DC’s Best Places to Jam

January 6, 2014

It’s no secret that D.C. has a rich legacy of music. Between the birth of go-go and harDCore, not to mention its relationship with jazz, hip-hop, indie rock, and countless other genres , the history of D.C.’s music scene could fill up a book (which it has, many actually). But almost as legendary as the music it’s produced are places to catch live music. While many a venues have come and gone over the years, the city still boasts a rich and diverse list of places to catch live music. Below, are some of DCist’s contributors favorite music venues in the city.

DC9: Smaller than the Rock & Roll Hotel or Black Cat, DC9 is one of DC’s top venues because its shape invites intimacy. It’s a large L, with the stage at the corner. The stage is not too far off the ground and the ceilings are low, so it’s easy for audiences to crowd-surf or hang from the ceilings. Bands from all genres keep returning to this space precisely because shows at DC9 are always more fun. — Alan Zilberman

DC9 is located at 1940 9th St. NW.

THE DUNES: The Dunes is part art studio, part bar, part stage, but its “multi-use” moniker applies also to the laudable range of music and events it holds, which attracts an appropriately interesting, hip crowd to match. Drop by on any given night and you might catch the Flashband Project (this past September, a gaggle of newly formed, temporary bands were challenged to do mashups of zydeco+punk and celtic+ska+glam rock—and it worked!), to the “nerdcore vaudeville” of The Encyclopedia Show, to a chili-making contest. Bring cash and expect to stay longer than planned. — Alexis Hauk

The Dunes is located at 1402 Meridian Pl. NW.

JAMMIN’ JAVA: Located all the way out in Vienna, Jammin’ Java doesn’t look like much: An unremarkable strip mall coffee house. But at night, the space turns into a great venue that hosts a huge variety of artists. I once saw Akron/Family lose their
href=”http://vimeo.com/4865760″>minds there, jamming for several hours as the small crowd jumped around. Somehow, being in a strip mall coffee house made it all the more special. — Sarah Anne Hughes

Jammin’ Java is located at 227 Maple Ave., E Vienna, Va.

BOHEMIAN CAVERNS: If you live in D.C. and can’t get enough live jazz, then make Bohemian Caverns your home-away-from-home. The Caverns’ proprietor, Omrao Brown, has re-established the historic club as the District’s best. First opened in 1926 as the Crystal Caverns, the room has hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and a who’s who of jazz icons. Brown’s programming includes NEA Jazz Masters, exciting local acts who serve month long stints as Artists-in-Residence and edgier sounds as part of its Sundays @ 7 series. Those new to jazz should stop by the club on Monday nights, where the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra offers two sets of music for just $10. The 17-piece band used to be a hidden gem, but not anymore, for it packs the place out on a regular basis. — Sriram Gopal

Bohemian Caverns is located in the basement at 2001 11th St. NW.

U STREET MUSIC HALL: U Street Music Hall boasts not only the best sound in D.C., but one of the best sound systems in the country. It’s no wonder why top DJ’s name check U-Hall and constantly come back. Since the club’s opening in 2010, U-Hall has brought some of the best DJ’s and electronic musicians to town, while being the home base for Moombahton. The 500-capacity venue has constantly booked soon-to-be big acts, and with their collaborations with the 9:30 Club and All Things Go, the venue has diversified its booking, roping in bands like Haim and Disclosure way before they sell out the big venues. U-Hall is a place for everyone—straight, gay, questioning, whatever. As long as you aren’t a laptop-closing douche you’re welcome at the club. — Rohan Mahadevan

U Street Music Hall is located at 1115 U St. NW.

BLUES ALLEY: Blues Alley, literally housed in an alley, one block south of the M Street drag, has the most name recognition of any club in D.C. For decades it was the go-to club in the District, but competition and economics have changed that of late. Increasingly, many nights are devoted to smooth jazz, which is all well and good if that’s your thing, but that doesn’t mean that fantastic artists have stopped coming to the club. — Sriram Gopal

Blues Alley is located at 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

SIXTH & I HISTORIC SYNAGOGUE: Don’t let the gorgeous domed roof and six-pointed stars fool you—Sixth & I is more than just a synagogue. In addition to hosting services and community events for the Jewish community, the intimate space plays host to various speakers and musical artists. Curved archways and warm light make the space feel cozy, and nearly every seat affords a good view of the small, semi-circular stage. Maybe it’s the physical proximity to the stage, or maybe it’s the pews, but it’s hard not to feel a sort of hushed reverence fall over the crowd when a musician takes the stage. Sixth & I isn’t for some drunk, dance-your-face-off show, but it’s damn near perfect for thoughtful, carefully-savored performances. — Alicia Mazzara

Sixth & I is located (naturally) at 600 I St. NW.

LINCOLN THEATRE: As a short, flat-footed person, standing shows can be a challenge. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend the night staring at the back of some dude’s head, hoping no one spills beer on you while trying to ignore stabbing back pain. (Yes, dear readers, even millennials get old.) The Lincoln Theatre has helped bolster my newfound appreciation for seated concerts, and not just because the seats are comfy and the stage is beautiful. The former center of D.C.’s “Black Broadway” was recently taken over by the I.M.P. Productions, the folks behind the 9:30 Club, who have filled the line-up with everything from singer-songwriters to classic rock and neo-soul. Ushers lead you to your seats, the room is legitimately dark except for the stage, and the sound is full and lush. It’s all a reminder of the venue’s past, connecting you to a slice of D.C. history. — Alicia Mazzara

The Lincoln Theatre is located at 1215 U St. NW.

THE KENNEDY CENTER: The late Billy Taylor established the Kennedy Center as a jazz destination during his tenure as Artistic Advisor for Jazz. The Center received universal applause when it named Jason Moran to the role after Taylor’s passing, and Moran has not disappointed. Moran had a vision of not only showcasing every facet of jazz through his programming, but also using the Kennedy Center’s vast facilities to present jazz in unexpected ways. — Sriram Gopal

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2700 F St. NW.

9:30 CLUB: No list of best music venues is complete without the 9:30 Club. Hell, as good as many of the other venues on this list are, none have the ubiquity of the 9:30 Club. There is a reason why this club consistently tops “Best Venues in the Country” lists. The 9:30 Club just rules. Almost every show sells out, and if it doesn’t it’s always pretty damn packed—a testament to the club’s solid booking. Ask almost anyone in this city and they will have a 9:30 Club story. 9:30 isn’t just one of the best venues in D.C. it’s one of the best in the world. — Rohan Mahadevan

The 9:30 Club is located at 815 V St. NW.

CASA FIESTA: The Tenleytown Mexican restaurant that sits in the shadow of Fort Reno has turned into a surprise destination spot for upstart punk and metal bands in 2013. Waxahatchee, Diarrhea Planet (the joke writes itself), and Noisem are just a few of the national acts that have played there this year, and it hosts local/regional shows regularly. Most of the shows run between $5-10. Go for the tamales, but stay for the rock show upstairs. — Andy Hess

Casa Fiesta is located at 4910 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

VELVET LOUNGE: Velvet Lounge has long held the title of the dive-iest of the city’s dives, boasting an overabundance of band stickers, cheap beer and the worst bathrooms in the city. Also, this was the place where stumbling in after midnight (because let’s face it, the sets would always run late) still guaranteed catching at least one band. Moreover, the band was probably good since the Velvet Lounge was a reliable outpost for weird, noisy, and experimental acts. Velvet has cleaned up its act a little as of late. There’s now a bar (and a much cleaner bathroom!) upstairs and the shows tend to run on time. Their schedule also veers increasingly more toward local bands than visiting noisemakers. However, the dive-y vibe remains, the music is still loud and at the end of the night, there’s probably a dance party raging downstairs and a slice of pizza waiting outside. — Valerie Paschall

Velvet Lounge is located at 915 U St. NW.

BLACK CAT: A few months ago, Black Cat celebrated it’s twentieth anniversary. Twenty years is a long time for a music venue to be around, which means the Black Cat must be doing something right. From the checkered floors of the main stage, to the kitschy Black Cat painting in front of the sound booth, everything about the venue feels iconic. It’s remained relatively unchanged since it first opened a few blocks down the street in 1993, adding all the more nostalgic charm to it. The acoustics of both the main stage and back stage lends credence to its legacy as one of D.C.’s best, and its history of showcasing some of the best local bands truly makes it a legendary venue. — Matt Cohen

The Black Cat is located at 1811 14th St. NW.

ST. STEPHEN’S CHURCH: OK, St. Stephen’s isn’t technically a music venue, but, like the Black Cat, it also has a rich history in D.C.’s storied music legacy. In the ’80s and ’90s, the Columbia Heights church played a pivotal role in the development of harDCore, and continues to regularly host punk, metal, and hardcore. Over the years, it’s been the perennial host for many a Positive Force benefit show, and often hosts out-of-town touring bands who don’t feel comfortable playing in a bar setting. Best part is, St. Stephen’s is an all-ages venue, making it a safe haven for District teens to catch live music (or even a venue for young bands to play at!). — Matt Cohen

St. Stephen’s Church is located at 1525 Newton St. NW.

THE PAPERHAUS: The Paperhaus—located in Petworth—also isn’t technically a music venue, it’s a someone’s house. But the DIY house venue has hosted hundreds of shows over the past several years, and it seems unfair to not call it out as one of the best venues in the city. The house, which is occupied by the psychedelic blues/rock/post-punk band Paperhaus (obviously), quite literally is a large living room. But come showtime, the residents manage to transform it into a functional venue, with lights, decent sound, and ample acoustics. Over the years, the house’s chief booker (and resident) Alex Tebeleff has booked a widely eclectic range of touring indie bands from all over the world, and it’s gained notoriety for being one of the best DIY venues in the country. — Matt Cohen

The Paperhaus is located at 4912 3rd St. NW.

COMET PING PONG: In addition to being the only venue in the city that comes attached to a gourmet pizza restaurant, it’s one of the premier sites in the city for seeing edgy garage rock. While there are certainly bands that best fit the warehouse-y vibe of the small back room, it’s also possible that you’ll see bands here first that grace the city’s larger rooms like the Howard Theatre (Mykki Blanco) or Black Cat Mainstage (Ty Segall) five months down the line. Furthermore, booker Sasha Lord is well-connected within the city’s music scene so when the Make-Up played a secret and unannounced set, it was here. As with most of the venues in D.C., this one is all ages. — Valerie Paschall

Comet Ping Pong is located at 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW.

AS PUBLISHED BY DCIST: Matt Cohen

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