Best alternative club: A showcase for punk and independent musicians, the Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW; 202-667-7960; blackcatdc.com) is also a hub for dance parties featuring music you won't hear at electronica and top-40 clubs. Forget the see-and-be-seen attitude–the crowd here just wants to dance, drink, and hear loud music they love. Indie pop, Brit pop, synth pop, and '80s and '90s alternative are staples of Friday and Saturday dance nights. Some parties, such as the Wag–'60s garage and soul–are narrowly focused. At the popular Mousetrap (second Saturday of the month), a diverse group shows up to hear Brit-pop icons like the Smiths and Joy Division and modern Brit hit makers like the Dandy Warhols and Belle & Sebastian. Annual parties like Anti-Prom ('80s alternative, new wave, and old-school industrial) and Morrissey vs. the Cure invite elaborate dress and celebration.
Best after-hours club: There are no gimmicks at Red (1802 Jefferson Pl., NW; 202-466-3475), just an unadorned basement and a steady beat until dawn. The mixed crowd is generally mature, the dress code relaxed. Until midnight, the living-room-size space is vacant; by 2, it's often packed. The music is a range of house, R&B, Latin beat, drum-and-bass, and funky breaks. Nothing too trendy or fancy. The dancing, on the other hand, can be impressive. When pros command the room, give them space. Late Sunday nights feature DJ Sam "the Man" Burns spinning his Underground Soul Solution, a more soulful brand of house.
Washingtonian staff contributing to this section were Chuck Conconi, Sherri Dalphonse, Susan Davidson, Mary Clare Fleury, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Stephanie Jones, Ann Limpert, Drew Lindsay, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Jeremy Stahl. Also contributing were writers Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Jenny Sullivan.