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10 Distinctly DC Music Venues You Have to Experience

Amazing Live Music Venues - Washington, DC

Where to go to catch a show

When it comes to DC’s music legends, the landscape is as diverse as the city itself: Duke Ellington, Chuck Brown, Marvin Gaye, Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl and Wale all share space atop the District’s musical Rushmore. Each artist has influenced the local landscape for years, but what’s the scene like these days? According to Conde Nast Traveler, DC ranked as the number one city for music lovers in 2015.

Whether you prefer jazz, go-go, hardcore punk, hip-hop or anything in between, you can find it on any given night in the District at these live music venues.

1 Rock out at America’s “best big room venue": the 9:30 Club
Rock out at America’s “best big room venue": the 9:30 Club

You heard that right. This standing room only hot spot features pristine sound and a whole lot of atmosphere – just ask Rolling Stone. The 9:30 Club has been at the forefront of the District’s music scene since its inception, and made its bones in the ‘80s hosting soon-to-shine acts including Chuck Brown, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Police. Since moving to its current location in 1996, world famous acts like Bob Dylan, The Beastie Boys and Radiohead have graced its stage. Make sure you see a show here, or catch Live at 9:30 on PBS.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro Station on Green and Yellow Line (815 V Street NW, Washington, DC 20001)

2 Explore The Black Cat
Explore The Black Cat Julian Ortiz

This haven for all things indie and alternative can proudly call DC rock legend Dave Grohl a part owner. No trip to The Black Cat is complete without a visit to The Red Room Bar, a go-to for scenesters and music lovers, and Backstage, a second performance area with a more intimate setting for up-and-comers, as well as dance-party DJs. Make sure to fuel up pre-show at the ever-veggie-friendly Food For Thought Café, and when the show’s over check out DC’s buzzworthy 14th Street scene.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro Station on Green and Yellow Line (1811 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009)

3 Feel the bass at U Street Music Hall
Feel the bass at U Street Music Hall @uhalldc

UHall,” as the locals call it, is a DJ-owned underground club right in the heart of bustling U Street known for bringing top electronic dance music talent and keeping the energy up from the second you enter. Two fully stocked bars, great sightlines, and one of the District’s most powerful sound systems are just a few of the reasons why Rolling Stone named it one of the best dance clubs in America.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro Station on Green and Yellow Line (1115 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009)

4 Spend the night at the Rock & Roll Hotel
Spend the night at the Rock & Roll Hotel Timothy Vollmer

No, this is not a hotel – but it certainly does rock. The independently owned-and-operated venue reserves its calendar for indie and alternative acts, with plenty of dance parties and DJ sets thrown in. Nestled in the heart of the H Street NE neighborhood, Rock & Roll Hotel also boasts a rooftop bar perfect for lounging or cutting a rug to one of the many spinners that come through.

Easiest Way to Get There: Taxi or Uber (1353 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002)

5 Get close with your buds at DC9
Get close with your buds at DC9 Alex Schelldorf

DC9 does small-scale shows with expertise. The first floor features a long bar and booths ideal for pre-show loungin’, plus a hunger-vanquishing food menu (read: South By burger). On the second floor you’ll find a stage level to the ground for an up close and personal experience. Finally, head upstairs to check out the expansive rooftop bar, another great spot for pre- or post-show drinks.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro Station on Green and Yellow Line (1940 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001)

6 Catch dinner and a show at The Hamilton
Catch dinner and a show at The Hamilton

A major bonus to catching a show at this music hot spot is that it doubles as one of the city’s most exciting restaurants (which stays open late!). Located just two blocks from the White House, a steady stream of jazz, funk, hip-hop and jam bands play the subterranean venue. So grab a table up close for a dinner club vibe or settle down in the standing room bar section.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the Metro Center Metro Station on Red, Blue and Orange Lines (600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005)

7 Raise your hands up high at Echostage
Raise your hands up high at Echostage Bryan Lee

Let out your inner raver and embrace PLUR (that’s peace, love, unity and respect) at DC’s largest indoor concert venue. The space is no match, however, for the state-of-the-art German sound system, perfect for DJs at the top of their game like Calvin Harris and Tiësto. While a pumped-up dance party is a regular occurrence at the venue, it also attracts artists like Sam Smith and Kid Cudi.

Easiest Way to Get There: Taxi, Uber and free shuttle from New York Avenue Metro Station on Red Line (2135 Queens Chapel Road NE, Washington, DC 20018)

8 Experience The Howard Theatre’s soulful vibes
Experience The Howard Theatre’s soulful vibes LaVan Anderson/Howard Theatre

Before Harlem’s The Apollo there was The Howard Theatre, situated just off "what was once known as “Black Broadway.” Shuttered for more than three decades, the venue was restored to its original luster following a huge renovation in 2012. Nowadays you’ll find a full spectrum of artists, including The Roots, Esperanza Spalding, Aaron Neville and Drake. Be sure to catch their famous Sunday Gospel Brunch, and before the show take a selfie with the Duke Ellington statue located just outside the theater.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk from the Shaw-Howard U Metro (620 T Street NW, Washington, DC 20001)

9 Watch your favorite artist shine at “The Jewel on U”
Watch your favorite artist shine at “The Jewel on U” Nicholas Karlin

When U Street was labeled “Black Broadway,” it had a lot to do with the Lincoln Theatre’s ever-potent lineup of top jazz artists (see: hometown hero Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday). Today, it serves as a hub for rock, hip-hop, jazz and every genre in between (even comedy). In 2013, I.M.P. Productions, which owns the 9:30 Club, took over the day-to-day operations and spiffed up the venue to make it sparkle as brightly as it did in jazz's Golden Age.

Easiest Way to Get There: Walk across the street from the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro Station on Green and Yellow Line (1215 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009)

10 Get your bohemi-on at Gypsy Sally’s
Get your bohemi-on at Gypsy Sally’s Germination Photography

Located a stone’s throw from the Georgetown waterfront, Gypsy Sally’s dedicates itself to acoustic Americana roots music. The venue channels the spirit of The Bayou, a since-closed Georgetown nightclub where Dave Matthews Band and U2 once played. The calendar is packed with regional folk acts, fast-pickin’ bluegrass bands and tribute shows.

Easiest Way to Get There: Taxi, Uber or DC Circulator (3401 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20007)

After the show, it's the after party. Explore all of your entertainment and nightlife options in the District.