For people under 21, much of New York City’s nightlife may seem cordoned off by a chronological velvet rope. Still, with a bit of creativity and investigation (which, of course, we’ve taken care of), there are plenty of ways the fresh-faced masses can enjoy the City that doesn’t sleep. It’s not surprising that New York’s thriving art scene offers the best options, which include live music, dancing, poetry readings, comedy and theatre. Here are 10 local hotspots ranging from elegant museums to stripped-down lofts—all perfect for those of us yet to be ravaged by the biological cruelties of old age.
ABC No Rio
Ties between artistry and activism must have started with cave etchings about hunting and gathering inequities—and this Lower East Side collective intends on keeping that tradition alive. Regular all-ages events give a voice to subversive souls with art exhibitions, poetry readings, experimental music and the Saturday hard-core/punk matinee that has been running for 15 years strong. Participation is part of the process too: available facilities include a print shop, darkroom, computer center and courses in art and technology. If you can’t find something of interest here, don’t blame it on ABC No Rio.
BAMcafé (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
It appears BAM is trying to corner the market on intellectual stimulation in Downtown Brooklyn, with cutting-edge dance, theatre, film and literature. At its BAMcafé, patrons 18 and older can shimmy and mingle in the Lepercq Space, a lounge area originally created as a ballroom in 1908. Friday and Saturday nights are devoted to BAMcafé Live, which serves up free music from performers like Vernon Reid, Budos Band, King Britt and Dragons of Zynth.
Brooklyn Museum Target First Saturdays
Most cosmopolitan New Yorkers learn early on that museums and galleries offer more than just academic experiences—they also serve as unique venues for highbrow revelry. On the first Saturday of every month, this gorgeous Eastern Parkway edifice entices thousands of visitors with an admission-free evening of arts and entertainment from 5 to 11pm. Participants can check out exhibits such as Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, opening October 29, 2009, view one of the finest collections of ancient Egyptian art in the world, watch films and tinker with crafts before sweating out that recently absorbed culture during a two-hour dance party. No Jonas Brothers on the playlist here—themes include disco, hip-hop, salsa, samba and an array of banging tunes from all over the world.
Café Habana’s original SoHo location still draws throngs of customers hungry for Cuban sandwiches and tostones, but this Fort Greene spin-off is the bohemian wild child of the eco-friendly family. From spring through Halloween, the multi-purpose space—it acts as a restaurant, a flea market, a movie theater and a fashion runway—is a pastel-splashed destination point on bustling Fulton Street. Hit the new basement lounge Lowpost for spoken-word performances, or weave through the maze of eclectic vendors peddling T-shirts, jewelry and artwork and find the authentic taco truck serving dynamite Mexican-style corn on the cob.
Following in the footsteps of so many of the borough’s recent transplants, this erstwhile TriBeCa music hall recently decamped to Brooklyn. Once an integral part of the downtown scene—acts ranged from seminal rockers Sonic Youth to acclaimed rap duo Clipse—the Knit is looking to start a new legacy in Williamburg’s emerging Metropolitan Avenue/Grand Street corridor. “There is definitely something for everyone who likes live music and likes to socialize,” says Bruce Duff, Knitting Factory’s director of marketing and publicity. “The showroom is intimate enough to get nice and close—yet big enough to be equipped with an impressive light show and sound rig.” Shows are open to those 18 and over; those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Let’s add one more activity to the resurgence of lovable ‘80s trends: spending a night at the comedy club. At this bi-level Lower East Side locale, visitors aged 16 and older—provided one member of the party is at least 21 years old—fill the intimate downstairs theater with cackles of mirth before ascending to the cozy lounge upstairs. Some nightly events (cover charges range from $10 to $15) are recurrent, such as “Mash Up Mondays” with Donnell Rawlings, the comedian best known as shirtless loony Ashy Larry from the dearly departed Chappelle’s Show. “Expect to have a really good laugh and a nice time,” promises host Ray Mercado. “And if you’re under 21, the two-drink minimum is juice or soda.”
Nuyorican Poets Café
Founded in the 1970s as a poetry club in a college professor’s living room, this nonprofit institution dates back to a time before the Lower East Side was filled with sushi joints and trendy boutiques. With an emphasis on diversity and emergent culture, the performing arts space dedicates its stage to poetry slams, hip-hop “open mic” nights, Latin jazz, comedy and independent film screenings. “The prevailing atmosphere is that of a grassroots arts organization that throws its door open to the widest range of spectators possible,” says executive director Dan Gallant. “We have a wide variety of theatre, music and spoken-word events with dynamic wordplay and wordsmithery that people of all ages can appreciate.”
If this Bushwick loft were actually associated with the 2009 New York Mets, most of whom did hard time on the disabled list, participating guitarists would likely suffer instant carpal tunnel syndrome. Luckily, the beleaguered big leaguers are not connected with this low-frills art space named for their erstwhile home. This Shea Stadium is a free studio and a performance space for bands (the all-ages “D.I.Y.” operation is funded by a modest cover charge paid by spectators). Since Shea Stadium’s opening last April, founder and 23-year-old engineer Adam Reich has recorded and mixed every live performance by visiting up-and-coming rockers—including those from September’s first weekend festival, congenially called “Buddy Fest.” That’s team spirit the Mets could use.
Recently opened venues the Yard and the Bell House have stripped Southpaw of its monopoly on live music in the Park Slope area, but the 5,000-square-foot concert space isn’t letting the competition rattle it—that’s left to the 10,000-watt sound system. Acts like TV On The Radio, Cat Power and Rakim have rocked the intimate stage, which is flanked by a lengthy bar, (slightly) elevated seating and a couple of archaic video game machines. Most shows are open to the 18-and-over crowd, but the radiance of youth won’t help you slither by the lines that can snake around the entrance. Get there early—and stay late.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
The biggest names in comedy are booked in Midtown at Carolines, but the next generation of chuckle-smiths sharpens its skills at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre, the East Coast mecca for improv comedy. Performers at, and alumni of, the 150-seat Chelsea space (standing-room-only crowds are not an irregularity) include Amy Poehler of NBC’s Parks & Recreation and contributors to Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. There are no age requirements for admission, but those under 16 need parental consent. “We offer the best alternative comedy in NYC seven nights a week,” says John Frusciante, artistic associate for the UCB Theatre. “And you can see a show for cheaper than a movie.”