Every weekend, thousands of New Yorkers roll out of bed at the crack of noon and gather for the most sociable meal of all: brunch. It's perhaps the one time of the week they allow themselves to move at a more relaxed pace. There's a reason Food and Wine magazine named NYC “the most brunch-crazed city in the country.” It's home to the world's best bagels with lox. Eggs Benedict was invented here. And the Bloody Mary.
What could be better than a meal you don’t have to cook for yourself, washed down liberally with cocktails? Just one thing…listening to live music while you eat and drink. And if you're visiting NYC, you’re in luck there too. Brunches with a soundtrack are a New York specialty. From jazz to gospel to bluegrass, there’s a brunch with live music for almost everyone.
Brunches aren’t just for Sundays anymore either. B.B. King Blues Club & Grill (237 W. 42nd St.), has a lavish, all-you-can-eat, Southern-themed buffet and two different shows every weekend. Beatlemaniacs congregate there on Saturdays from 11am-2pm for the music of the Fab Four performed by the incomparable Beatles cover band Strawberry Fields. On Sundays, the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir raises the roof with their joyful noise from 12:30–2:30pm.
Brunch at the world-famour Rainbow Room (30 Rockefeller Plaza) is elevated in every respect. First there’s the ride up to the 65th floor of Rock Center to be greeted by panoramic views of the city. Then there’s the food—as close to haute cuisine as you are likely to find at a brunch. Lobster, foie gras, and truffles are some of the luxuries that regularly appear on the buffet. The musical groups are all top notch, expect throwback jazz combos and big bands whisking you to a more glamorous era with songs from the '20s through the '50s.
Perhaps the most unique music brunch in NYC showcases klezmer—rollicking dance music from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition married to big band swing (think lots of clarinets). Every Sunday, a different klezmer group takes the stage at City Winery (155 Varick St.) from 11am–2pm (doors open at 10am).
Blame it on the bossa nova if brunch at SOBs, aka Sounds of Brazil, (204 Varick St.) makes you yearn for a hot sandy beach. The Latin beat and unlimited sangria turn every Sunday afternoon (noon-2:30pm) into a Rio-worthy Carnival.
The modest cover charge on Sundays at the Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th St.) is a donation to a program that helps NYC schoolchildren learn about music. The Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra performs, the food from Blue Smoke is some of the city’s best BBQ, and a kids menu is available. Doors open at 1pm.
You can choose between two different Sunday brunches if you drop in on Swedish/Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson at the Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club (310 Lenox Ave.) Upstairs at the Rooster, jazz complements Marcus’s homage to Harlem on a plate. Downstairs at Ginny’s, you can tuck into a buffet while a teenage gospel choir sings to high heaven.
The original Minton’s Playhouse, founded in 1938, claims to be the birthplace of Bebop, while today’s Minton’s (206 W. 118th St.) is at the vortex of jazz’s “New Movement.” A decidedly elegant venue with a funky menu ranging from Korean to African, Minton’s brunch jams every Sunday from noon–4pm.
Chez Josephine (414 W. 42nd St.) celebrates Le Jazz Hot from 1930s Paris. Sunday brunch, however, is served to the cool strains of piano and vocals from noon-3pm. The prix fixe menu celebrates everything Josephine Baker, including her famous song “Yes, We Have No Bananas,”—in this case in the form of ice cream tucked inside cream puffs.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club (2751 Broadway) is an Upper West Side music mecca with live jazz seven days a week. On Sundays, there are three seatings for lively performances by Annette St. John and her trio. You will have plenty of time to enjoy your repast of granola (healthy) or Lobster Benedict (decadent).
So when you are looking for things to do on Saturday or Sunday in New York, consider exploring one of NYC's best brunches with music.