What we love: The music. The Black Cat excels at the most important facet of being a rock club — hosting the best rock music regularly. If a band is playing the Cat, there’s a good chance it is worth hearing. This also goes for the carefully curated jukebox in the downstairs bar.
What we don’t: Getting in. A sold-out show at the Cat can mean a long wait outside, which is especially uncomfortable on a cold or rainy night. This is somewhat unavoidable, but the Cat’s system of showing your ID to one person, getting a ticket from another and giving that ticket to a third seems less than efficient.
--David Malitz, Sept. 16, 2011
The Scene: Washington's premiere venue for independent bands, the Black Cat is actually four venues in one. Upstairs, the main stage, which holds close to 1,000, has featured Blur, Bloc Party and Ted Leo as well as locals Q and Not U, Trans Am and Fugazi. (We hear occasional complaints about the sound, and how good the band sounds can depend on where you're standing.) On the first floor, the suitably dim Red Room bar attracts a t-shirted-and-Conversed indie crowd for beers, pool, vintage pinball machines and one of the finest jukeboxes around. Through the Red Room is the back stage, which holds maybe 150 people and is used for concerts by up-and-coming bands early in the week and DJ dance parties on Fridays and Saturdays. Finally, there's the vegetarian-friendly Food for Thought cafe, named for the Dupont Circle restaurant once run by the father of Black Cat owner Dante Ferrando. Got all that?
In Your Glass: Red Room Ale and Pabst Blue Ribbon are a bargain-basement $3.50 on draft, while most other bottled beers and pints cost around $5.The bartenders are known for their heavy hands when pouring mixed drinks and shots.
On Your Plate: Veggie burgers, vegan chili, a pile of vegan nachos covered with olives, mushrooms and red onions. The kitchen of the aforementioned Food for Thought doesn't turn out four-star cuisine, but it'll get the job done if you've got hunger pangs.
Need to Know: The Black Cat is all-ages all the time, and IDs are rigorously screened at the door before patrons get in. The entry process is actually time consuming: Hand your ID to the person at the door and get a hand stamp verifying your age. Then proceed to a nearby table to buy or pick up tickets. Take these tickets five feet away to the staffer guarding access to the upstairs concert hall, where you'll get another hand stamp showing that you're allowed into the show. Allow plenty of time to arrive for sold-out shows. Once you're inside, keep the credit cards in your pocket: All four bars are cash-only, which means that you can't run a tab with a bartender. An ATM is available if you find yourself running low.
Nice to Know: Tickets for upcoming events can be purchased at the front desk any night before midnight. Even better: There's no service charge.
-- Fritz Hahn (August 2006)