A Walking Tour of Music Landmarks in New York City
This article originally appeared in the LGBTQ and Planning Division's Spring 2017 newsletter. It is reprinted with permission.
There are literally hundreds of locations where musicians (as well as associated artists, writers, and actors) made their mark on NYC (and the world). It would be impossible to visit them all ... at least during the conference, so the LGBTQ and Planning Division pulled together a "top 25" for you. Each of the locations were selected based on either:
- Association with, and significance to, LGBTQ culture;
- Venue's place in music history in terms of launching a career or a music genre; or
- The author's (Linda Amato) musical tastes.
If you can't find time to head towards the Chelsea Area/East Village/West Village, try to squeeze in the sites near the conference hotels. NYC is a very walkable city, we suggest you just start walking south from the conference hotels, down 8th Avenue, to begin your tour.
NOTE: Italicized names indicate either the venue still exists or the building (in which the venue was housed) still exists.
Near Times Square
1. Studio 54
254 West 54th Street
Legendary dance club where disco, cocaine, the rich and the famous, and some lucky locals wasted the night (and morning) away.
2. Brill Building
1619 Broadway (at 49th Street)
Location where the great pop music of the 1960s was written by the masters of songwriting: Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, Sonny Bono, and Paul Simon, just to name a few. The music coming out of this building was often called the Brill Building Sound.
3. The Peppermint Lounge
128 West 45th Street
This bar/dance club was the launchpad for the global "twist" phenomenon in the early 1960s.
267 West 23rd Street
Former gay bar which hosted acts like Blondie, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads. In 2011, Blondie released a song dedicated to this bar.
30 West 21st Street
This is where Madonna began her career. Regulars included Basquiat, Keith Haring, Cyndi Lauper, and the B-52s. The Smiths' first NYC show was performed here.
3. Chelsea Hotel
222 West 23rd Street
Home and hang out for many artists, writers, actors, musicians: Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, William Burroughs, Jane Fonda, Andy Warhol, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix. Lou Reed wrote "Walk on the Wild Side" while staying here. On the darker side, as opposed to the wild side, Sid Vicious supposedly murdered his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in their Chelsea Hotel room. Vicious was set to go to trial for her murder, but overdosed before he had his day in court.
4. The Limelight
47 West 20th Street
Center for the "club kid" culture in the late 1980s–early 1990s.
5. Joni Mitchell's Apartment
41 West 16th Street
She wrote "Chelsea Morning" while living here.
6. Max's Kansas City
213 Park Avenue South
A who's who of the late 1960s through the 1970s, which hosted the likes of Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, and Jim Morrison. Also, a hangout for Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Faye Dunaway, Abbie Hoffman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Truman Capote, and Andy Warhol. Debbie Harry of Blondie was a waitress here.
East and West Village
East Village (Lower East Side)
1. The Palladium
126 East 14th Street
Originally the Academy of Music. Throughout the 1970s, major bands such as the Clash, The Band, the Rolling Stones, and Frank Zappa performed here. This is also where the author saw Be Bop Deluxe and Styx in 1978 and missed the train (Long Island Railroad) back to college and had to sleep on the floor in Penn Station while waiting for the next train out to Long Island (it was about a five-hour wait).
2. Trash and Vaudeville
4 St. Marks Place
Former site of the Bridge Theater where Yoko Ono performed many happenings. Starting in the mid-1970s through today, prime shopping for all things punk. Customers have included Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, and Debbie Harry. Electric Circus, 19-25 St. Marks Place. A psychedelic nightclub in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Warhol's first site for an art happening which featured music by the Velvet Underground.
3. Khyber Pass
34 St. Marks Place
Former apartment of Deee-Lite. Yes, friends, "Groove Is in the Heart."
4. The Fillmore East
105 2nd Avenue
From 1968 to 1971 hosted Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and others. In the 1980s it became the Saint, center of the gay dance scene in the 1980s. Check out the mosaic on the traffic light pole on the corner.
5. Holiday Cocktail Lounge
75 St. Marks Place
Rumored to be the inspiration for Madonna's song "Holiday."
6. Joe Strummer Memorial Mural
132 East 7th Street
In memory of Joe Strummer, the Clash.
7. Pyramid Club
101 Avenue A
Opened in 1979, one of the first clubs open to the gay community. Nirvana's and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' first NYC shows were at the Pyramid.
8. Madonna's First Apartment in NYC
232 East 4th Street
Madonna, need I say more?
9. Joey Ramone Place
Corner of Bowery and East 2nd Street
Born as Jeffrey Ross Hyman, as co-founder of the Ramones, he changed his name along with his bandmates. On November 30, 2003, this block was officially renamed Joey Ramone Place. It is the block where Joey once lived with bandmate Dee Dee Ramone. After it was installed, the street sign was repeatedly stolen. As a result, the New York City DOT had to raise the height of the sign by 8 feet — it now hangs about 20 feet from the sidewalk.
10. CBGB OMFUG (Country Blue Grass Blues/Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers)
The venue that launched punk rock. Bands that got their start here: Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Television, just to name a few. Also known for its disgusting bathrooms.
11. Robert Mapplethorpe's Apartment
24 Bond Street
Mapplethorpe photographed the cover for Patti Smith's Horses album here. He lived in this apartment throughout the 1980s.
West Village (Greenwich Village)
12. The Bottom Line
15 West 4th Street
Prime location for live music in the 1970s through 2004. Acts included Bruce Springsteen, Todd Rundgren, Linda Rondstadt, the Police, Neil Young, Prince, Hall & Oates, and Dolly Parton!
13. Bitter End
147 Bleecker Street
Opened in 1961, one of the longest continually operating music venues in the United States. It hosted hundreds of bands including Billy Joel, Bo Diddly, Arlo Guthrie, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, to name a few.
14. Kim's Music and Video Underground
144 Bleecker Street
For Desperately Seeking Susan fans ... this is where Aidan Quinn was employed.
15. Gaslight Café
116 MacDougal Street
A coffee house that featured Beat poetry as well as live music, with such acts as Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, and Bruce Springsteen. Supposedly the now familiar "finger snapping" (instead of clapping) to applaud began here — the windows of the café opened to air shafts shared with the apartments upstairs, thus requiring a more quiet form of appreciation. The club was run by Betty Smyth, mother of Scandal lead singer Patty Smyth, until it closed in 1971.
16. Café Wha?
115 McDougal Street
Music venue which still has live music every night. In the 1950s and 1960s it was home to Beat poets and writers, as well as folk musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Dylan's first NYC performance was here. Thanks to their "open mic" nights, many other legends performed here, including Bruce Springsteen, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, and Lenny Bruce. Mary Travers, before she was the Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary, was a waitress here.
17. Electric Lady Studios
52 West 8th Street
Recording studio built by Jimi Hendrix. He died just four weeks after his first recording session here. Other bands that recorded here include Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
5 West 8th Street
Now called the Marlton Hotel. Home to many of the Beat poets and writers in the 1950s and 1960s. Jack Kerouac lived here for a while. Another famous tenant, but for different reasons, was Valerie Solanas, who was staying at this hotel in 1968 when she shot Andy Warhol.
Off the map, but worth mentioning:
84 King Street
Influential dance club. Epicenter for gay culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Home of legendary DJ Larry Levan.
Off the Beaten Path
If you feel like taking the train to Harlem or the Upper West Side, be sure to check out these locations:
253 West 125th Street
Landmark Harlem theater. Since opening its doors in 1914 and introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, and soul. Many artists got their start here, including: the Jackson 5, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, and Lauryn Hill.
Central Park West between 71st and 74th Streets
Dedicated in memory of John Lennon. If you go and want to take a photograph, be warned, it always has crowds of fans from across the globe.
1 West 72nd Street
John Lennon and Yoko Ono shared a home here beginning in 1973 until John's murder in December 1980 in the entranceway to the Dakota. Yoko Ono still lives here, and recently stated she has seen John's ghost in their apartment. As an aside, Linda Amato was living a few blocks away and heard the gunshots and the ambulance/police sirens. (It wasn't until the next morning she found out what happened.)
Top image: Mural of Joey Ramone placed in 2015 across the street from the former venue of CBGB OMFUG at 315 Bowery. Photo taken in February 2017 by Flickr user Dan DeLuca (CC BY 2.0).