and small concert venue
at 217 East Houston St. in New York City
The bar extends down the left-hand wall toward the back and the "box office" (a person at a small table) and band merchandise area are to your immediate right as you enter. The bar area is extremely narrow and difficult to navigate when crowded. There is a coat check ($2.00) at the end of the room, opposite the front door.
"Wooden" is the decor of choice; hardwood floor, wood panelling on the walls. Dark wood lit weakly by decorative, low-wattage bulbs. The bar itself has an old tombstone set into a portion of the countertop (the building once housed a monument-seller). The general feel is moody, but welcoming. However, the real action isn't out here by the bar.
At the back of the room, by the coat check, is a door blocked by a red curtain. Push this curtain aside and you're in the concert area.
Brick takes over from wood back here, at least on the walls. The only seating is along the two walls perpendicular to the stage; a few tables with benches on one side and chairs on the other. Otherwise, you're standing. Mercury Lounge is always general admission, so space by the stage is first come, first served.
The 30' x 10' stage is approximately waist height; combined with the small size of the room (30' x 40'), that makes visibility is pretty good from just about anywhere (interference by Very Tall People notwithstanding). The sound is excellent, especially compared to other small concert spaces in New York. The only complaint might be excessive bleed from the monitors for those packed in right at the foot of the stage, but those folk only have themselves to blame, don't they? Lighting is adequate; nothing impressive, like racks of Intellibeams or anything, but enough to see the band and color the place up a little.
The bathrooms are out by the bar, so a push through the crowd is required. Bathrooms are a tad cleaner than the usual Lower East Side bar johns are, but certainly not pristine.
Drink prices seem to be fairly standard for New York. But hey, we're here for the music, right? And if you don't want to pay for a bottle of water, just steal the band's water off the stage. You can get close enough to do that. Trust me.
The Merc books generally indie rock and folkish acts, but doesn't limit itself to any specific genre. I've seen blues, funk, soul, jam rock, r&b (of the real, original variety), etc. there. They Might Be Giants played an awful lot of shows here before deciding they could just as easily sell out the Bowery Ballroom further downtown and play fewer consecutive nights. Mercury's website also boasts Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Bikini Kill, Tony Bennett, Luscious Jackson, Jeff Buckley, Ween, Frank Black, and Radiohead among others. So small size doesn't limit the range of talent you can see there.
All in all, the Mercury Lounge is a great place to see a show. They also choose to eschew Ticketbastard and vend tickets (being also the box office for the Bowery Ballroom) themselves and via Ticketweb, so that's worthy of support.