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Top 10 World Music Clubs in New York City

Manhattan, Brooklyn and Beyond! New York Captures the Sounds of the World.

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It's no surprise that New York City, being one of the largest and most vibrant hubs of art and culture in the world, is a hotbed of world music, both live and recorded. It's not difficult to find a great world music performer, band or DJ on any given night in the city, but these world music clubs represent the best of the best and are truly New York City's finest.

Barbes

If I had to live in a bar, Barbes would undoubtedly be my first choice. This cozy (tiny, actually) club in Park Slope has the quirky gothic charm of a vintage French cabaret, a slammin' selection of Single Malts, and a seriously inspired live music calendar. From Django-inspired gypsy jazz to Balkan brass band music, Brazilian forro fusion to klezmer-punk, it's a world music lover's dream. The only thing cooler than the music itself is the clientele - the myth that all world music fans are old and nerdy is shattered on a nightly basis here, as Barbes draws Brooklyn's young, hip, taste-making elite in droves.

376 9th Street (Corner of 6th Ave), Park Slope, Brooklyn

SOB's (Sounds of Brazil)

SOB's is, at 26 years old, the reigning elder in the New York City world music club community. With shows almost every night (sometimes more than one per evening), it's the place to go for salsa dance parties, Bhangra DJs, hugely popular reggae nights, and a bevy of live performers covering everything from soca to rai. Whatever genre is on the menu that night, though, be assured that the music will be decidedly danceable. And while you're there, have a caipirinha - the "B" in SOB's stands for Brazil, after all, and they make a mean version of Brazil's national cocktail!

204 Varick Street at West Houston, Manhattan

Mehanata

Mehanata is a relative newcomer on the New York City scene, but this downtown party place has become wildly popular as the home turf for DJ Hutz, aka Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz. He still spins Bulgarian punk and other ethno-fusion music on Thursday nights when he's not on tour, and other gypsy punk and Mediterranean wildmen, such as Balkan Beat Box, tear the place up on many a weekend evening. It's definitely not your grandma's world music club - you're not gonna find a lot of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the playlist. It's grungy and wild, and hyperbolically fun. If you do go, just make sure you never once utter the phrase "World Music" (counterintuitive, I know) - Mr. DJ famously hates that term.

113 Ludlow Street, Manhattan

Drom

A decidedly classy joint with old-school New York brick walls and chic modern decor, Drom (the name signifies "journey" in the Romani language and culture) is conceptually gypsy-esque. The impressively diverse music calendar features just about every genre you can think of: nouveau polka, Afrobeat, Latin jazz, jambands, samba, and so on. It's not just a club, either - there's a fairly spacious dining room which serves yummy pan-Mediterranean tapas-style small plates and full meals. Drom is the type of place where even if you went five evenings in a row, you could have an entirely different experience each night, and that's the whole point.

85 Avenue A, between 5th and 6th, Manhattan

Paddy Reilly's

Any ethnic music-based tour through New York City would be sadly lacking without a visit to the legendary Paddy Reilly's Irish Pub. The bar serves exactly two beers on tap: Guinness and Budweiser. I've never seen anyone order one of the latter, but I shudder to think of what might happen if one did. A taste of Ireland is the name of the game here, and on any given night, there's an Irish band or impromptu jam session to liven up the party. The bands are almost always great. The sessions are almost always even better, and you'll often find a ringer (say, a Chieftain or some other legend) sitting in and tearing the place up. Good drink, good music - what more do you need?

519 2nd Ave. #1, Manhattan

Shrine

Situated in Harlem, Shrine celebrates the music of Africa and the African diaspora. If you love African and Caribbean music, you'll be familiar with some of the bands on the calendar, but more often than not, you'll enter this small, well-outfitted room, be greeted warmly (a true rarity in New York!) and discover a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of people dancing to the greatest band you've never heard of. Though the music isn't necessarily jazz, the scene and spirit at Shrine are probably the most like Old Harlem that you'll find these days, and that's a very, very good thing.

2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Ave.) between 133rd and 134th, Manhattan

Joe's Pub

Joe's Pub is a tiny restaurant and lounge that is affiliated with the much-larger Public Theater. Opened in 1998, Joe's Pub really hit its stride in 2001, when genre-blind musical rainmaker Bill Bragin took over as director. World music of all kinds (and I do mean all - yes, even Tuvan Throat-Singing) makes up for a hefty portion of the shows here, though many other genres (particularly jazz and folk) are well represented. It's the type of place where you can sit at a candlelit table, drinking expertly-mixed cocktails, and see Angelique Kidjo with just over 100 other people - it's beautifully intimate. That said, make reservations well in advance.

425 Lafayette St., between East 4th and Astor Place, Manhattan

Nublu

It's miniscule. It's in a basement. It's nearly impossible to find (the blue light bulb is your only clue - there's no sign on the door). It's basically everything you could possibly ever want in an ultra-cool New York City club. And, shockingly, everyone's welcome, whether you're one of the "beautiful people" or not. The Brazilian Girls used to be the house band here, if that gives you an idea of the musical fare on the menu - "nu bossa" and other funky forms of world fusion, both in live form and from one of the excellent house DJs. Beware of flying limbs (the place is packed like sardines at all times) and the fierce mojitos - both will make you fall down if you're not careful.

62 Ave. C, between 4th and 5th, Manhattan

Madiba

This cheerful restaurant and music club is run by a lovely South African expat couple, and really brings the culture of that diverse nation alive. Set up like a traditional shabeen (social and eating club) and featuring a nice selection of house bands, all of whom play one genre or another of South African music, as well as touring groups who fit the same bill, it's an overwhelmingly pleasant place to spend an evening. Watch for special events, as well, they'll occasionally throw a braai (barbecue), which is actually more like a mini-festival with music and food and the works - make a point of attending if you can!

195 DeKalb Ave., Brooklyn

Zinc Bar

Zinc Bar is ostensibly a jazz club, but in my experience, world music (or at least world-jazz) reigns supreme on their calendar. Every Friday night is African night at this chic and sleek underground venue, and on the roster are the absolute finest of the New York-based African bands with a few touring bands thrown in for good measure. Weeknights feature Brazilian and Caribbean music, and occasionally some big-band Latin jazz or a smoking salsa band. This is the rare kind of place you'd dare bring a first date, to dazzle them both with your sense of high class and with your extensive knowledge of world music. It's a real downtown gem, and definitely not to be missed.

90 W. Houston St., corner of LaGuardia Place, Manhattan
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