Berlin is a city of dance clubs. When searching for a quality musical experience, most in-the-know types will recommend one of the city’s premiere techno or electro venues for a banging night out. However, that’s not to say that you can’t find amazing Berliner live music venues that cater to everything from free jazz to hardcore punk to the newest up-and-coming acts—you just need to know where to seek them out.
Below, you’ll find our top five under-the-radarlive music bars and clubs that offer in Berlin, and while they may vary in size, scene, and clientele, if you want to take a step off the beaten path and possibly discover your new favorite band, these are the places to frequent.
Legend has it that his underground dive bar used to be a particularly seedy brothel, mere steps away from the Berlin Wall. Today, Madame Claude is a well-known alt-rock hang-out for Kreuzberg locals, with weekly events like DJ sets, open mics, and a particularly cutthroat music quiz. You may be familiar with Claude’s decor—it’s made to look as if you’re walking upside-down, with furniture, clothing, and books and glued to the ceiling (perfect for the Instagram-obsessed). Off to the side of the small bar area is an even smaller live music venue, where you can catch the Next-Next-Big-Thing play raucous sets to a tiny but fervent crowd.
Lübbener Str. 19, 10997 Berlin
Still technically a squat, Shokoladen is a must-see for music fans who like their venues to be a little on the scuzzy side. Located in a crumbling building on a more or less spotless street in Mitte, Shokoladen may not be quite as down and dirty as it was back in the day, but it will still surely bring back fond memories for old school punks. The performance space is pretty small, but like all squats, the staff/tenants are warm and friendly. If you’re not choosy, just show up on a random night and see who’s performing—could be anything from classic hardcore to reggae to ‘50s cover bands.
Ackerstraße 169, 10115 Berlin
Probably the newest venue on this list, FluxBau is a triple threat: home of Berlin’s FluxFm radio station, live music venue, and bar/restaurant with a brilliant terrace overlooking the Spree. By virtue of Flux’s already-excellent music curation, FluxBau boasts a well-rounded array of local and international indie acts, as well as DJs and dance parties. It’s a perfect rendez-vous spot for hardcore music fans who want to hang out somewhere slightly more upscale than your usual dive, while still rubbing shoulders with the hip crowd.
Pfuelstraße 5, 10997 Berlin
Jazz clubs, especially European ones, can be a tricky: they can either lack the authenticity and musical atmosphere to interest true jazz connoisseurs, or they can lay it on way too thick, alienating more casual listeners. Zig Zag finds a great balance between the two, and offers a more intellectual music experience without being lofty or intimidating. Located in Schöneberg, it’s a little off-the-beaten path if you’re more used to the trendier locales of Kreuzberg or Neuköln—however, it’s well worth the trip for its intimate setting and music that ranges form experimental to smooth to fusion. The only downside is that it can get rather crowded on a busy night, so if you don’t want to get stuck watching the performances from the back, make sure to get there early and nab a table.
Hauptstraße 89, 12159 Berlin
*Article written by Cameron Cook. Cameron is a freelance culture writer who moved to Berlin from NYC and loves exploring live music venues around town.
**Edited by Tulio Edreira.