of acknowledgement) however warmed to me after I had spent a few bucks, played a song on stage and stayed to support the entire night …. by the end of the event we were on first name terms and all previous lack of attentiveness had been forgotten.

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan this venue is elegant and has an air of embellishment of the rich and famous, you can almost smell the stardust and trappings of fame in the soft furnishings ….. indeed stars such as Michael Douglas, Pattie La Belle, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder and Whoopi Goldberg have passed through the doors for some fine dining and sweet soulful entertainment.

It’s the 1, 2, or 3 (Red) Train that you’ll need to take, alight at 72nd Street and then it’s a brisk 3 minute walk (heading toward the Henry Hudson Parkway) and The Sugar Bar’s Sweet light will shine on you from the left hand of the sidewalk.

I give this night 4/5 stars ….. ”Impressive”

5.     Parkside Lounge, Parkside 317E Houston St, NY 10002 / Tel : (212) 673-6270

This is one of the NYC ‘landmark’ places for the eclectic folk and indeed it has the accolade of being a ‘old school music venue’. The open mic here takes place on a Monday night and is hosted by Mike Geffner of ‘The Inspired Word’ legacy. Sign Up is at 7pm and for a cover charge of $8 (per performer) you get the privilege of performing 2 songs or if you’re a poet, comedian or ‘spoken word’ artist you get 8 minutes.  It’s 21 plus age limit.   It’s pitched as comfy cabaret-style seating but if my memory serves me correct it felt less than comfortable with basic seating and tables but you do get waitress ‘table’ service (remember to tip, tip, tip!) and the drinks are pretty cheap in comparison to other venues on the circuit. There’s also a full back line including a honky-tonk piano and the raised stage is of good size ensuring your place in the entertainment ‘spotlight’.  Photographs are taken as you perform and these are then uploaded to ‘The Inspired Word’s’ website. Overall it was a nice atmosphere (improving as the night unfolded), the crowd were pretty good too with lots of encouraging applause and attentive listening.

1st Avenue is the nearest Metro Station you’ll need to alight at and then it’s a walk on the east side to your destination.

I rate this open mic with 3.5/5 stars …. ”inspiration in moderation”

10615495_750552345000374_3069705106739142209_nPhoto Courtesy of : Mike Geffner

6.     The Local, 1302 44th Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101 / Tel : (347) 738-5251

Not only is this a great hostel for the intrepid traveller but it doubles as a great place for Open Mic and indeed Live Music Entertainment several nights of the week.  Hosted by the particularly beautiful Hannah Fairchild and the uber talented Matthew DeGroat (Drink More Records) this is definitely one to attend.  It may be a little out there right up in Queens, Long Island City but it’s a ‘cool’ neighbourhood and as with all of these venues, if you get to grips with the Metro System, you can bite your way through the whole of the Big Apple with relative ease.  This newly established event takes place every Monday night and sign up is 6pm.  Performances commence around 7pm and dependent upon the sign up you could get 3 to 4 songs which gives you the chance to shine!  There is no cover charge, no minimum drink rules apply and possibly one of the friendliest run bars on the scene.  There is always time for a personalised chat with the bar staff who go above and beyond to ensure you are made to feel welcome into ‘The Local’ community.  The night runs for as long as there are people singing and playing or up until 1am when the bar closes…… the atmosphere here is chilled, laid back, easy-going, and all those words that can be tagged to a stress free comfortable night.  Another great pointer is that you play to a global audience which makes for a refreshing alternative to being in the ‘thick’ of artistes at most other events.

I rate this Open Mic night as a 4/5 stars …. ”Hip n Happening”


7.     The Shillilagh Tavern, 4722 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103 / Tel : (718) 728-9028

Now this venue is a good trek up to 46th street on the M or the R Train (Orange/Yellow) and then a probable ten to 15 minute walk to 30th Avenue. It’s worth it. It’s not a particularly glamorous venue but you get a real feel of the American neighbourhood here with the locals propping up the bar watching ice hockey as temperatures plummet … I ventured here once and will definitely return and that’s mostly due to the genuine niceness of the host, Justin Howard. A particularly gifted musician working the scene for other musicians, a great guy who meets your needs, wants and wishes without missing a beat.  Sign up is 9.30pm and the action starts at 10pm.  There is no cover charge and no minimum spend on drink, which again is a bonus because there is nothing more disheartening than having house rules landed on you before you can even think of relaxing into ‘play’ mode. Level of performance here is pretty good too and you get a sound engineer to boot.  Another dedicated musician was taking photographs from the sideline and uploading to facebook which again, helps build the portfolio.

Dogstar rates this one at 3.8/5 stars ….. ”Raising the Bar in Astoria”

1509688_918176558195058_7783902997113112483_n Photo Courtesy of : Andrew Sydor

Justin also has his own blog whereby he video’s and writes about performers at his open mic events ….

8.     Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar, 519 2nd Ave, NY 10016 / Tel : (212) 686 1210

You need to jump the 6 (Green) Train to get to this one and it happens twice a week, every Wednesday and Saturday, sign up at 6.30pm and 5.30pm respectively.  No cover charge, no minimum drink rules and you’re usually lucky in getting 3 songs. In this traditional Irish pub the bar staff are lovely, you get service with a smile and you’re not prodded into having to buy drinks every ten to fifteen minutes (as is the case with some of the venues covered). Price of drinks is pretty comparable to the rest of the clan, if you buy ‘well’ drinks (basic vodka, gin, scotch etc) then you can probably look at $5 per drink (remembering there is the customary $1 per drink tip which edges your nightly quota ever upwards) …. but, if you get good service, then tipping is the polite thing to do, and bear in mind there’s always those wonderful ‘happy hours’ which can last anything up 180 minutes in some cases.  This pub has been going for 3 decades now and is definitely worth checking out in person and indeed their website as there is some notary facts about the interior decor that some of you will find of interest. I’ve been a couple of times and enjoyed the experience fully. I’m heading back there for another stage performance very soon.

This event gets 3.9/5 stars from me …… ”Infectious”

9.     Sidewalk Cafe, 94 Avenue A, NY 10009 / Tel : (212) 473 7373

This has to be one of the craziest open mic events I have ever bore witness to. It takes place every Monday night and sign up commences at 7pm. Doesn’t matter if you get there early to avoid the masses, cos the masses is what you get each and every week. The sign up process is quite long and drawn out whereby the host ‘Ben Kriegar’ (a very able and esteemed presenter) will give his opening speech to the swelling crowd (almost every single attendee being a musician of some level of skill) and once he’s done with that he directs you to form an orderly queue (which can get up to and beyond 40 persons) whereby you patiently shuffle forward until you come face to face with said ‘Ben’ who reaches both fists out to you and you have to utter the word ‘left’ or ‘right’ … he’ll then open said appointed fist to reveal a tiny piece of paper with a number on it … and that little number there denotes your performance slot …. I drew the well rounded ’33’ which equated a possible 3 to 4 hour wait for which I would get to play 2 songs, unless the ‘hour’ between ten and eleven arrived whereby proceedings would revert to a 1 song each rule …. I found this to be sheer madness …. who would want to wait up to that level of time span to play just one song??  but hey, people do exactly that, week in, week out …. this Open Mic has been going strong for years and the venue itself is famed for being the centre for Anti-folk and underground music  …. there’s a 2 item minimum (food or drink) but no cover charge.  Needless to say I didn’t wait for my No.33 placement but I did try the food and that was of a good standard, the barmaid was okay, she knew her job well enough and was courteous but not overly so, service with pizzazz was certainly missing.  Notwithstanding the venue is worth visiting, eat drink and be merry here, it does have potential great music nights going on …..

Jump the L Train (Grey) to 1st Avenue and take a shrift walk for ten minutes and you shall reach your destination.

Hmmmmm a 2/5 star from me ….  ”hours waiting to be filled in any way we choose”


10.     The Tea Lounge, 837 Union Street, Brooklyn

Finally at the end of the top 10 list this one has to get a mention albeit that it has now gone to the great Open Mic heaven in the sky.  It ran for years and was as cool as cool could be.  The ‘high’ly excitable host Nigel (aka Nige) was absolutely brilliant and although there was a hell of a lot of ‘mother f**king expletives’ being used in every sentence, this night was hugely popular, and rightly so.  Nige could whip the crowd into an instant frenzy with his down to earth genuine good time for all nature. The venue was in the heart of Brooklyn and in a madly paradoxical universe could have been twinned with ‘Leaf’ Liverpool UK…. There was no cover charge, no minimum buy, no rules at all really, other than you signed up at 7pm and when your name was called you were ready to take to the stage (well, the area of flooring in front of the packed lounging sofas and low rise tables) two songs or 8 minutes for any other performance…. you didn’t know what was gonna happen at any one point as the spectrum of performers ranged from rap artists to dancers to comedians to musicians to poets to storytellers to some good ole plain darn ranting peoples…. The bar staff were buoyant as was the atmosphere in general …. There was much protest at its closure but alas, to no avail … Word on the street is that Nige has ‘popped up’ again in a new midtown Brooklyn venue so i’m heading out the door with guitar strapped to my back to go find the motherf**ker …..

The Tea Lounge receives a posthumous 4.3/5 stars …. ”motherf**king brilliant