The 15 best concert venues in D.C. to see a band

Enjoy pop, rap, indie rock and jazz at these locations old and new

Confetti falls on the crowd as Louis the Child performs at Echostage. (Jordan Sabillo)

Washington’s music scene has served as the city’s beating heart for as long as it’s been a city — a real city, mind you, not just a center of politics and power and people in stodgy suits. This is, after all, the home of Black Broadway and go-go and harDCcore. It’s the birthplace of Duke Ellington, Wale and Kelela.

Every night of the week, D.C. music lovers have had a host of choices on where to go, what to hear. Or they did, anyway, until the pandemic brought all that to a screeching halt. Beloved spots like U Street Music Hall (nicknamed U Hall) and Twins Jazz shut their doors, and many others struggled to stay afloat. By the second half of 2021, venues tentatively began putting on shows, with stipulations like mandatory masking and vaccination records.

Those venues that did manage to make their way, with admirable determination, through a seemingly endless pandemic are back in full swing — plus rock and rap and punk and every other conceivable genre. The city’s music landscape is now dotted with new joints that have just found their footing and legendary clubs that have been around for decades. This guide to D.C.’s concert venues will help you know what to expect of each spot — including the kind of insider info that staff and regulars all know.

This is not a complete list of Washington-area venues — options like the Birchmere, Wolf Trap and the Fillmore host diverse lineups just outside D.C.’s border, and, of course, the Kennedy Center and Capital One Arena regularly entertain crowds of thousands. But it will give you a sense of the city’s rich-as-ever music scene, and hopefully leave you pumped to catch a great show.

9:30 Club

(815 V St. NW,

9:30 Club is a long-standing fixture of the District’s music scene, but it still has some intrigue behind its brown brick walls. Look a little closer, for example, at the underground taproom, “the Back Bar,” off the lobby — it has the bar from 9:30’s original location at 930 F St. NW. It’s a space Communications Director Audrey Fix Schaefer dubbed the “Parent Depot” from the time when accompanying tweens to a pop-punk show was still in fashion.

9:30 Club is nostalgic for its history, and rightfully so; acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Violent Femmes played there when the venue (founded in 1980 for a primarily punk scene) was still called Nightclub 9:30. In September 2021, at 9:30’s first show after 18 months shuttered by the pandemic, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters announced that the next-door construction will soon be a smaller club — a replica of the club’s original space.

Since moving in 1996 to its current location, which was once the site of a music club owned by local jazz legend Duke Ellington, the venue has expanded to include a 1,200-person capacity and a moving stage designed to always give the space a standing-room-only feel.

Tip: If you’re looking for a caffeinated drink, try the upstairs coffee station. If you’re looking for a buzzier beverage, the mezzanine bar has a shorter wait time than the two bars on the wings of the pit. For a sweeter club treat, try a 9:30 cupcake.

The Anthem

(901 Wharf St. SW,

What do President Biden, Jerry Seinfeld, the National Symphony Orchestra and Lorde have in common? They’ve all performed at the Anthem. The hall, which has capacity for up to 6,000 guests, opened in 2017 on the Wharf, solving the District’s issue of what to do with artists too popular for 9:30 Club but not quite big enough to fill an arena. Enter under the now-iconic marquee into a cavernous room with three full-service bars and several tiers stacked along the wings (the first two rows on the second and third tiers have seating; behind that, there’s more standing room). Eats like bao buns, cheese hand pies and “the wharfle” — the venue’s spin on a chocolate waffle — are available for purchase at the main bars or the second-story marquee bar, which has views of the Washington Channel.

Tip: The Anthem is entirely cashless — make sure to bring your plastic.

The Black Cat

(1811 14th St. NW,

With its distinctive black-and-white tile floors and quarter-operated pinball machines, the Black Cat has long been a haven for all things indie. Walk through the entrance on a bustling 14th Street NW and up the stairs to enter the main space. At the back, the Red Room (which moved upstairs from its lower-level home in 2019) is more relaxed than the main bar, and it’s easier to sit down to make conversation. There are small, multi-stall bathrooms attached to the event space, but as a ticket collector announced to the entering crowd on a recent visit, “the good bathrooms are [on the main level] to the right.” Food hasn’t been sold in the venue since before the pandemic, but visitors can bring their own eats during a show. If you’re still hungry afterward, check out the restaurants and bars open late along 14th and U streets NW.

Tip: There’s a deal for $1 off all drinks after shows in the Red Room.

Songbyrd Music House

(540 Penn St. NE,

Since it opened its doors in Adams Morgan in 2015, Songbyrd has been a staple for the local and alternative music scenes. Its 2021 move to the Union Market area didn’t change that. The 200-person venue inherited the kitchen of what was formerly the island-inspired Coconut Club, so even though the kitchen in the new spot is less visible, it’s just as busy prepping burgers and sandwiches. Beers, ciders and canned cocktails go for under $10.

Down the street from Songbyrd, its sister shop Byrdland Records sells vinyl records, posters and more. It carries albums by bands that played at Songbyrd, purchased directly from the band or label, and organized in the shop by year.

Tip: Songbyrd uses the Dice platform for ticketing, which lets you join a wait list for sold-out shows. If ticket buyers can’t make it, they’ll sell their tickets back to the platform — no need to worry about scalpers.


(2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE,

For ravers, clubbers and thrill seekers, there’s no place like Echostage in the District — or in the country. Ranked second on DJ Mag’s 2022 list of best clubs in the world, it was bested only by a venue on the other side of the Atlantic. The venue can hold up to 3,000 people in its over-30,000-square-foot space, which, during showtime, often features flashing lasers, housemade confetti and smoke effects. The main level has only standing room, but a VIP ticket will get you access to a 21-and-older second level that can fit over 40 tables and couches. (Owner Pete Kalamoutsos says it’s a good place for older fans to sit down and watch the crowd from above.) Most shows run late; local DJs open around 9 p.m., but headliners spin tracks until around 3 a.m. on weekends. There’s no food sold in the venue, but the chicken joint Jerk at Nite, next door, is open until 3:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

Tip: Don’t push backward through a packed crowd if you’re near the stage. Side tunnels lead to the bathrooms and to the back of the venue for a quick and painless exit.

Comet Ping Pong

(5037 Connecticut Ave. NW,

Comet Ping Pong may be the only local venue where you have to pass through a room full of families finishing their ice cream sundaes to get to a punk show. During the day, movies like “Lilo & Stitch” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” are projected on a high screen in the exposed-beam main dining area. Arrive early to eat a build-your-own pizza (choose from three base sauces and almost 40 toppings) and try your hand at a round of ping-pong (paddles are provided, and balls are 25 cents from a gumball machine). Shows usually start around 10 p.m., after the restaurant closes.

Tip: The restrooms can be hard to find. Pass the bar and veer right — two single-stall bathrooms are hidden behind wood-paneled doors that blend into the wall.

Pearl Street Warehouse

(33 Pearl St. SW,

Stroll down cobblestone-lined Pearl Street on the Wharf and arrive at what feels like the most fun bar in a small town. Pearl Street Warehouse is decked out in checkered floors, warehouse-themed interior walls and a stage big enough to fit a whole bluegrass band, fiddlers and all. It opened on the Wharf in 2017 as an Americana-themed, bourbon- and beer-forward bar with live music. Visitors are never more than 25 feet from the performing artists, who play mostly rock, folk, country, soul, and rhythm and blues, though views are better from a mezzanine (which has a few extra coveted high-top tables and chairs). The “diner bar” at the entry serves all-American eats like burgers, fries, gumbo and chicken fingers, some of which are large enough to share.

Tip: While Pearl Street Warehouse has over 50 bourbons, try the hefty rum bucket — delivered in a takeout soup container and complete with colorful glowing ice — if you’d rather not make repeat trips to the bar.


(1940 Ninth St. NW,

The first floor of DC9, a club in a 110-year-old Shaw building, is unassuming. It looks like most area bars, with high-top tables, bar stools and big screens. But climb the stairs to the event space and you’ll find a stage nestled in the corner between disco balls — one of which is shaped like Darth Vader’s head. DC9 has hosted local and national artists from hip-hop to indie rock since 2004, but the venue also has an array of events that stretch the boundaries of what music venues usually do: kid-focused dance parties, academic talks, drag game shows and artists in residency (recently, this included a month of shows by Ari Voxx). The third-floor rooftop is heated in the winter and open in the summer, and food is available at any of the three bars — the bourbon balls are a venue specialty.

Tip: DC9 frequently hosts all-ages shows, but be sure to check the website — the venue is limited to those 21 and over unless otherwise noted.

Hamilton Live

(600 14th St. NW,

Enter the Hamilton, a sprawling downtown restaurant that’s owned by Clyde’s Restaurant Group, through the F Street NW entrance and head down the stairs. There you’ll find a spacious, tiered room lined with tables and chairs and two bars. Print portraits of musical greats hang on the walls. (“Get your merch under Bob Dylan,” says marketing manager Dave Cooper. “Tupac’s over the sound booth.”) Sometimes, during showtime, the sliver of space closest to the stage is cleared out to make standing room for a more energetic crowd. Other times, the only available seating is at the tables and high-tops, where you can order dinner off a special menu that includes beef stroganoff in a Mason jar. (Most of the tables are first-come, first-served. Arrive early to get your pick.)

Tip: The building’s third floor, the Loft, has free late-night music on Fridays and Saturdays. Take the elevator up from the Hamilton Live after a show to keep the party going.

Blues Alley

(1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW,

Founded in 1965, Blues Alley is one of the area’s (and the country’s) last remaining traditional jazz supper clubs. Its low lights and packed seats make for a speakeasy vibe that owner Harry Schnipper says is intentional. “Our dining room is an orchestrated ballet,” he joked, referring to the agility needed by servers to scoot through the small spaces between tables. But despite (or maybe because of) its intimate atmosphere, Blues Alley has hosted a slate of jazz legends: Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Sarah Vaughan and more. It’s a venue that hasn’t seen much change in the last half-century. The Creole-inspired dinner menu is approaching 10 years without alterations. The cell service isn’t great. The crowd skews older (on a recent visit, one visitor said he’s been coming to the club for the better part of five decades). There has, however, been one recent change: 8 and 10 p.m. set times were each moved up an hour — the shows now start at 7 and 9 p.m.

Tip: Blues Alley is one of the few venues around town that doesn’t require a QR code on a smartphone for entry. Buy tickets over the phone or at the box office; give your name at the door if you buy tickets online.

Howard Theatre

(620 T St. NW,

Founded in 1910 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Howard Theatre’s legacy is as respected as the artists — including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole — who have performed within its walls. During the early 20th century, the space allowed Black audiences to enjoy premier Black musicians alongside notable Washington patrons like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now, the spacious 1,200-capacity venue is host to a diverse selection of talent, ranging from rising star Gracie Abrams to beloved D.C. native Ari Lennox, with dance parties thrown in the mix. Be on the lookout for the specialty drinks board, as some shows will have curated beverages to put you in the perfect mood.

Tip: If you want to have a swankier night in this cashless establishment, get a balcony booth. The add-on includes waitstaff and an expanded menu.

Union Stage

(740 Water St. SW,

Tucked into Pearl Street NW on the Wharf lives Union Stage, a five-year-old venue that hosts a wide range of acts. Upstairs is a small bar where folks can grab a few drinks before the show starts but be close enough to not miss the opening act. Be sure not to pregame too enthusiastically, though — you must walk down a flight of tight stairs to see the stage. There you’re greeted with an industrial-chic, medium-size concert venue with standing capacity for about 450 people. A single bar adorns the right wall with a bright neon “Union Stage” sign draped above the copious liquor bottles. While Union Stage is cashless, there are tip jars for the bartenders downstairs, so bring cash if that’s your preferred method of tipping.

Union Stage is operated by the same folks as the Howard Theatre; neither establishment allows backpacks, but you can bring a small purse.

Tip: Arrive early if it’s a busy Friday or Saturday night, because the crowds can be overwhelming at the Wharf. And if the lines are long at the bars near the stage, consider heading back upstairs to order a drink.

Pie Shop

(1339 H St. NE,

Near the border of the H Street corridor sits Pie Shop, a venue that offers delicious pie and a diverse selection of live music. The pie portion of the evening is located at street level, with a walk-up counter where you can order your choice of sweet or savory pies, including sweet potato coconut, caramel apple crumble, roasted veggie quiche and Guinness steak pie (a winter favorite, according to owner Sandra Basanti). Upstairs is a modest stage, room for dancing and drinking, and an outdoor patio to enjoy during the warmer months. Doors usually open at 7:30 p.m., but Basanti recommends getting to the venue 30 to 40 minutes early, as there’s usually a rush right before doors open. Tables are sparse, so be prepared to stand as you eat your pie. Grab a local beer, nonalcoholic drink or Dublin donkey (a Moscow mule made with Irish whiskey) and enjoy an intimate show.

After Pie Shop closes, head to the Pug to keep the party going with a lot of the same crowd.

Tip: On-site tickets are cash only, so buy tickets online ahead of time if you want to pay with a card. Also, Pie Shop has earplugs available behind the bar if the show gets too loud for your tastes.

The Runaway

(3523 12th St. NE,

Named for the Runaways, this rock-and-roll-centric venue is “a classic dinner and a show” experience, according to manager Brian Dudolevitch. Known for its craft beer selection and creative burgers, the Runaway has a music venue space with seating downstairs and a second floor with a patio for those just looking to grab a bite. This is not a venue where you’re encouraged to arrive super early; “we’re a restaurant first and a venue second,” according to owner Christine Lilyea. “So we typically want people to arrive for shows around 8-8:30.” If you want to enjoy a meal first, come earlier so you have time to chomp down before you start moving. As this is primarily a restaurant, the stage and audience room is fairly small, allowing for an intimate experience.

Tip: Do try to show up early and get a burger. With gluten-free as well as vegan and vegetarian choices, this spot is perfect for a pre-show dinner that should suit all of your group’s dietary restrictions.


(6950 Maple St. NW,

Just a short walk from the Takoma Metro station lies Rhizome, a community arts space that strives to promote creativity in D.C. Founded in 2017, the unassuming white house on Maple Street NW is distinguishable from its neighbors only by its “Rhizome” sign and small art displays. Inside is where the space is transformed. The second floor frequently hosts art exhibits, while the downstairs is used for workshops and shows. Rhizome has a diverse events calendar, highlighting non-mainstream programming and sounds. The space can adapt depending on how it’s being used, but musicians often perform in the main living room with audiences filling in around them in the surrounding rooms. It’s not a concert hall, so get there early if you want a good line of sight.

Tip: Come with an open mind and comfortable shoes — to enter, you must walk to the back of the house through a gravel lot.