It’s becoming increasingly typical to see classical musicians perform in clubs like Le Poisson Rouge, The Stone, and Issue Project Room. But it still is surprising to walk into a dive bar to the tune of La Traviata’s drinking song, “Libiamo ne' lieti calici,” or listen to a sublime Mozart piano concerto while waiting for a train. Here are our Top 5 @ 105 surprise corners to listen to some classical tunes.
1. Kaarin Von, the proprietor of Von Bar, indulges her passion for classical music at her East Village wine bar. "I was a classically trained singer in a previous life," she admits. Choral music doesn't go over too well with the clientele, so she sticks to chamber music. Chopin and Boccherini are on regular rotation in the off hours.
2. “Freddy's Bar and Backroom is still divey, though not as much as it used to be,” says Anne Ricci, general manager of Opera on Tap, which has been taking opera out of the houses and into the New York nightlife since 2005. The group performs at several bars such Barbès and the Parkside Lounge. Freddy’s, located in Park Slope, celebrates its divey-ness as much as it promotes cultural offerings and remains Ricci’s top pick.
3. Mention the Burp Castle and a sophisticated beer-tasting bar doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Nonetheless, this monument to Belgian ale worship in the East Village often plays Gregorian chant and other medieval music to go with the meditative mood. “[The chants] go well with the atmosphere—murals of monks drinking on the walls,” says owner Gary Gillis.
4. Penn Station and Port Authority may be using classical music to scare off hooligans*, but that's not the aim of Chelsea Market. which engages trios and quartets to play on weekend afternoons. Live music usually floods the hallways already packed with shoppers. The crowds made the space perfect for an impromptu bottle performance by eight undercover actors. (The resulting YouTube clip went viral last summer, though it’s been taken offline since.)
5. Washington DC may have Joshua Bell playing in its Metro stations, but New York subway buskers include talented musicians as well. Conservatory students will sometimes head underground to practice performances while earning some change on the side. Opera on Tap once mobbed the Bryant Park Station and straphangers leaving Lincoln Center will be familiar with a saxophonist who serenades concertgoers with highlights from the event they just heard.
* Bonus choice: Penn Station doesn’t lend itself for quiet listening with its continual hectic pace and constant bustle. But the New Jersey Transit terminal, the most recently renovated part of the underground commuter hub, pipes in steady stream of Mozart concertos and symphonies. It may be meant to as a crime deterrent but it’s an aural treat for the rest of us.