Twenty years of memories and Marlboros at the Black Cat

Let’s get this out of the way: Even as the Black Cat prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, with all-star lineups on Friday and Saturday, I still flinch when people call it “the Cat.” It’s two syllables either way. We’re not saving any time. “We’re headed to Black Cat.” Black Cat. “Meet me at Black Cat.” Black Cat, Black Cat.


(Mark Finkenstaedt/For The Washington Post)

When the club moved a few doors down 14th Street in 2001, my bandmates in Q and Not U briefly called it “Black Cat: The Movie” -- it felt like the Hollywood soundstage version of the club we all grew up in. The dance floor was the same checkerboard tile. The walls of the Red Room were that same blood red. The stars and moons painted in the lobby looked identical. But everything was bigger, the sound system was better and the place smelled like fresh paint instead of 10,000 Marlboros. “Black Cat: The Movie.” Who would play Dante and Bernie?

The bigger question in the D.C. punk scene back then was, “Will the Black Cat still be cool?” There was some worry that this newer, bigger club might be transformed beyond recognition, the way the 9:30 Club had been a few years earlier. Thankfully, the Black Cat maintained its commitment to local rock bands and continued to nourish the scene in countless ways. As a musician and a fan, some of the happiest nights of my life unfolded at 1811 14th Street.

Random memories:

• I stuffed my pockets with quarters my first night there because I heard on WHFS that Justine Frischmann from Elastica really liked the jukebox.

• When Chavez played the backstage on election night 1996, singer Matt Sweeney deadpanned that Bob Dole had won, which I believed until my dad picked me up.

• I’ll never forget the drummer from experimental Alabama punk band XBXRX charging out into the crowd to body slam Eddie Vedder, who happened to be in attendance and took it like a champ.

What are your Black Cat memories? Share them in the comments.

Chris Richards has been the Post's pop music critic since 2009. He's recently written about the bliss of summer songs, the woe of festival fatigue and a guide on how to KonMari your record collection.

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