An indie insider’s guide to New York’s best live music venues

Catch Ellia with Sweet Soubrette this Monday at Cake Shop.

Since 2004, singer/songwriter Ellia Bisker has been performing in various New York venues under various guises, from tongue-in-cheek country western star Scalene Ruckus to a solo girl-and-her-uke singing wryly of doomed romance. Her latest enchanting incarnation, fronting indie rock band Sweet Soubrette, has been described by local music mag The Deli as “one of New York’s most intriguing songwriting forces.”

“What I love about performing in New York is the density of overlapping performance scenes,” Bisker tells us. “This has given us the chance to try out different approaches, reach a wide range of listeners and collaborate with an array of really cool artists in other disciplines.”

Favorite place to perform:
“When you walk in, it’s like you’ve been transported somewhere far from NYC — a cabin in the woods or some special little theater in the middle of nowhere — which, OK, it kind of is. Geoff and Lynette, the couple who own and run the place, built it themselves, and the sense of something made by hand with love permeates every aspect of performing there. Wine is served in jam jars, the stage has a red velvet curtain surrounded by little lights and the sound is beautiful. If I could figure out a way to just live there, I would.”

Best green room: Galapagos,
“Every time I perform here it’s in a variety show, so the green room is always filled with burlesque artists and circus performers. There’s glitter on everything, flashes of gold lamé, various states of nudity, someone is washing off a gallon of fake blood in the bathtub, I’m gluing on someone else’s false eyelashes for them, a troupe of dancers is going over their moves in the middle of the floor. … All other green rooms pale in comparison.”

Best place to see something completely different:
Goodbye Blue Monday,
“Goodbye Blue Monday is dedicated to letting musicians and performing artists test new ideas. You never know what you’re going to get, but in a single evening you might hear a dozen songs inspired by a graphic novel, an emerging hip-hop artist rapping over iPhone beats, a no-holds-barred open mic, plus some stand-up comics and storytellers. It’s like a primordial soup of creativity.”

Best crowds: The Living Room,
“People go there specifically to hear music, which doesn’t sound that revolutionary but can’t be said of every music venue that’s also a bar.  Crowds there are sophisticated and respectful, but not uptight –they’re talking to each other, but they’re also definitely listening, and you can see them moving to the music. It’s a nice vibe. I like seeing people’s heads bobbing, feet tapping, their eyes on the stage as we play.”

Best place to drop in: Barbes,
“Barbes is a place where you never need to look at the calendar to know something truly great will be going on in the tiny back room. I like to walk in, get a drink at the bar and wander back to be surprised by whatever amazing Balkan gypsy brass band is making a glorious noise. Going there is always a good decision.”

If you go
Sweet Soubrette ( plays this Monday at Cake Shop (9 p.m.) and kicks off her What’s My Desire? tour on Aug. 14 at The Living Room.  


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