The Best Clubs in America

Steve Knopper
Rolling Stone

20: Brooklyn Bowl in New York

With 16 bowling lanes, food from local restaurants and a hopping bar, performers such as Kanye West, M.I.A. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are almost an afterthought – almost. The 4-year-old club in Brooklyn's Williamsburg district, originally an ironworks-foundry building from the 1880s, has become a favorite place to catch hip-hop and R&B acts like the Roots, who have played a "holiday jam" there to close out the last two years. Bonus: LED lighting, good for the earth.

Capacity: 600
Fun Fact: With food by Blue Ribbon, the venue is home to some of the best fried chicken in the five boroughs.

19: Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, Mass.

Perhaps the world's only concert venue with a Lebanese restaurant upstairs, the Middle East opened in 1970 and began playing host to rock bands 17 years later. The site now hosts three music venues along with the restaurant; the downstairs club, with a capacity of nearly 600, is the crown jewel, attracting top indie acts to Cambridge's bustling Central Square.

Capacity: 575
Fun Fact: WBCN’s renowned “battle of the bands” has taken place at the Middle East for the last two decades.

18: 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga.

Years before Michael Stipe used to stage-dive into the crowd at this legendary Georgia nightclub, the future R.E.M. frontman would count pennies to get in as doormen stared him down. (He later befriended Nirvana's Dave Grohl over veggie sausage at a restaurant the morning after the Seattle band performed at the 40 Watt.) Originally the rehearsal space for local rock heroes Pylon, the 40 Watt morphed into a bona fide club in 1979, drawing the B-52's, Sonic Youth, X, Patti Smith and Drive-By Truckers.

Capacity: 500
Fun Fact: The 40 Watt Club has changed hands a few times in its 35 year history, but it’s currently owned by Barrie Buck, Peter Buck's ex-wife.

17: Union Transfer in Philadelphia

Union Transfer can fit between between 600 and 1,000 fans, depending on how the "flexible room," as Arcade Fire agent David T. Viecelli calls it, locates its unusual movable stage – which makes it a small club some nights, and a mid-sized venue on others.

Capacity: 600-1,000
Fun Fact:  In 1889, the building that houses Union Transfer opened as the Spring Garden Farmers Market.

16: Belly Up in Aspen, Colo.

An oasis in a ski-town concert scene that usually focuses on local singer-songwriters and itinerant jam bands, Belly Up Aspen opened in 2005 and has drawn surprisingly major headliners from Jane's Addiction to Tiesto to Pitbull to B.B. King. Although the biggest shows are often sold out at the 450-capacity club and drinks are pricey, that's usually not a problem for the ritzy Aspen crowd. Owner Michael Goldberg "introduced music to Aspen that probably never would have played there," says Brian Ahern, a top William Morris booking agent.

Capacity: 450
Fun Fact: Legendary Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson didn't fancy the name of his friend Michael Goldberg's club. He thought it should be called "The Orifice."

15: Lincoln Hall in Chicago

Longtime Chicagoans know this castle-like 1912 building for its rooftop – where FBI snipers stood to make sure mobster John Dillinger didn't escape from the nearby Biograph Theatre. The crew from Schubas Tavern renovated this space in 2009, turning it into a two-level, 600-capacity live-music venue that Chicago-based agent Tom Windish calls "the Bowery Ballroom of the Midwest."

Capacity: 600
Fun Fact: The building used to house the 3 Penny Cinema -- Chicago’s first and only movie-theater with a liquor license.

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