Best Music Scenes: Brooklyn - Rolling Stone
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Best Music Scenes: Brooklyn

The East Village, Williamsburg, and Harlem have left their mark on music. These days, most great dives, record shops, and indie bands are all in Bushwick

bushwick brooklyn music scene

A fan crowdsurfs during a performance by the Mystery Lights at Bushwick, Brooklyn's Market Hotel.

Photograph by Sacha Lecca

In our new series, we look at eight cities where live music has exploded — from legendary hubs like New Orleans and Nashville and Chicago, to rising hot spots like Raleigh, North Carolina and Portland, Maine. The latest? Brooklyn, New York, specifically its Bushwick neighborhood, home to some of the coolest new venues in the country.

When Selena Gomez was spotted last year in the crowd at Alphaville — a dive bar and live music venue deep in Bushwick, Brooklyn — the neighborhood went from being an open hipster secret to a must-see New York destination. Bushwick’s graffitied streets and formerly empty warehouses are home to tons of venues, thrift stores, and coffee shops that have sprung up in the past decade, rapidly gentrifying the area.

You can find exceptional restaurants, like Faro, a Michelin-starred Italian spot, and El Cortez, a Tex-Mex nightclub that serves tacos and tiki drinks with 1970s glam. And there’s no shortage of killer music, with bands of all kinds regularly filling sweaty hot spots like Market Hotel, a cozy all-ages club that’s located directly next to an elevated subway track on Myrtle Avenue — so fans can enjoy watching national acts like Car Seat Headrest and Swearin’ do their best to drown out the noise of the J, M, and Z lines rumbling by a few feet away.

Market Hotel is right at home in Bushwick, which is the latest in a long line of New York locales to welcome musicians (and their fans) — and which continues to welcome more, even as some beloved venues of a few years earlier have disappeared due to rising rents.

“You’re much more likely to find talented people who are your peers in music if you move here versus moving to Des Moines,” says one longtime local show promoter. “Maybe it’s not the heyday. It’s not 1977, it’s not 1965 — and it’s not even 2009. But it’s still got more shit going on here than anywhere else, so the appeal remains.”

Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming performing at Elsewhere. Photograph by Sacha Lecca

Lights, Camera, Indie Rock

Another of Bushwick’s most popular live-music venues is Elsewhere, a multiroom complex that’s hosted everyone from Mitski to Charli XCX to proto-punk legends Television. Located in an old warehouse near the Jefferson Street L-train station since 2017, it has areas that function as a nightclub, art gallery, bar, and cafe, among others. “The experience of Elsewhere is one that is fundamentally social,” says co-owner Jake Rosenthal. “It’s more than just a box for music.”

A few blocks south of Elsewhere, you’ll find The Sultan Room, an endearingly kitschy spot with a kebab window up front, a sit-down restaurant inside, and colorful, Instagram-ready lights in the back room, where indie songwriters like Frances Quinlan and Torres have made memorable appearances since the venue opened in the summer of 2019.

Trans-Pecos is technically just over the borough line in neighboring Ridgewood, Queens, but its low-rent psychedelic vibe makes it one of the more fun places to see an up-and-coming band if you’re nearby. Just take the L a few more stops to Halsey Street, the station that helped inspire a stage name for the pop star formerly known as Ashley Frangipane way back when.

Crate-Digging Heaven

Appropriately decorated with dangling mannequin heads, a rooster clock, and an assortment of other campy knickknacks, Human Head Records specializes in Latin music, soul, and jazz — but it’s got a little of everything for you to browse through in its racks. Owners Travis Klein and Steve Smith opened the shop in a former police-uniform store in 2013. If you’re looking for a deep selection of reasonably priced vintage and new vinyl, friendly staff, and a goofy poster of Seventies-era John Travolta, Human Head is the place.

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