Hidden Music Haunts: Where to see Live Music in Washington D.C.

By: Sascha Zuger

September 25, 2013

It’s not all about well choreographed politics in this town – check out these underground destinations for live music in Washington to see where the real movers and shakers hang out. Just hop on a flight to Washington D.C. to discover the city’s best music haunts.

U Street Music Hall

As a DJ owned-and-operated basement joint, it’s no wonder that the focus here is on quality music, without the bottle-service-VIP-look-at-me vibe. Friendly door and bar staff, reasonable drinks and help yourself free ice water lead to an eclectic crowd of serious music lovers flooding the floor to enjoy the talents of a revolving list of house and techno spinners. U Street Music Hall is a place where everyone is cool enough to have a great time (complemented by a couple of industrial fans aimed at the free spirited dance floor).


Tropicalia | Washington DC

Tropicalia © Funk Ark and Tropicalia

If you’re looking for international beats, a little Latin flavour, and an intimate club with big live music potential, then Subway can bring you there. The sandwich chain, which sits above this tucked away and often-cover-free Brazilian hotspot, marks the entrance to one of D.C.’s most happening haunts. Grab one of their much-touted caipirinhas and hit the dancefloor to pounding samba, bossa nova, reggae, calypso, afro-funk, salsa and even a Latin orchestra on Friday nights.

Blues Alley

Blues Alley | Washington DC

Blues Alley © Rudi Riet

This candlelit supper club, featuring authentic N’awlins cuisine named after former performers, is located (appropriately down a Georgetown alley) in an 18th-century carriage house. As a classic jazz “˜listening club”, the twice nightly shows – with an occasional late night set on weekends – are the main focus. The stage here has played host to many jazz greats, from Dizzy Gillespie to Wynton Marsalis, who told the Washington Post: “The ambience is one of the best of any jazz club in the world.”

9:30 Club

9:30 Club | Washington DC

9:30 Club © LaVan Anderson

Fans of music from punk to hip hop can catch nightly concerts at this multi-level club, with the all-ages shows offering standing room only. On-site food is served throughout the opening act and is largely organic and vegan/vegetarian friendly. The four bars make it blissfully easy to grab a quick drink without missing out on the show whilst waiting in line at a busy bar.

Eighteenth Street Lounge

18th Street Lounge | Washington DC

18th Street Lounge © 18th Street Lounge

With five distinct vintage rooms, (The Main Room, The Gold Room, The Studio Bar, The Jazz Bar and an outdoor terrace), this residential-style club was set up 16 years ago by Farid (Ali) Nouri and Eric Hilton, two D.C. DJs craving creative control to throw parties their own way. Live bands take the stage every Tuesday through Saturday, with great happy hour prices ($5/£3.20 drinks, $25/£16.40 bottles of wine) allowing music lovers of all budgets to enjoy the quirky vibe of the Victorian mansion turned hotspot.

Header photo: U Street Music Hall © Ian Corey

Written by Sascha Zuger

Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to Washington D.C. from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Have you been to any of our top live music spots in D.C.? Where do you go to see local bands in the city? Share your tips below.


Sascha Zuger

Sascha Zuger is the author of several Moon Handbook and Spotlight guidebooks. Her work has been seen in National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post, The LA Times, Food Network Magazine, Parenting, SELF, Gourmet, WIRED, and a number of other national magazines. She also writes novels for teens under pseudonym, Aimee Ferris.

Categories: Our Places