We love live music here at RAVE Reviews.

But what we love even more is experiencing a new band in a small, out-of-the-way venue. The kind that only locals know about — the darker and sweatier the better.

Some might call these places dive bars, but at RAVE Reviews, we call them home.

Everyone’s heard of Red Rocks Amphitheatre and The Roxy, as well as storied music cities like Nashville, Chicago, and of course, Los Angeles.

But what about Denton, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; or Provo, Utah?

Have you been to Madison, Wisconsin to see a show in somebody named Kiki’s basement?

To help find out what we’ve all been missing, RAVE Reviews decided to compile a list of 30 unheralded and unsung American music venues in America’s greatest music towns.

Methodology

We started by scouring the internet to triangulate reviews, rankings, and data to come up with a list of the 30 best music cities in America. From there, we utilized music industry sites like Consequence of Sound as well as social media, wikis, local press, and venue websites to find the most underrated venue in each city.

We ranked each venue on a 4-point scale, awarded in tallboys (because the best music venues serve beer in cans).

  1. Legacy: How long has the venue been fighting the good fight, bringing excellent live music to the masses? Did any legends get their start playing at the venue, or do established artists play there because they appreciate the sound and the atmosphere?
  2. Beer prices and menu: Whether it’s a kitchen or nearby food carts, it’s always a good sign when a venue hasn’t been gentrified to the point that they’ve jacked up the price on everyone’s favorite beer and snacks.
  3. Music calendar: Is there music every night? Do today’s best new artists choose to play these venues when they’re in town and is the venue a favorite with local musicians?
  4. Sound system: Do frequent patrons compliment the sound quality in reviews and on social media? Because after all, an excellent band can be ruined by terrible sound.

So, whether you’re a music fan traveling to one of these cities or an in-the-know local who frequents one of these places, read on and discover your new temple of sound or enjoy the fact that your go-to hang-out is finally getting some love. (And hopefully we don’t overrun your favorite place with too many hipsters and tourists.)

  1. Portland, OR

    Most Underrated Venue: Bunk Bar

    From Dandy Warhols to The Decemberists, Portland always has one of the nation’s hottest music scenes.

    And there’s live music almost every night at Portland’s Bunk Bar, a sandwich shop/music venue hybrid that’s a favorite among Portland’s discerning music fans.  

    Bunk Bar is described on social media, with appropriate hipster understatement, as “Great…a real laid-back staff and some really good acts.”

    Many of today’s best young artists love to play Bunk Bar, with a music calendar tending toward indie rock and pop.

    While at Bunk Bar, eat a juicy pork belly Cubano or cheese-stuffed sweet peppers while taking in the tunes. Quench your thirst on a PBR Tallboy.

    Score: 3 Tallboys

    Bunk Bar has yet to produce a legend, but considering all the rising talent that takes the Bunk Bar stage, we think it’s only a matter of time.

  2. Memphis, TN

    Most Underrated Venue: Hi-Tone Café

    Memphis is a town with an incredible musical legacy, and Hi-Tone Café, with its lounge and 2 spaces for shows, is a live music institution.

    Hi-Tone has a full bar and a kitchen serving enticing treats like bacon-wrapped weenies. Fans of Hi-Tone describe their experience as “absolutely fantastic,” with a “neighborhood feel.”

    Acts like North Mississippi Allstars and Cat Power love playing Hi-Tone, but you can expect everything from reggae to country. And there’s always a party atmosphere, so Hi-Tone is perfect if you love to dance.

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    Hi-Tone’s concert schedule is light on big-name acts, but with a local music scene like Memphis, who needs `em?

  3. Los Angeles, CA

    Most Underrated Venue: The Mint

    Los Angeles is the absolute epicenter of anything related to the entertainment industry, and The Mint has been part of it all since 1937.

    The Mint is equal parts homey and kitschy, with Johnny Cash paintings and other rock history artifacts on display. The ceiling is covered in old vinyl 45s. The atmosphere is perfect for the pop music fanatic.

    Legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Macy Gray, Ray Charles, Royal Crown Revue, and the Wallflowers have graced the venue’s small, intimate stage.

    The bar has a full range of beer, wine, and spirits, and the kitchen serves classic American, Asian, and Southwestern fare.

    Every seat in the house brings you close to the musicians, but you can get right up in the action if you grab one of the tables positioned near the low stage.

    Score: 4 Tallboys

    Both Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder played The Mint. How cool is that?

  4. Seattle, WA

    Most Underrated Venue: Tractor Tavern

    Seattle is the birthplace of grunge and Jimi Hendrix, but Americana is the thing at Tractor Tavern.

    Check out the Old West saloon-like decor while knocking back a PBR tallboy (score!) and listening to local as well as nationally touring rock, pop, alt-folk, alt-country, blues, and bluegrass. There’s even square dancing once a month.

    Artists performing at Tractor Tavern range from punk legend John Doe to Dave Alvin. Any number of up-and-coming acts passing through Seattle play Tractor, and it’s also a favorite among local bands in a scene always considered one of the most vibrant in the nation.

    With no kitchen but a full bar, fans of the Tractor comment on how easy it is to get close to the musicians and dance. Others say it’s not a shiny or pretty place (which RAVE Reviews loves to hear), but they still rate it as an excellent Seattle venue.

    Score: 3.5 Tallboys

    With the kind of artists that love playing the Tractor, it’s definitely one of the nation’s best venues.

  5. New Orleans, LA

    Most Underrated Venue: Siberia Lounge

    New Orleans is one of America’s most colorful and diverse cities. Its rich musical legacy is tied closely to jazz, a uniquely American art form.

    When you’re in Nola to hear some tunes, party like a local at Siberia Lounge.

    With a full menu, the kitchen serves burgers and blinis as well as Slavic food. Patrons call Siberia “laid back” with “cool dive bar vibes.”

    At Siberia, you can experience everything from comedy to burlesque on a calendar tending toward, but not limited to, local and regional performers. Other times, you can catch goth rock and metal, or maybe, if you’re lucky, a Balkan folk trio.

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    Not a lot of big names at Siberia, but with the kind of musical diversity the venue attracts, it’s a not-to-be-missed stop whenever you’re in the area.

  6. Chicago, IL

    Most Underrated Venue: The Empty Bottle

    With a rich history of blues and punk rock, Chicago is definitely a place for music lovers. And when in Chicago, check out The Empty Bottle.

    Fans of The Empty Bottle mention the “dark punk atmosphere” as well as “great live music and beer/drink selection.”

    The venue has been in business since the early `90s. Here, you can play pool or hit the arcade before catching free jazz, indie rock, or DJs.

    Bands performing at The Empty Bottle range from locals to `90s grunge two-piece Local H to up-and-coming songwriters like Mike Krol and Lala Lala.

    There’s a full bar, and nightly specials like Taco Mondays, Steak Nights on Thursdays, and Fish Fry Fridays come from nearby Bite Café.

    Score: 4.0 Tallboys

    Attracting the best new bands, The Empty Bottle maintains a dive bar atmosphere and stays true to the locals.

  7. Minneapolis, MN

    Most Underrated Venue: First Avenue & 7th Street Entry

    The home of Prince, Bob Dylan, and the Replacements, Minnesota is a Midwest music capital.

    In business since the `70s, Minneapolis’ First Avenue & 7th Street Entry is a storied venue with 2 separate performance spaces, together hosting over 500 shows a year.

    First Avenue is one of the longest-running independently owned and operated clubs in the United States. Artists on the calendar range from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco to relative newcomers like Japanese Breakfast.

    Big-name artists like Joe Cocker, U2, Eminem, Tina Turner, Black Flag, The Ramones, Depeche Mode, Bo Diddley, Lucinda Williams, Metallica, and Prince played First Avenue early on in their careers.

    And right next door to First Avenue is another local institution: The Depot Tavern. With photos and memorabilia adorning the walls, this bar and restaurant is like a history lesson about all the great artists that have played First Avenue.

    Score: 3.0 Tallboys

    With that kind of musical history within its walls, First Avenue deserves a spot on any list of America’s best venues.

  8. Austin, TX

    Most Underrated Venue: Hole in the Wall

    What could be better than a rock club, located in one of America’s most renowned music towns, that’s literally called Hole in the Wall?

    An Austin institution since the 1970s, big names like Spoon and Gary Clark Jr. played Hole in the Wall before they made it big. Artists gracing the stage at Hole in the Wall also include Shakey Graves and Black Joe Lewis.

    The venue is located just across the street from the building on the University of Texas campus where the Austin City Limits show was taped for decades, and where KUTX radio still broadcasts.

    While you’re in town to visit Hole in the Wall, be sure to grab a bite to eat from Austin chef Paul Qui’s nearby establishment East Side King.

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    Any small, true-to-its-roots venue like this one in Austin deserves our praise.

  9. Athens, GA

    Most Underrated Venue: 40 Watt Club

    Athens, Georgia is home to one of the most iconic college music scenes on the planet. The town is associated with such greats as REM, the B-52s, and Neutral Milk Hotel. And 40 Watt Club, open in one form or another since 1979, helped launch many of the most acclaimed artists in the last several decades.

    Regulars call 40 Watt “a gem of gems in the music venue world.”

    With no food and a full bar, 40 Watt is a mecca for fans of indie rock. The list of artists from outside Athens who’ve played 40 Watt is astounding, including names like Patti Smith, Pavement, and the Killers.

    Score: 4.0 Tallboys

    There might not be a lot of other reasons to go to Athens, a small college town just outside Atlanta. Nevertheless, seeing a show at 40 Watt belongs on the to-do list of any self-respecting live music fan.

  10. Washington, D.C.

    Most Underrated Venue: Gypsy Sally’s

    Duke Ellington and Minor Threat both came from DC, so there’s loads of music history in our nation’s capital.

    DC venue Gypsy Sally’s is known as a great listening room. The venue claims that with their specially designed space, bands have no need to “turn it up to 11.”

    Those who’ve been call Gypsy Sally’s “top notch,” “small” but with “great sound.”

    The venue’s specialty is regional and national Americana acts, tending toward up-and-coming names over established artists. There’s a full bar and a food menu. Gypsy Sally’s has the rare distinction of regularly hosting all-ages shows.

    Be sure to check out the venue’s Vinyl Lounge out back.

    Score: 1.5 Tallboys

    While Gypsy Sally’s is a one-genre venue, a show here is a must-see for fans of alt-country, bluegrass, and Americana music.

  11. Nashville, TN

    Most Underrated Venue: Mercy Lounge

    Music towns don’t come much bigger than Nashville.

    Only opened in January of 2003, Mercy Lounge has built a reputation for showcasing the best in buzz-worthy young talent as well as established, nationally known artists.

    Tons of next-big-things in the world of hip hop and indie rock play Mercy Lounge, and with a music scene like Nashville’s, there’s plenty of local talent to choose from.

    The venue boasts a standing room capacity of 500 and a state-of-the-art sound system. Don’t miss the back-bar area, which features pool tables, booth seating, and a more-relaxed environment from which to watch the show.

    Patrons of the venue say, “The bands I’ve seen play at Mercy Lounge were amazing and sounded great.”

    Score: 3.0 Tallboys

    When it comes to music, it takes a lot to stand out in Nashville, but Mercy Lounge does just that.

  12. Detroit, MI

    Most Underrated Venue: El Club

    Music history is almost as integral to the fabric of Detroit as the auto industry. True to its home city’s musical heritage, El Club is one of the hottest new spots to hear a little of everything.

    Discerning Detroiters who are in the know about El Club call it a “great venue for intimate shows where the artist can really connect with and captivate the audience.”

    Unique and innovative artists like Mountains and Rainbows, Chelsea Wolfe, and Guided By Voices have all played the space, proving that El Club has become a must-play venue for rising stars.

    While at El Club, you can also nosh on pizza and drink from 3 full-service bars.

    Score: 3.5 Tallboys

    Thanks to its great taste in music, El Club is a bright spot in Detroit’s resurgence. New musical history is being made there every day.

  13. Miami, FL

    Most Underrated Venue: Olympia Theater

    Known for Latin-inspired rhythms, Miami, Florida is an American music capital. And absolutely untouchable legends like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Etta James have all played the Olympia Theater.

    The 91-year-old palace opened in 1926 as a silent movie house. The venue embodies glamour through and through.

    “It looks like the midnight sky, complete with moving clouds and twinkling stars,” says one audience member.

    These days, artists like Sufjan Stevens, Kraftwerk, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Jesus & Mary Chain play the Olympia. You can also catch film festivals at the venue.

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    Although it’s not exactly a dive bar or an underground venue, we have a healthy respect for the music history represented at the Olympia Theater.

  14. Eugene, OR

    Most Underrated Venue: Hi-Fi Music Hall

    Year in and year out, Eugene, Oregon is home to one of the most underrated music scenes in the nation. But things are heating up in Oregon’s second most-populous city.

    Central to the scene is the relatively new Hi-Fi Music Hall. The venue has 2 spaces for shows: a large main hall and an engaging and intimate lounge. Hi-Fi is a favorite for locals to play, and has already racked up some impressive headliners like Protomartyr and Ty Segall.

    Fans of Hi-Fi say, “The sound was great and there’s not a bad view from the dance floor.”

    When you’re there, you can drink from 2 full bars and eat from a selection of food carts located nearby. Audiences are as friendly and diverse as the Hi-Fi music calendar.

    Score: 3.5 Tallboys

    A welcome addition to Eugene’s ascendant music scene, Hi-Fi is catching the attention of nearby Portland and beyond.

  15. Richmond, VA

    Most Underrated Venue: The Canal Club

    Featuring the best music from Richmond and elsewhere, The Canal Club is a simple, bi-level club located in an old brick warehouse.

    While the shows are all-ages unless noted, there is a full bar at Canal Club. And fans say, “Canal Club is the place to go in Richmond for live music…everyone feels right at home.”

    The calendar leans toward young, heat-seeking performers of hard rock, along with a healthy dose of DJs and dancing.

    Notable bands who’ve played the club include Otep and The Colour and the Shape.

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    Richmond is an up-and-coming music scene and The Canal Club is right in the center of it.

  16. Denton, TX

    Most Underrated Venue: Harvest House

    Denton, Texas is among the nation’s best towns for underground music. One of Denton’s most well-known venues, Harvest House, has a large outdoor stage featuring live music from local and touring bands as well as DJs, drawing from a wide variety of styles.

    The outdoor patio has fire pits as well as a covered, heated pavilion. For food and drink, Harvest House serves everything from beer to smoothies and juice. There’s a spacious indoor bar area, too. And be sure to try out the selection of nearby food trucks.  

    Frequent patrons call Harvest House their “favorite bar in Denton” (and in Denton, that’s saying something).

    Score: 1.5 Tallboys

    Harvest House is working to put Denton’s music scene on the map.

  17. Provo, UT

    Most Underrated Venue: Velour Live Music Gallery

    College towns often have good music scenes, and Provo, home to Brigham Young University, is no different. For a relatively small town, a surprising number of chart-topping acts got their start in Provo, including Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, and many more.

    And all of them credit Velour Live Music Gallery, a small, taste-making venue, with helping to launch their careers. Velour is an all-ages, smoking-and-alcohol-free environment. SPIN magazine dubbed Velour Live Music Gallery one of the Best Kept Secrets in Utah.

    The calendar in any given week reflects diverse musical styles, but big names like Sara Bareilles, Matt Nathanson, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, and Local Natives have all played Velour.

    Score: 4.0 Tallboys (even though alcohol is not allowed)

    Come find the next Imagine Dragons at Velour, before they’re playing a stadium near you.

  18. Olympia, WA

    Most Underrated Venue: Rhythm and Rye

    From Sleater Kinney to Beat Happening, or Bikini Kill to K Records, Olympia, Washington defines independent music.

    And Rhythm and Rye, a local favorite, strives to provide Olympia music fans a comfortable space to check out great shows from the best touring bands.

    Locals describe the venue as a “great space” with “good sound” and “friendly staff.” Others have added, “I always see the best live music here.” Rhythm and Rye has “their finger on the pulse.”

    Bookings draw from Portland and Seattle, as well as the seemingly unending number of great bands to come out of Olympia every year.

    Score: 4.0 Tallboys

    It’s always worth checking out whatever Olympia’s scene produces.

  19. Madison, WI

    Most Underrated Venue: Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

    Known for college rock and more, Madison is home to Kiki’s House of Righteous Music. Not your average venue, Kiki’s is…well, in Kiki’s house. The basement, to be exact.

    Accommodating up to 60 people, the small space redefines what it means to have an intimate musical experience.

    Those who’ve been to Kiki’s call it a “phenomenal place. Words cannot describe how great of a venue this is. They have created something very special here.”

    Audiences hear about the shows from social media, an email list, or word-of-mouth. And bands love to play there as much as audiences love to attend.

    Score: 3.5 Tallboys

    At Kiki’s, you can discover the next great band and brag about that one time you saw them literally in someone’s basement.

  20. Asheville, NC

    Most Underrated Venue: Isis Music Hall

    Asheville has a rich live music scene, and it’s a popular stop for any touring musician.

    Among the many other great venues in town, Asheville’s Isis Music Hall is especially well-known for presenting fresh artists not yet on the national radar, as well as the established artists and bands in and around Asheville.

    Isis books a wide range of musical styles, with an emphasis on Americana.

    There are two different performance experiences at Isis: seated, dinner cabaret style shows with a capacity of 150 people, and larger shows with a capacity of 450 people.

    The hall also has an upstairs lounge, balcony, and bar. And the upstairs lounge even has a capacity of 50 for seated, acoustically driven shows.

    Fans of Isis call it a “great place for music and food,” and say that the venue has “no bad seats.”

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    Isis Music Hall is making a name for itself in one of the country’s next great music towns.

  21. Cambridge, MA

    Most Underrated Venue: Toad

    Legends of cutting-edge music like Galaxie 500 and Morphine came from Cambridge, just outside Boston.

    These days, Toad is a favorite spot for locals to hear the best of what the town has to offer, with a calendar ranging from indie rock and acoustic singer-songwriters to folk and bluegrass.

    Patrons have described Toad as “one of the last listening rooms” in Cambridge. 

    There are burgers and beer to go along with the nightly live music, and there’s never a cover.

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    Toad is proof that Boston doesn’t get to have all the fun when it comes to great music.

  22. Omaha, NE

    Most Underrated Venue: Lookout Lounge

    Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes helped Omaha’s music scene grab national attention. Lookout Lounge in downtown Omaha is a part of this thriving local culture, featuring Omaha’s best local bands as well as quality touring performers.

    Things get loud at Lookout Lounge, with a calendar focused on underground punk, metal, ska, ska-punk, hip hop, and all the cores (hardcore, grindcore, metalcore) as well as all the metals (black and death). Big names like the Dead Boys, the Toasters, and The Casualties have played the venue.

    To occasionally lighten things up, Lookout Lounge also hosts comedy.

    Frequent show attendees say The Lookout “is the best spot to catch a local band, your favorite national touring band, or just hang out and play a game of pool or darts.”

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    An acclaimed dive bar venue that isn’t afraid to push the limits.

  23. Boulder, CO

    Most Underrated Venue: Laughing Goat Coffee House

    Home to the University of Colorado, Boulder has long had a vibrant music scene. And Laughing Goat Coffee House’s downtown location is a well-known Boulder venue for singer-songwriters, as well as audiences that appreciate a good listening room.

    There’s music almost every night of the week, and the downtown Laughing Goat Coffee House features plenty of adult libations in addition to excellent coffee and food.

    Those who’ve been to Laughing Goat say, “The vibe of the place is pretty cool. Large space with some outdoor seating, chill music, lots of tables and little nooks to sit.”

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    Who doesn’t love a coffee shop venue?

  24. Portland, ME

    Most Underrated Venue: Port City Music Hall

    The other Portland with a great music scene, Portland, Maine is quickly rocketing up the ranks of great American music cities.

    And Port City Music Hall is a popular venue to see some of music’s best new artists across a variety of genres. Artists who’ve played Port City include Keller Williams and Shooter Jennings.

    Guests at Port City call it Portland’s best music venue, describing it as a “great resource for discovering new music and experiencing performances in an intimate setting.”

    There’s also a full bar, as well as a spacious downstairs area to play games with friends.

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    As a major music destination, Portland is just beginning to show its stuff.

  25. Louisville, KY

    Most Underrated Venue: Magnolia Bar

    A fixture of Louisville’s vibrant music scene for generations, Magnolia Bar was established in 1962. Known locally as Mag Bar, the venue books a solid variety of music spanning all sorts of genres.

    In addition, Mag Bar peppers trivia, DJs, and comedy nights in with the live music.

    Munch on pizza and drink beer while enjoying performances from great artists who are just establishing their names in the business.

    Those who’ve been to Mag Bar say that it’s “by far one of the greatest dive bars in all of America,” adding, “If you like punk, metal, whatever-abilly, you’ll love this place.”

    Score: 3.0 Tallboys

    Mag Bar has tons of history in a major music town.

  26. Fort Collins, CO

    Most Underrated Venue: Magic Rat Live Music

    Fort Collins is a northern Colorado music capital, known for producing tons of great artists simmering just under the surface of the mainstream.

    Magic Rat Live Music, located in Old Town Fort Collins, offers great music on a weekly basis, from big-name artists to local late-night jam sessions.

    Fans of Magic Rat say that the place has “awesome ambiance, great music, even better acoustics, and a taco truck outside.”

    Artists who’ve played Magic Rat include Dead Winter Carpenters and Karl Blau.

    While you enjoy the music, there’s a full bar with plenty of canned beer (bonus) as well as beers on tap and mixed drinks.

    Score: 3.0 Tallboys

    Magic Rat is at the center of an underrated college music destination.

  27. Denver, CO

    Most Underrated Venue: Globe Hall

    Located in one of America’s major music hotspots, Globe Hall is an unpretentious saloon and live music venue serving Texas-style barbecue and beer.

    Shows at Globe Hall are known for intimacy. Lineups often feature artists on the verge of making it big. Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Cloud Nothings, Jackie Greene, Split Lip Rayfield, Andy Frasco, and The Japanese House have all played Globe Hall.

    Fans call the sound at Globe Hall “unreal,” and say that the venue “hosts great music, has affordable drinks and the food is delicious.”

    Score: 3.0 Tallboys

    Great live music, beer, and Texas-style barbecue all score high in our book.

  28. Salt Lake City, UT

    Most Underrated Venue: Loading Dock

    Salt Lake City is one of America’s fastest growing music towns and the Loading Dock is a big part of the reason why. The venue books a great selection of contemporary young artists on their way to the big time.

    The calendar tends toward, but is not limited to, emo, hard rock, and new hip hop. MC Lars and Spill Canvas have played the venue. And the shows are always all-ages.

    Those who’ve been call the Loading Dock small, but “great. The music filled the venue and the sound was well balanced.”

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    We can’t have too many all-ages venues.

  29. Boise, ID

    Most Underrated Venue: The Funky Taco

    Home to Built to Spill, Boise is an indie music capital.

    Located in Boise’s “restaurant row” is The Funky Taco, a music venue serving food with an emphasis on Asian, Indian, Mexican, and American culinary traditions.

    Local and regional acts play The Funky Taco, in genres ranging from country western revival to New York psychedelic and drone.

    There’s a full bar as well as a locally sourced food menu. Patrons of The Funky Taco say, “I was impressed with the food, customer service and the band, it was all awesome! The atmosphere was nice and cozy.”

    Score: 2.5 Tallboys

    Tacos and live music are some of life’s true pleasures.

  30. Tucson, AZ

    Most Underrated Venue: 191 Toole

    Tucson’s live music scene is central to its identity. 191 Toole is a great venue for catching local, national, and international artists passing through the desert.

    Known for an authentic, un-gentrified Tucson vibe, 191 Toole has a killer sound system, elevated stage, and an underground atmosphere. Genres range from soul to metal.

    Patrons of 191 Toole say that it has “the potential to be one of the best venues in Tucson. Local bands should definitely try to play here.”

    Artists who’ve performed at 191 Toole include Lemon Twigs and Mothers.

    Score: 2.0 Tallboys

    191 Toole is keeping authenticity in Tucson, a swiftly growing live music hotspot.