94 Avenue A
New York, NY 10009
Hours: 9a-4a Daily
Subway: F to 2nd Ave or L to 1st Ave
Written by: Kyle Benson
Sidewalk is a cafe, bar and music venue, ideal for exploration and new music experiences. Ben Krieger, the current music handler, likens the spot as, “traditionally, a place where good people get their first gigs.”
Six nights a week, bands of various music styles take to the stage, while on Monday nights a spattering of genres is on display for the infamous open mic, arguable the longest-running in New York. Anybody that sticks around longer than an hour on any given night will see a variety of performances, from unknown duos to Jason Trachtenburg of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. It is this diverse talent that gives Sidewalk Cafe its magnetism.
Much has changed in the East Village’s Alphabet City over the last three decades, but despite restaurant booms and gentrification, this venue has outlasted many of its neighborhood counterparts. When it opened in the ’80s, Sidewalk operated solely as a restaurant, but for the past 15 years the back room has become a reputable venue, helping to ignite many notable musicians including Regina Spektor, The Moldy Peaches, Beck and Nellie McKay.
This small, 100-person music space with a humble stage is also responsible for ushering in a new niche genre called antifolk. The story goes that Lach, a local musician, working to break into the West Village folk circuit, had been rejected because his sound was too ‘edgy.’ So, with a classic dose of American ‘screw-off,’ Lach searched for a place where a greater freedom of expression could live. After a short stint in the Lower East Side, he found his home at Sidewalk Cafe. It was here that he cultivated an artist sanctuary for anyone with a song to sing. As the antifolk genre grew, the venue built a semi-annual festival. In February and August of each year, a roster of active regulars and returning participants gather for a week of stomping-ground gigs. Lach resided as the curator for 15 years before stepping down in 2008.