If you’re looking for bands coming to Washington, you probably scan the listings of the same clubs every week: the 9:30 Club, the Howard Theatre, the Birchmere. Maybe you glance at the smaller spots, such as Hill Country or the Velvet Lounge. In 2014, resolve to broaden your horizons (and open your ears) by checking out two venues that have yet to celebrate a year in business.
Neighborhood: Georgetown, though hidden from the main drag. The club is at 34th and K streets NW, under the Whitehurst Freeway. This makes it feel more rock-and-roll than if it sat on Wisconsin Avenue.
The vibe: A scaled-down version of the Hamilton or Rams Head Onstage. Expectations might not be high going into Gypsy Sally’s, because it’s on the second floor of a building that also houses the French restaurant and nightclub Malmaison. But wait until you see the room and hear the music. Ceilings are extra high, and there are no support pillars to block sightlines. Banks of tiered seating offer places to relax and enjoy clear views of the performers, or to eat dinner while watching the show. Those who prefer to stand or dance can head down to the open area between the seats and the stage, or to one of the bars along the walls.
Typical headliner: Gypsy Sally’s covers a wide spectrum of Americana, with headliners including former Muddy Waters guitarist “Steady Rollin” Bob Margolin, reigning International Bluegrass Music Association entertainers of the year the Gibson Brothers, alt-country band Girls Guns and Glory, and twangy singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks. No matter who’s performing or where you’re sitting, the sound is clear and punchy, thanks to a top-of-the-line soundsystem.
What can I eat? The menu features vegetarian and meaty flatbreads and burgers, plus veggie and vegan salads, a “hippy dippy trio” of veggie dips and the Alice B. Toklas Fudge Brownie, made with chocolate-covered hempseed.
What does a beer cost? These are Georgetown prices. Think $8 for a Dogfish Head.
Nice touch: The “Vinyl Lounge” next door has a Summer of Love theme, with a full-size VW bus parked by the front door, framed Grateful Dead posters on the walls, and Jimi Hendrix and the Who records set into the bar top. DJs spin vinyl records before and after concerts.
Venue information: 3401 K St. NW. 202-333-7700. www.gypsysallys.com.
Tree house lounge
The vibe: Going to the Tree House Lounge feels like going to a really fancy house show. It’s set on the second floor of a renovated brownstone, formerly home to a private cigar bar and lounge, next to Gallaudet University. The exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and large windows provide a polished look, if a little too new and glossy.
It also can resemble open-mike night at a college coffee shop, with anywhere from four to six acts sharing the stage on a weekend night. Owner Colin Hoss, néKhaled Hossainkhail, keeps things running smoothly. He’s an old pro, having booked bands at Glover Park’s Grog and Tankard for 27 years until he and his brothers sold the place in 2008. Colin, though, got bored and wanted to get back in the music game in an “up-and-coming area.”
Typical headliner: Bands you probably haven’t heard of, your friend moonlighting as a guitar-strumming troubadour, or a friend-of-a-friend’s blues-rock band from somewhere in the Midwest.
The artists at Tree House on any given night run the gamut from blues to folk to jazz quartets, with the occasional hard rock or hip-hop act. “We keep it melodic, and they have to be positive,” Hoss says. “We do pretty much everything except hardcore and death metal.”
Since opening last April, Hoss says he’s booked about 450 bands, 400 of which were touring acts. Packing the bills, Hoss says, allows him to pack in more people: “If you have two bands, you might have 20 people there. If you have five bands, you have 60 people there.” Bands get a cut of the standard $8 cover charge based on the crowd; when you walk in the door, you’ll be asked who you’re there to see.
Starting Jan. 29, local band Blues Train will host an open blues jam on Wednesday nights. Musicians are invited to bring their instruments and take a turn onstage.
What can I eat? Tree House Lounge doesn’t sell food, but there’s a Sicilian pizza shop next door, and customers are invited to carry pizza in. Otherwise, Union Market is a short walk down Florida Avenue. The restaurants and carryouts of H Street are a few blocks south.
What does a beer cost? Yuengling goes for $4 at the short bar in the back of the room.
Nice touch: Hoss says Tree House will soon expand to the first floor of the building, which will add another bar and more room for people to hang out between bands. A 21-seat patio will open with warmer weather.
Venue information: Tree House Lounge. 1006 Florida Ave. NE. 202-398-7700. www.treehouselounge.com.