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New York City Guide

New York Nightlife & Entertainment

When in New York, do as the natives do and keep going day and night. It's true what they say: the city never sleeps. As the sun sets and the magical twilight hour begins, thousands of workers stream out of office buildings to congregate in corner bars for after-work drinks.

As the stars begin to shine, big city lights beckon from a myriad of restaurants, lounges, clubs, and theaters. And as one day turns into another, and some places call it a night, others just begin to pick up. Last call in some bars and clubs is 2 am, while last call in others is 4 am.

Nightlife can be found all over New York, but some neighborhoods have much more to offer than others. Most of the city's music clubs, hippest bars and restaurants, lounges, and dance clubs are Downtown. For small rock and new-music venues, go to the East Village and Lower East Side. For jazz clubs, head to Greenwich Village.

For the trendiest bars, restaurants, and clubs, check out the Gansevoort Meat Packing District. Midtown has its share of hot spots and classic bars, too, and the Upper West Side and Harlem beckon with some excellent jazz spots.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in New York

Restaurants aren't just for eating in New York, they're places to see and be seen -- in some places, the later the better. This is especially true Downtown, where the latest trend is the super-sized restaurant, meaning 15,000 square feet or more, seating 300 or more. If you'd like to check one out, try Buddakan (75 Ninth Ave, at 16th), a dark, decadent, two-story Chinese mansion serving gourmet Asian cuisine.

Not far away is the Mobil Two-Star Spice Market (403 W 13th St, at Ninth Ave), at the forefront of the mega trend, and still a warm, sexy hotspot. When looking over its "Asian street food" menu, consider trying the ginger margaritas and the mushroom egg rolls.

Gotham is the jazz capital of the world, and dozens of first-rate musicians can be heard in dozens of first-rate clubs every night of the week. Even if you're not much of a jazz fan, you should try to take in at least one jazz show. It's another quintessential New York experience.

The Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave South, at 11th St) is the oldest and arguably best jazz club in the city. All the greats, from Miles Davis to Wynton Marsalis, have played and continue to play in this dark, wedge-shaped basement room.

The Lenox Lounge in Harlem, an Art Deco venue, is a great place to hear jazz in New York.
©2006 Joline Anthea Jammer
The Lenox Lounge in Harlem, an Art Deco venue, is a great place to hear jazz.

If you prefer a more luxe setting, and would like to eat while you listen, you can always visit the Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St, near Sixth Ave), the city's premier jazz supper club. But if you'd like a less touristy environment, stop into the classy Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th St), located below the Mobil Two-Star Blue Smoke, an upscale barbeque joint. To get an idea of what listening to jazz was like back in the 1940s and 1950s, take the No. 2 or No. 3 train to the Lenox Lounge (88 Lenox Ave/Malcolm X Blvd, between 124th and 125th Sts) in Harlem, a vintage Art Deco spot.

Despite all its gentrification, the East Village still has its share of hole-in-the-wall rock clubs. Oldest among them, despite almost being forced out of business last year by rising rents, is CBGBs (315 Bowery, at Bleecker St), where everyone from the Talking Heads to Patti Smith once played. The club presents a half-dozen fledgling bands every night, so it's easy to stop in for a set or two and then move on. (Unless you're in your 20s or know someone in the band, the music is not so much the point here anymore, as is the punked-out atmosphere.)

The Bowery Ballroom (Delancey St, between Bowery and Chrystie St), built just before the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and Irving Plaza (17 Irving Pl, at 15th St), once a fancy Polish dance hall, are atmospheric mid-size clubs that present a mix of rock, new-music, reggae, blues, rap, and world music. Sultry S.O.B.'s (204 Varick St, at Houston), short for "Sounds of Brazil," presents African, Caribbean, reggae, Latin, and world music. This multi-ethnic club books mainly dance-oriented bands and its small dance floor is always packed.

In the Meat Packing District, the hard-to-find APT (419 W 13th St, between Ninth Ave and Washington St) spins funk, Hip Hop, and soul, courtesy of rotating disc jockeys. Cielo (18 Little W. 12th St, between Ninth Ave and Washington St) is a cozy, gorgeous dance spot, but at times it can be difficult to make your way past the velvet rope. If you'd rather not try, head to the more democratic and considerably cheaper Gas Light (400 W 14th St), which is a bar that's both friendly and hot.

Other bars of all shapes and sizes, atmospheres and clienteles, abound in the Big Apple. One of the oldest is the 1854 McSorley's Old Ale House (15 E. 7th St, between Second and Third Aves). Ale is the only beverage served and it comes in two glasses at a time, light or dark. At night, the customers can become extremely rowdy. A better time to come is midday, when a ploughman's lunch of bread and cheese is served.

Classic bars in Greenwich Village include Chumley's (86 Bedford St, near Barrow), an old speakeasy that has no sign but is easy to find. Mobil Two-Star Fanneli's (94 Prince St, at Mercer) in SoHo is an 1876 pub with beveled glass doors and tile floors. In Midtown, P.J. Clarke's (915 Third Ave, at 55th St), featured in the 1945 film "The Lost Weekend," is still going strong. Tucked away in Grand Central Station is the Campbell Apartment, an exquisite place, designed to resemble a 13th-century Florentine palazzo. Sports fans swear by the ESPN Zone (1472 Broadway).

Gotham's glitziest comedy club, booking big-name acts on a regular basis, is Caroline's (1626 Broadway, at 49th St). If you'd prefer something more offbeat, check out the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (307 W 26th St, near Eighth Ave), where less-traditional comedians are on seven nights a week.

The city's best entertainment listings can be found in Time Out New York, the Village Voice, and the New York Press.

With all the hustle and bustle in New York, you might think it's hard to kick back and relax while visiting the city. Fear not. With Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, and Coney Island -- just to name a few spots -- you'll find plenty of great places to take it easy while taking it all in. Go to the next page for our guide to relaxing and unwinding in New York.