In 2003, local DJ and club manager Bill Spieler was looking for a place to open his own music joint. After showing him a few duds, his real estate agent suggested a two-story space at Ninth & U streets.
“When I walked in, I just said, ‘Oh yes, this is the space,’ ” Spieler says. “I knew how great it could be as a live music venue.” The low ceilings and exposed beams would make for good acoustics, he thought, and the second floor was twice the size of the first, leaving plenty of room for a stage.
Spieler opened that space to the public as DC9 in February 2004, and in the decade since, he’s built it into one of the most reliably rocking clubs in the District. Starting Sunday, DC9 will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a week’s worth of live local acts, culminating with a reunion of the DJs of the now-extinct Nouveau Riche, one of the recurring parties that have given the club its reputation for raucous dance nights.
Another, Liberation Dance Party, helped make DC9 a prime destination for partiers sick of the Top 40 and the house music that dominated the local club scene. The indie music video night, which launched in 2004, ran every Friday for more than eight years before Spieler ended it last January in response to changing music trends.
“I was getting frustrated with the music of the time,” he says. “[It] was really slow and not a lot of energy.” Spieler now plays danceable remixes of those indie favorites at Coal Box, which started filling the Liberation Dance Party void last April.
Equal parts music hall, party spot and restaurant, DC9 has kept the crowds coming by making regular upgrades to the space and the staff. When Steve Lambert joined as booking manager in 2007, he brought a hefty Rolodex of music industry contacts with him, upping the caliber of bands that came through (including national acts like Japandroids, The xx and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). The wide range of music draws a diverse crowd — on some nights, you’re as likely to see a necktie as a neck tattoo. And the heated roof deck, which Spieler counts as one of the best decisions he’s made for the club, made DC9 a popular stop on the city’s outdoor drinking circuit when it opened in 2010.
The standard bar food that populated DC9’s menu in its childhood got a serious makeover, too, when Spieler’s wife, Amber Bursik, became chef in 2011. The classically trained chef makes nearly all the food, from the buttermilk-brined fried chicken to the kimchee, in house.
DC9 has seen many changes for the better over the years, but it’s also weathered some hardships. Spieler and four other DC9 employees were charged with homicide in October 2010 after a young man, Ali Ahmed Mohammed, threw a brick through the club’s window and died while the DC9 crew restrained him until police could arrive. Before the charges were dropped the next month, several booking agents vowed to boycott the club.
“It was a little bit scary,” Spieler says. “But those people that had been to the club were quite shocked and couldn’t believe that it was true. So when we were able to open back up, those people came back in droves.”
Spieler says he never expected DC9 to hit the decade mark — he’s a live-in-the-moment kind of guy. But with a new Sunday brunch starting this spring and a neighborhood that’s getting busier by the day, DC9 looks ready for its tween years.
Lovin’ This Club
DC9 celebrates its first decade with a week of special shows:
Sunday: Regents — Heavy-duty punk from rockers raised in the hardcore scene. 7 p.m., $10
Monday: Chain and The Gang — Ian Svenonius’ cheeky, bluesy, sometimes political ’70s throwback. 8 p.m., $10
Tuesday: Justin Jones — Melodic, soulful alt-country with an edge. 8 p.m., $10
Feb. 13: Supreme Commander — Classic, riotous hardcore and a venue favorite (lead singer Boo Dixon once worked at the club). 8 p.m., $10
Feb. 14: Dead Meadow — Psych-rock at its fuzziest, lousy with face-melting guitar solos. 8 p.m., $13; Liberation Dance Party — It’s back for one night. 9 p.m., free
Feb. 15: Nouveau Riche — A trio of DJs spinning anything danceable, from ’80s house to today’s pop. 9 p.m., $10
DC9, 1940 Ninth St. NW; 202-483-5000. (U Street)