Cause I can’t fit in society: A brief look at New York’s alternative music scene

Photo Credit: :Harri Jarvelainen
Photo Credit: Harri Jarvelainen

WORDS: Laura McCarthy

Finding a good place to enjoy a drink is great. When you come across a pub that has great live music, a good selection on the juke, and nice people, there’s simply nothing better. In the UK it seems that the alternative has been embraced by many pubs and bars, with . Yet, what about the scene across the pond? Considering a huge amount of music we listen to here in the UK comes from the US, it seems appropriate to look into the music scene, and the places that support alternative music and people.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in New York, and looked into the bars and pubs within the Island of Manhattan to see what was different and what was familiar. It was a hard task, but someone had to do it.


Firstly, I got myself down to Manitoba. This is a fantastic haunt for those looking for good, loud music and cheap drinks. The history of this bar is pretty cool, there’s been some names through its doors, with “Handsome Dick” Manitoba from THE DICTATORS actually owning the place. The nice thing is that just like in any decent bar in the UK, you don’t feel intimidated or unwelcome because you’re not a “local”. Don’t get me wrong, there’s those people who clearly visit regularly, but it’s by-the-by. There’s all sorts of folk around- I had a chat with a group of Hell’s Angels outside, and sat no far away was a group who welcomed my conversation and banter. This is what a good bar is all about- like minded people, regardless of age, race or gender enjoying each other’s company.

My next visit was to Cake Shop, which is a tiny little place. It’s quite the trendy set up in the café upstairs, with cool tenders behind the bar and a place you can easily take a moment to chill. However should you want some live music, pop on downstairs to the bar. It’s dark, cool and packs some great bands in. The vibe of the crowd, however small, is energetic and enthusiastic towards the musicians. Those of us in the UK can appreciate a small premises, and personally I felt right at home. Personally I’d like to see more of this kind of thing in the UK, a nice divide in atmosphere depending on your needs.


I did wonder if there was somewhere more akin to the softer sides of scene, where one could find some peace, but still feel that musical vibe. I ended up in a place called Hi fi which is more casual, indie sort of joint. However, there was word that their music selection was epic in scale. So I had a look at the jukebox. And true to the rumour, it’s rammed. In fact, there’s over 4000 albums on this thing! I’d give anything for my local to have this piece of kit! What makes a good bar for me personally is sitting with friends, and being able to enjoy whatever record is on; when an unexpected gem runs through the speakers and you grin to yourself. Well, this can happen at any time in this bar. Noticing that there was also comedy nights and live acts coming up, I have to say I felt pretty at home. Going on a night out in the UK, a chilled kind of evening just catching up with mates, this could easily be somewhere in the Northern Quarter of Manchester or Leeds. (Pointless point, I was also intrigued because an owner shares my name, which is interesting to only myself.)

To be objective on two scenes is difficult. Being from one cultural background obviously influences your opinion on the places you experience elsewhere. However, there was a common feeling between the bars in the UK and those in New York. There was the same musical appreciation, the same desire to enjoy the time spent with like-minded people and appreciate new and old music. As in both cases, the young and new bands that play in these dives may not be the shinning stars of tomorrow, but the energy and performances are just as fun, off the wall and enjoyable no matter Stateside or in a dank old pub in the UK.

What I will say, however, it that while there is support over in NY for the bands and the music, you can see why bands become bigger here in the UK much faster. Word travels faster, the area to cover is obviously much smaller and the general amount of reception for these bands is much higher. More so, there’s obviously not quite the scale of competition. Conversely, from what little I have gleamed from my travels, the critical aspect of American bar-goes is lacking. This is perhaps to it’s benefit, as the atmosphere is generally very laidback, therefore potentially being more open and interesting. America, and New York especially, has always been a hugely diverse space, and therefore people from all walks of life mesh quite well in these kinds of bars.

The folks of the UK, no matter what city, are more reserved generally, and those of a more unconventional nature have to push a little harder and have more pride in their difference. The bars and pubs that welcome a diverse range of people have to be savoured. Both sides have their up and down sides. What matters is that both are hugely fun places to be as a fan of music, and it’s rewarding to see the expansion of that music no matter the location. In all its forms, rock and roll is here to stay.