For the amateurs, it can sometimes seem kind of mysterious how you make the leap from making art or performing for the love to doing it more professionally. One roadblock can be experience—how can you find out what it’s like to play on a stage if you can’t land a gig playing on a stage? The answer can be the Open Mic, that old tradition of bars and coffee houses everywhere. For both aspiring professionals and folks just looking to have some fun and express themselves, the open mic is a golden opportunity. And it’s an opportunity for the audience as well—you get some free entertainment, and might just discover a gem before they blow up.
And it’s an opportunity for the venue, as well, as these events often have their own built-in audience that come to support friends and artists they admire—and drink and eat. So the bar or restaurant to offer free entertainment as well, and profits from it. It’s literally one of those win-win-win scenarios you keep hearing about.
Being a cool town filled with busy bars and coffee shops, Hoboken has plenty of open mic nights to offer. But which ones are worth your time? Whether you’re a performer looking to find out if you’ve got what it takes or a curious fan looking for some community-themed fun, here are some of the best open mic experiences in town.
If you’re a musician who’s always dreamed of playing a legendary stage, drop by Maxwell’s on any given Tuesday (well, make a reservation for a slot first) and get up on one of the most stories stages in rock history. They provide a full drum kit plus all the amps and cables, so all you and your group have to do is bring your instruments and your courage. The crowd can sometimes be a little mercilessly disinterested, but that’s part of the process, isn’t it? This is one of the biggest open mics in town, so competition is pretty fierce—but it’s also one of the most crowded and most fun.
Finnegan’s Pub on Willow is an intimate, friendly spot, and that’s exactly what it’s open mic is like. They encourage anyone to take the stage, even if you’re not the usual guitar-singer-songwriter type, and they’ll even try to hook you up with other performers if you don’t sing or just want to jam with folks. The crowd is friendly and pretty enthused for the open mic, as a rule, so it’s a great place to build up your confidence and experience while having a great time.
The Ale House
The Ale House has a low-key, casual and eclectic open mic every Monday night, combined with some pretty great happy hour deals. The atmosphere is set to Controlled Party, and they’re very chill about letting just about anyone take the stage, from musicians to comedians to just about anything else, and the host keeps things moving nicely. This is also a pet-friendly bar, so you can set the scene in your head: You, the doggo, a beer, some friends, and endless surprises in the form of unexpected free entertainment on the stage. And if you’re a performer, there’s no easier stage to get on in town.
For a change of pace, Bwè Kafe offers irregularly-scheduled open mic nights that focus more on spoken word performers than musicians—though the occasional singer can still be found there. Instead of trying to sing or shout over a raucous, drunken crowd, though, you can do something a little quieter, a little more thoughtful in the friendly and caffeine-soaked environs of one of Hoboken’s most comfortable coffee spots.
D’s Soul Full Cafe
A nice intimate space in a venue that is all about its community, every day (from 10AM to 8PM Monday through Friday and 9AM to 2PM on Saturdays and Sundays) you can hop on the stage at D’s Soul Full Cafe on Willow Avenue and play some music. Bonus: If you play two songs, you’ll get a discount on anything you’d like to order. It’s a tiny space, but if you’re looking for a friendly spot to practice and gets those songs out of your head, it’s kind of ideal. They do advise checking their social media to make sure they haven’t booked anything before heading on down there, though.
Farside also offers a regular blues open mic, but it’s gotten mixed reviews from folks, some of whom feel like the host/house band hogs the stage instead of letting the locals jam out as god intended. Open mics are a fun way to meet your neighbors and maybe learn they have a secret talent or two!