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The District’s smaller music venues keep our musical horizons vast

Pie Shop on H Street NW, shown before a show on Aug. 22. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

Even if all the party people stay masked and healthy this fall, the return of our city’s nightlife will still only feel like a half-victory. That’s because the District lost more than a few essential music venues over the past 18 months, most of them small-to-midsize listening rooms that hosted a vital variety of sounds.

U Street Music Hall, the city’s greatest dance floor, is gone. Velvet Lounge, the U Street NW dive bar that hosted everything from avant noise to motley dance music, is gone. Two terrific jazz clubs — the cozy Twins Jazz on U Street NW, the sleek Sotto on 14th Street NW — are gone and gone.

And while area venues of all shapes and sizes need our support right now, the smaller spots probably need it the most. These are spaces where promoters and organizers routinely take chances on unproven touring acts and emerging local artists alike. The rooms might be small, but our community’s musical horizons would shrink exponentially without them. Here are five venues we can’t afford to lose.

Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society

Good news is a rare thing in D.C.’s increasingly fragile jazz ecosystem, but here’s some: After announcing its permanent closure in December, the homey, community-minded Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society in Brookland reopened on Aug. 8 with a performance from the Paul Carr Quartet. As the venue’s co-owner Deandrey Howard told the Washington City Paper last month, Alice’s is back by “popular demand.” But we’ll still need to be patient. Concerts are expected resume at the venue this fall after a plumbing repair.

2813 12th St. NE.

Pie Shop

With the long-standing Rock-and-Roll Hotel shuttering abruptly a few weeks before the pandemic hit last March, the neighboring Pie Shop now stands as one of the last steady music venues on a street that used to be teeming with them. This fall, the club’s schedule is bustling with metal, rap, indie rock and dance nights — and with a steady stream of local artists throughout, including bedroom-funk guy Jau Ocean on Sept. 24, jittery troubadours Poppy Patica on Sept. 25, post-post-punks Bacchae on Oct. 23 and hardcore rogues Corvo on Nov. 11.

1339 H St. NE.

The Pocket at 7 Drum City

Lots of great D.C. venues are annexed to steadier businesses (pizza spots, burger joints, breweries, boutique hotels, etc.) but the Pocket is different: It’s connected to 7 Drum City, a community-minded music center that hosts music lessons, rehearsal spaces and a repair shop for glitchy musical instruments. The building’s performance space was only open for five months before the pandemic hit, but now the Pocket is buzzing again, hosting R&B dreamer Knyves Escobar on Sept. 18 and jangle-droners Nice Breeze on Oct. 1.

1506-1508 North Capitol St. NW.


This nonprofit community arts space on the D.C. side of Takoma Park hosts the most adventurous music of any venue in the city, bar none, and it must be protected at all costs.

Its future isn’t totally certain. A proposed redevelopment project is expected to force Rhizome to move from its current building sometime over the next 12 months, but the timeline remains pretty vague. For now, it remains one of the city’s only safe havens for experimental and improvisational sounds — the veteran jazz organizers at Transparent Productions are hosting their entire fall concert series there, starting with a performance from violinist-violist Jason Kao Hwang and his Human Rites Trio on Sept. 12.

6950 Maple St. NW.


After years of booking a fantastic array of rap, punk, pop and more, Songbyrd is also scheduled to relocate in the months ahead — into the former Coconut Club space near Union Market — but the moving date remains uncertain. Until then, it’s business as usual in Adams Morgan, with the venue hosting the introspective soul of Chicago singer Keiyaa on Sept. 19, the knotty rhymes of New York rapper Mike on Oct. 14 and the new-wavey-neo-emo of California’s Hunny on Oct. 20.

2477 18th St. NW.

Read more:

Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society is unlike any other club in D.C., and maybe anywhere

As live music returns to D.C., the concert-going experience feels a little different

More outdoor concerts. Fewer clubs on U Street. What the D.C. music scene looks like now