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Welcome to the Club: An oral history of D.C.'s 9:30 club on its 30th anniversary

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DiSanto: Opening the 9:30 club was not something I wanted to do. I'd studied in Europe, and I was living in New York and was in a small theater company. But it was just meant to be. Bill Warrell, who was housing some of the new music at d.c. space [at Seventh and E streets NW], was the main alternative-music person downtown at that time and lived in the Atlantic Building; he was super-enthusiastic about the prospect of the club.

Bill Warrell, d.c. space founder and 9:30 club consultant: I remember meeting with a design firm for about four days, trying to come up with a name for the club. One name that almost stuck, which was absurd, was Chair Dancing Nightly. Tuba Dancing was another one.

Paige: There were a lot of different names. Two I remember -- and I don't think they got too far -- were Aerosol and Cool Whip.

Warrell: The 9:30 club was the only name everybody could agree on. Everybody got all excited: It'll be a time, it'll be a place! We'd open at 9:30, it'll be at 930 F.

DiSanto: That's how we got the digital 9:30 logo, which was really cool.

Warrell: But in Washington, D.C., you're losing half your business opening at 9:30. This isn't New York, where you start your night at 10 o'clock. The show's gotta be on by 8. It took about six months to realize that.

DiSanto: Before we opened, we painted the walls and bought a sound system. But the space was the space, and the budget was not much. This electrician who worked for the building kept coming into the office, and would say: "You know, they're tearing down the Elk's Lodge. You gotta go up there and see what they have. I know the guard." It was right up 10th Street. We finally went and our minds were blown. It was filled with tables and chairs and leather couches.

Warrell: We took everything we could get into a couple of little pickup trucks. And there was a gorgeous old wooden bar that ran the length of the hall downstairs. You couldn't pay to get a bar like that. Jon called somebody to bring a chainsaw, and we cut out probably 16 feet of the bar and some sections of the mirror behind it. We put it on the back of this Toyota, and it was twice the length of the bed. The rest was sticking out, with four of us holding it. All of the sudden, police come out of nowhere, lights flashing. But they let us go. That bar is downstairs now at the new 9:30 club.

DiSanto: The first show was amazing, packed, sold out, awesome. It was instantly a scene.

Bob Boilen, Tiny Desk Unit synthesizer player and now host of NPR's "All Songs Considered": Dody knew how to throw a party. She was, like, the greatest host in the world.

Natasha Reatig, clubgoer: It looked beautiful, even though it was a black box in grungy, forgotten downtown Washington. The back bar had flowers and a fish tank, and everybody looked elegantly underground. The costuming and makeup and the effort that went into presentation was fully 30 percent of the fun.

Larry Wallace, clubgoer: The music was the big draw. But a lot of my friends were equally drawn by fashion, and that wore off on me. You wanted to differentiate yourself, and the look was a way to do it. I remember these elaborate scarf-like things and blousy shirts, hats. The hair goes without saying. How it was styled was big.


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