The Official Guide to New York City Open Mics
First, A Caveat:
What follows is not an exhaustive list of open mics in New York City. For a more exhaustive list, check out the very helpful though minimally updated list provided by openmikes.org at this location – LINK. As the list at openmikes.org is not updated regularly, many listed open mics are now defunct. As such, it is a good idea to call ahead or check on Facebook to determine if a particular open mic is still active. What follows is also a list of music open mics. While many (if not most) open mics have comedians who perform, this list is designed primarily for musicians who are looking for a place to perform. In general, the list that I present is more of a user’s guide for singer-songwriters who are looking to become a part of a larger community of singer-songwriters in the city. This may include people who are visiting New York City, or who have moved to New York City and are looking to explore the open mic scene as part of developing their musical sea legs.
The open mic scene of New York City is, perhaps, the most expansive, most interconnected, and most eclectic open mic scene in the United States, and likely the world. For a musician who is new to the city, or new to making music in the city, it can be intimidating and exhausting. Going to visit any open mic can involve a substantial trek and hours of waiting. Some open mics flit in and out of existence in a matter of months, and a musician can end up traveling over an hour only to find out that an open mic no longer exists. Some open mics have only a few performers and no audience, and while this can be great for work-shopping material, many musicians prefer to find a place that has a sense of community, where they can find like-minded individuals to perform in front of. Some open mics have a long and storied history and are associated with a particular music community – something which can be especially intimidating for a performer who is new to the scene.
The following list is designed to provide a general description of the main open-mics as they currently exist, from the perspective of a singer-songwriter, warts and all. It isn’t meant to be a promotional piece for certain open mics in the city. Of course, not every open mic is going to appeal to every performer, as people come to open mic for a variety of different reasons. As such, the selection of open mics and their accompanying descriptions inevitably involves some value judgments. I’ve attempted to provide accounts of open-mics that have been in existence for at least one year, and which are both free and non-discriminatory. This means that the open-mics don’t charge a cover (though they may ask you to buy a drink), and that don’t prohibit (in principle) the use of tracks or ban certain types of music (such as rap or heavy metal). Without further ado, the Official Guide to New York City Open Mics.
The Refuge Open Mic at Gran Torino (formerly at the Sidewalk Cafe) (Mondays – 7:30 signup / 8:30 start / 131 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY) (the inaugural event taking place Sept. 9, 2019)
By any reasonable measure, the Sidewalk Open Stage was the largest and longest running open-mic in New York City. Started some time in the ’90s by Lach, the open-mic was hosted for a number of years by Ben Krieger and then Somer Bingham. The Sidewalk Cafe was recently closed and will be re-opened under a new name. In the meantime (or possibly for the foreseeable future), the open stage continues its life at Gran Torino, helmed by the anti-folk poet, Jonathan Berger. Sign-up starts at 7:30 pm, and slots are distributed by random lottery.
The Antifolk crowd is more eclectic than any other music scene in the city, with a wide range of musicians participating, as well as performance artists, poets, comedians and magicians. Visiting musicians regularly come through to participate as well, making it a good place to meet new people.
Just like its predecessor, the stage at Gran Torino features an upright piano, making it one of only a few spots where pianists can perform. The open stage also has accommodations for musicians who perform with tracks. Gran Torino has a full kitchen and bar, so for musicians who are hungry, you can grab a burger and a beer without having to leave your seat.
Cowgirl (formerly Cafe Vivaldi) (Mondays – 6-6:30 signup, open-lottery style / 7pm start / 519 Hudson St., New York, NY / Check Online for Dates, usually twice a month)
Formerly at Cafe Vivaldi, the open-mic has transitioned to the Cowgirl, a West Village watering hole specializing in chuckwagon cuisine and margaritas. The open-mic can be considered a smaller, quieter sister to Sidewalk, running at around the same time but in the West Village as opposed to the Lower East Side. Bert Lee currently runs the open mic, and brings with him an electronic piano for people who prefer keys to guitar.
Held in a back room of the Cowgirl, it has a more intimate setting, and the talent consists more of traditional singer-songwriter types, though comedians perform there regularly as well. If you perform with tracks, you will likely need to bring your own cables. A good place to see more polished, high quality performers and ensembles, and a good place to bring a friend if they’re looking for a comfortable introduction to open mic. Because the venue consists of only one room, it can be difficult to talk with others without disturbing the person performing.
Food and drink are great, and the location is a popular after-work spot for people who work in the West Village. Make sure to get there early enough for the initial sign-up, as the slots may still fill up.
Pete’s Candy Store (Sundays – 4:30pm Signup / 5pm start / 709 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY)
A long-running and well-attended open-mic in Williamsburg, Pete’s Candy Store has a good number of high-quality singer-songwriters who perform there on a regular basis. Unlike most other open-mics during the week, the open-mic at Pete’s starts earlier in the day (4:30 pm) though rumor has it that the sign up sheet has been going up as early as 3 pm. Space is a bit cramped, but the room is also very quiet, meaning that performers get a good listen out of the audience. It’s positioning on a Sunday also makes it ideal for people who can’t easily make it to an open-mic in the middle of the week.
The open-mic is hosted by Bruce Martin, who is affable and keeps the open-mic low key. Signup for the open-mic, though, can be somewhat of frenzy. The signup is done by way of signup sheet, and the line for the signup sheet can be ambiguous, so keep an eye for when it is put up, otherwise you may end up with an undesirable slot. Performers range from singer-songwriters to comedians, and tends to have less performers doing covers than other places.
The sound setup is a little sparse, and the stage is quite small – so be prepared if you perform with tracks, and be ready to squeeze in if you perform as an ensemble. Lately, the open-mic has been packed, resulting in performers only getting to perform one song.
Pete’s serves sandwiches, and the beer and liquor selection is affordable. The venue has a separate bar and patio which make it relatively easy to talk with other musicians without interrupting the performances.
Bushwick Public House (formerly Little Skips) (Tuesdays 8pm signup, 8:30 open-mic / 1288 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, NY)
The Bushwick Public House Open Mic is hosted by veritable fixture of the NYC underground music scene Joe Crow Ryan. The open-mic traces its history back to Little Skips (just a stone’s throw away), then the Looking Glass, which was formerly Goodbye Blue Monday (where it was hosted by both Joe Crow Ryan and Dan Costello), and even further back to the Tuesday Teacup Open Mic. From a musical history standpoint, the Bushwick Public House Open Mic has many of the same roots as the anti-folk crowd at Sidewalk Café (now Gran Torino).
Having just found its new location recently, the open mic will be having its inaugural events August 13, and 20, 2019.
The West (Mondays, 8pm signup / 8:15 start / 379 Union Ave., Brooklyn, NY)
Located near the Metropolitan / Lorimer stops on the L and G trains, the open-mic at The West is a conveniently located, with a small but dedicated crowd of musicians that come to perform. The staff is very supportive of the musicians, with much of the staff and audience consisting of local musicians, actors, chefs and directors. Because of the smaller group of participants, musicians can regularly perform 2-3 songs apiece.
The open mic is currently hosted by John Graney, who is welcoming and supportive, oftentimes adding drums to musicians who ask for some support. Musicians are high quality but relaxed, with the open-mic being significantly more casual than the open-mics at Sidewalk and Café Vivaldi.
Sound equipment is minimal, with a small speaker and mixer setup, but is adequate for the venue, and is track-friendly. The stage sits at the end of the bar, allowing space for both listeners and people who are just there for a drink. Beer selection is impressive, with a large number of beers on tap, as well as on-tap Kombucha and lemonade. Food selection is minimal, but the bar offers snacks as well as pressed grilled sandwiches at a reasonable price (especially the grilled cheese).
The list will continue to be updated with new venues and revised descriptions on a semi-regular basis.