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Guide to Washington, DC: Top Live Music Venues

Don’t be fooled by its stuffy reputation—Washington has some of the country’s best live music venues, from the storied 9:30 Club to the new but well-pedigreed Fillmore Silver Spring.

The Black Cat’s mainstage is a popular venue to catch local bands and touring up-and-comers. Photograph by Shervin Lainez.
Based on a famous San Francisco venue, the Fillmore Silver Spring opened in 2011. Photograph by Kyle Gustafson.

Whether you want to see the next Adele belting out tunes in an intimate setting or amps that go all the way up to 11, there’s plenty to choose from on any given night. Visit washingtonian.com/blogs/afterhours for more of our music coverage.

The 9:30 Club has a long and vibrant history of hosting top national and local acts. It emerged as the center of Washington’s alternative music scene in the 1980s and has maintained its status as the area’s most well-known club. The venue now features mostly mainstream bands, and it’s as popular as ever—the standing-room-only, 1,200-person-capacity concert space
regularly sells out. For big shows, expect spectators to start lining up hours before doors open at 7 PM. 815 V St., NW; 202-265-0930; 930.com. Metro Station: U Street.

Not far from the 9:30 Club is the Black Cat—home to two stages, a fully stocked back bar, and a broader selection of independent bands. The club’s mainstage concert room also hosts local bands and deejays, and the more intimate back room offers anything from solo artist concerts to independent film screenings. 1811 14th St., NW; 202-667-7960; blackcatdc.com. Metro Station: U Street.

DC9 hosts up-and-coming indie bands and weekly dance parties upstairs above the main bar at this U Street hangout. Be prepared to stand—the only seats in the 200-capacity club are the bar stools and booths on the first and second floors. Tickets are usually available in advance. 1940 ninth St., NW; 202-483-5000; dcnine.com. Metro Station: U Street.

Bohemian Caverns is a safe bet for any jazz fan. The basement club space hosted a who’s who of greats (Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few) ­before closing in 1968. It reopened 30 years later and is still one of Washington’s premier spots for live jazz. The venue also hosts Fatback, a popular deejay night, in its upstairs nightclub, Liv (livdc.com). 2001 11th St., NW; 202-299-0800; bohemiancaverns.com. Metro Station: U Street.

Known to locals as U Hall (get it?), U Street Music Hall opened in 2010, bringing a dance music and electronica venue to the already buzzing neighborhood. A recent partnership with the 9:30 Club means U Hall now offers more rock and indie bands in addition to its deejay-heavy lineup. 1115 U St., NW; 202-588-1880; ustreetmusichall.com. Metro Station: U Street.

Over on H Street, Red Palace is the result of two former neighbors, the Red & the Black and Palace of Wonders, joining forces two years ago to form a 200-­person-capacity venue featuring music acts and quirkier options, such as burlesque and other vaudeville-inspired shows. 1212 H St., NE; 202-399-3201; redpalacedc.com. Not Metro accessible.

Just a few blocks east of Red Palace is the Rock & Roll Hotel, a busy concert stop that includes everything from shows by punk, rock, and indie bands to rap and deejay sets. It’s not an actual hotel; rather, it’s a two-floor venue that in six years has gained a solid reputation. 1353 H St., NE; 202-388-7625; rockandrollhoteldc.com. Not Metro accessible.

Underneath the Hamilton, the latest downtown restaurant from the Clyde’s Restaurant Group (Old Ebbitt, 1789, the Tombs), is a fully fledged, 15,000-square-foot music venue with table service and a decent lineup of performers. The calendar includes a handful of well-liked local acts and some bigger names. 600 14th St., NW; 202-787-1000; thehamiltondc.com.
Metro Station: McPherson Square.

The Fillmore Silver Spring opened in 2011, bringing a long-awaited­ live music venue to Montgomery County. Ownership by industry leviathan Live Nation means the brand new, 2,000-­capacity club offers a diverse lineup—hip-hop act the Roots played two shows there this winter, as did Athens-based rock band Widespread Panic. And the club’s shiny new digs include all kinds of amenities for guests, including duck-fat fries served in easily portable takeout containers. 8656 Colesville Rd.; 301-960-9999; fillmoresilverspring.com. Metro Station: Silver Spring.

Merriweather Post Pavilion operates during the spring, summer, and fall, offering outdoor, ­amphitheater-style shows on 40 acres situated northeast of the city. Getting there can be a slog, but starry acts (Lady Antebellum on May 20, Foster the People on June 10) make it well worth the trip. And the venue’s capacity (around 19,000) means shows don’t often sell out, so you can catch bigger bands without having to resort to scalpers. 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia; 410-715-5550; merriweathermusic.com. Not Metro accessible.

The Birchmere is a solid spot to find golden oldies next to under-the-radar acts, along with a lot of bluegrass, folk, and R&B. The 500-capacity venue offers table seating with dinner service, so audience members can nibble on anything from a Greek salad to a grilled salmon filet while listening to the evening’s entertainment. 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com. Not Metro accessible.

The intimate confines of Iota provide more of a neighborhood cafe feel, but the club has developed a solid reputation as a music venue. John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Norah Jones all played this cozy, 150-capacity concert space ­early in their careers. Iota doesn’t sell tickets in advance, and entry to all shows is first come, first served, so make sure to arrive early. 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-522-2354; iotaclubandcafe.com. Metro Station: Clarendon.