It’s 3AM in New York City and I wake to find a 10ft Bruce Springsteen grinning at my bed, decked out in a denim shirt, aviator sunglasses and clutching his signature 1950s Fender Signature Esquire Guitar.
It could quite easily be the start of an outlandish rock n’ roll nightmare/fantasy , but there’s a more logical story going on here. The Boss’ face has been blown up and displayed on the wall of our room at the city’s luxurious Hard Rock Hotel, which opened its doors just off Times Square in early 2022.
Outlandish features like these are typical of the hotel, which is drenched in musical history. From the original Alicia Keys dress that awaits you in the lobby to the handwritten John Lennon lyrics on display in reception, it’s the perfect place to start our musical odyssey in the run-up to August 11.
While that date might not ring too many bells to casual observers, it’s the day when DJ Kool Herc got behind the decks at a house party in the Bronx in 1973 and tried a new technique that is widely considered to be the genesis of hip-hop.
So, come with us, days before the 50th anniversary of that seminal date, as we take a look at the must visit locations for music lovers in NYC…
Things to do:
Radio City Music Hall
Fifty years since its arrival, the unrivalled power of hip-hop has allowed it to travel all the way from the Bronx to the hallowed annals of New York’s Radio City Music Hall – where the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, Rakim and Slick Rick all performed to celebrate 50 years last month. This, fittingly, is the first stop on our musical odyssey, as we take in a Stage Door Tour of the stunning art deco theatre ($33 per adult, msg.com).
It’s an unmissable chance to hear about the venue’s illustrious history, go backstage and even follow in the footsteps of those icons by standing on the famous stage itself. There’s also an opportunity to bump into a real-life Rockette, one of the incredibly talented dancers who perform to huge crowds at the theatre every Christmas.
Hush Hip Hop Tour
This is the chance for a hip-hop education like no other. The Hip Hop walking tour (from $50 per person, hushtours.com) is led by a selection of local rappers and MCs who will provide an in-depth education as they take you through the streets of Harlem, peppering the trip with performances, unforgettable anecdotes and, from a social perspective, an interesting look at how gentrification is affecting the area’s future. Our guide, local rapper RayZa, proved a brilliant guide through the area as he led us to locations such as the Graffiti Hall of Fame, one of Martin Luther King’s favourite church and the legendary Apollo Theatre – one of the nation’s most noted performance spaces for African American artists. The entire tour is a must-do for music lovers.
The Jazz Club at Aman
If you’re hoping to live the New York high life, this is essential. The Jazz Club at the exclusive Aman New York hotel only opened late last year, but it’s already becoming one of the city’s hottest spots with good reason. After entering through a speakeasy door, you’ll be greeted with nightly performances from some of the city’s top jazz stars. We caught a brilliant weekly performance from the club’s very own creative director Brian Newman – a six-time Grammy Award nominee and longtime collaborator with Lady Gaga. Unsurprisingly, reservations are essential.
It’s far from a hidden gem, but seeing a show on Broadway is still an unmissable part of every New York trip. We caught A Beautiful Noise, a heart-rending and refreshingly raw take on the life of Neil Diamond. Yes, there’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ for all us Brits in favour of a sing-song, but there’s plenty of other tunes too that go far in broadening his catalogue to casual music lovers and fans of his music.
If you’ve time to kill before hand, a trip to the Museum of Broadway (from $34, themuseumofbroadway.com) provides the incredible story of how a run-down district became the theatre capital of the world.
There’s no shortage of music at the Lincoln Center, where 11 resident arts organisations including The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic are forever showing off their talents. There’s an array of tours, daily concerts and creative workshops to suit music lovers of all persuasions.
It’s handy that the hip-hop tour winds up just yards from Red Rooster, established by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson to provide a home for soul food including lobster rolls, steak frites and one of the best mac and cheese dishes you’re like to ever try. It’s no wonder that Barack and Michelle Obama have held fundraisers there in the past.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
New York lunches don’t come more unique than this Times Square diner, where a maitre’d tells assembled diners that they’re on a mission to send the restaurant’s servers “from burgers to Broadway”. This means a staff full of fledgling theatre stars climb on tables to belt out show tunes and theatre standards while you scoff down the burgers and sandwiches on offer. With traditional diner theming and some truly belting performances, it’s one of the most novel ways to enjoy some decently priced nosh.
Parker’s at Thompson Central Park
As well as a trip to Aman, jazz fans can’t miss this lowkey haunt, named after New York jazz icon Charlie Parker. With cocktails named after jazz standards and unique touches inspired by the genre, it’s an establishment which lives and breathes the spirit of jazz. Visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday if you’re hoping to take in a quick performance.
Travel: How to get to New York
You can get a United Airlines flight direct from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airport in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey. Economy tickets from Heathrow start from £434.