Most nights call for something much more low key. So we set out to find great places that don’t sell tickets for live music — heck, they don’t even charge cover fees. Here’s what they offer: a spontaneous outing where you can comfortably enjoy a concert with friends, while sipping a martini or snacking on fries. Did we mention there are actual seats?
These spots make for a delightful time. They also happen to have free live music.
For the craft beer aficionado who appreciates a good pub
When: Monday at 10 p.m., every other Thursday at 9 p.m., Saturday nights beginning in June.
When Boundary Stone expanded into an adjacent storefront in December, customers at the perpetually crowded Bloomingdale pub got more than extra elbow room: They got a stage for live entertainment, too. Boundary Stone hosts a Monday night open mic showcase run by local folk singer Reed Doherty. It’s a late-starter, with the first act after 10 p.m., but half-price draft beers make up for lost sleep. On Thursdays, the entertainment varies: One week might feature the Harry Bells, a brassy calypso and merengue tribute to Harry Belafonte; the next could bring the Plate Scrapers, a traditional bluegrass quartet from Western Maryland.
The schedule will expand to Saturdays in June: The Haystack Mountain Boys perform June 11, and Boundary Stone owner Gareth Croke plans to have music on weekends once a month. While it’s possible to hear the music on both sides of the building, the low stage can make it tricky to see the bands, so early arrival is suggested. — Fritz Hahn
For the Buena Vista Social Club buff who’s craving something new
Where: Rumba Café, 2443 18th St. NW. 202-588-5501.
When: Sunday beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Is that the sound of the Beatles’s “And I Love Her”? Yes, it is, but before you can get too comfortable, Cuban musician Pavel Urkiza has melted the song into a rendition of the classic bolero “Dos Gardenias.” Urkiza, who moved to Annapolis from Madrid about a year ago, takes lyrics you may recognize from a Buena Vista Social Club album and creates an Ibero American tune, inflected with flamenco, rumba and son, that somehow mixes seamlessly with a ’60s pop song. Urkiza sings and plays the guitar accompanied by percussionist Rigel Pérez, while most of the Sunday-night crowd whispers in fast-Spanish and dines on an eclectic mix of Latin American dishes and drinks, such as bean-stuffed arepas and pisco sours. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when Urkiza shakes a rattle-like instrument made from a dried gourd. It sounds just like its name: chekeré. — Emily Codik
For the traditional Irish music groupie who wants to sing along
When: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
In Ireland, good music is the bedrock of a community pub, and the Limerick Pub is no different. While the Wheaton watering hole regularly hosts singer-songwriters who know their way around a rebel song or two on weekends, its calendar features live music four or five nights per week. Look for Americana and folk performers, rock bands, jazz trios and the bawdy a capella harmonies of the Misbehavin’ Maidens. If you’d like to put down your pint of Guinness and join in, there’s a traditional Irish session every Wednesday that’s open to anyone with an instrument, plus monthly sea shanty and folk nights when singing along is welcome. — Fritz Hahn
For the jazz lover who’s also really into brunch
When: Sunday from 12:15 to 3 p.m.
Fans of jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald — and such Southern-inspired dishes as shrimp and grits — will fit right in at JoJo Restaurant and Bar. The brick-walled two-level dining space, open since 2003, offers a dose of jazz, blues, funk, soul or R&B six nights a week. But it’s the brunch that sets JoJo apart. For nearly a year, vocalists Anthony Compton and Maija Rejman have hosted the Jazz Singers Jam on Sundays, a laid-back afternoon when artists of all skill levels can take the stage for songs and poetry, while the menu lists eggs Benedict and omelettes with spinach and feta cheese. The jam isn’t only for amateurs, though. During the session, Compton and Rejman perform renditions of jazz tunes, and you usually can catch John Lee on guitar, Nicole Saphos on bass and Ele Rubenstein on drums. From the second floor, you can only see a live stream of the show, so it’s best to arrive early for a table downstairs, an intimate space that’s better suited for small groups. — Macy Freeman
For the country music fan who’s looking for a classic sound
When: Tuesday through Saturday, and some Sundays. Most weeknight shows begin at 8:30 p.m.; most Friday and Saturday shows begin at 9:30 p.m. Times vary for touring acts.
Country music fans know Hill Country’s basement honky tonk as a place to catch shows by Billy Joe Shaver, Roger Creager and other Texas troubadours. But the majority of performances that take place on the low stage — in front of a giant Lone Star flag made of denim — are free. Just show up, find a space at the bar or at one of the long communal tables, and introduce yourself to such up-and-comers as Girls, Guns and Glory; the Whiskey Shivers; or singer Angaleena Presley, who played much bigger venues during her time with Miranda Lambert in the Pistol Annies. Music is offered Tuesday through Saturday nights, although Wednesdays are almost always reserved for live-band karaoke, which can be hit or miss from song to song. — Fritz Hahn
For the group of girlfriends who can’t decide where to go
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan does not charge cover. The bar typically issues a cover charge of $3-$5, except on Thursdays when female patrons receive free admission.
When: Thursdays at 9 p.m.
Madam’s Organ has been around for two decades — and for good reason. The Adams Morgan blues bar and soul food restaurant packs decently priced drinks and live music into three cavernous floors. The bar’s bands perform every night: the reggae-funk quartet One Nite Stand on Mondays, Madam’s Organ’s all-star jam band Clusterfunk on Tuesdays, the Human Country Jukebox Band on Wednesdays and the Johnny Artis Band on Thursdays. The latter, a fan favorite, mixes classic rock and old school R&B with tracks such as “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” It’s the kind of sound that lends itself to head-bobbing from the bar, though some audience members also go all-out two-stepping on the dance floor.
On Thursdays, female patrons don't have to pay the usual $3-$5 cover charge, so you could please everyone in your group of girlfriends by starting with Drunkeoke (um, drunk karaoke) on the second floor’s small stage, then checking out the rooftop bar’s sweeping views and hip-hop tunes before going back down to jam again. — Lauren McEwen
For the early bird who wants a mellow night out
When: Tuesday-Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 6 and 9 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 4 and 8:30 p.m.
Nestled between Club Heaven & Hell and Town Tavern, the modest, dimly lit Columbia Station offers soothing jazz standards, bebop and modern jazz songs without the din of chatter. Want a drink? Order from a selection of $10 martinis named after jazz greats, such as the Billie Holiday-Tini, made with melon liqueur, or the Charlie Parker Blues, splashed with pineapple juice. If you’re hungry, dinner options include herb roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes, and New Orleans-inspired fettuccine with sausage and shrimp. On most weeknights, you won’t find a large crowd, so you can relax and enjoy pianist Peter Edelman’s rendition of “Recado Bossa Nova” or selections from Miles Davis’s “Milestones.” Good news for early birds: Performances start at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. — Macy Freeman
For the eclectic music fan who loves local beer
When: Weeknights at 8 p.m. and weekends at 9 p.m. (Times may vary.)
Although brewing has taken a while to get going, Clarendon’s Sehkraft Brewing has been strong on live music since its early days. Its first house-brewed beers are expected to debut in May, but in the meantime, rockabilly groups, jam bands, blues-rock trios, mods and Americana acts have appeared on the round stage four to six nights a week. “We Are the 9,” a showcase starring a diverse lineup of nine local songwriters and performers, pops up once a month. Admission is free on weeknights, but there’s a cover charge of $5-$10 on Fridays and Saturdays after 9 p.m. It’s the perfect excuse to get to the bar early — just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to pick one of the 40 draft beers before the music starts. — Fritz Hahn