Places have power.
At the very least, entering particular locations steeps you in the sense of the place. Your mind becomes open to the possibilities of what that place has to offer.
Nowhere is this truer than 9:30 Club, the most renowned of DC’s music venues. When you enter 9:30 Club, you’ve entered a place wired for performance, and you feel it right away.
The first 9:30 Club actually opened at 930 F St NW on May 31, 1980, with a capacity of about 200 people. The underground club made a big impression in a short period of time, and it was purchased by its current owners, promotions company IMP, in 1986.
In 1996, the owners moved 9:30 Club to its current location at 930 V Street NW, once the site of WUST Radio Music Hall. (By that time, upstart Black Cat, then a larger venue, was beginning to compete for bands!) Since then, the national profile of 9:30 Club has continued to rise, and it has consistently won recognition as the best US nightclub by Pollstar, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and others.
If you’ve been to 9:30 Club, you already know why this is the case. With its capacity of 1,200, the room is large enough to be a “big” club yet it remains inviting and comfortable. From anywhere inside the 9:30 Club, you can see the stage directly. There are no bad views.
It’s also not too difficult to grab a drink from one of four bars. There are two main bars along the side walls, adjacent to the stage against the far wall. The sound booth sits along the back wall. A third bar sits upstairs on a third level, while a fourth occupies the basement, known as Backbar. You cannot see or hear the show in Backbar.
In addition, there is a coffee bar on the balcony level. There, you can get coffee and espresso drinks of course but also alcoholic coffee drinks with whiskey, frangelico, and other spirits. At the coffee bar, you also can buy a famed 9:30 Club cupcake, which are made by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Buzz Bakery.
You can grab those cupcakes at the food window as well, and you can order food at the various bars. 9:30 Club’s food menu is fairly lengthy and substantive considering the tiny kitchen, powered by grills and toaster ovens. It also offers plenty of vegetarian options. If you’re a member of 9:30 Club’s loyalty program, the kitchen gives you the option of ordering a predetermined half-price sandwich or appetizer, a different one every month, making it one of the absolutely best places in the city for an inexpensive meal.
One of the neat things about 9:30 Club is that most nights the headliner takes the stage at 9:30pm! (Doors at 7pm usually!) That of course becomes later on a Friday or Saturday night, and it goes right out of the window on the occasions when 9:30 Club has booked an early show (doors perhaps at 6pm) and a late show (doors maybe at 10pm).
Bands from across the world treat 9:30 Club as hallowed ground. During performance banter, many artists talk about how pleased and impressed they are to have been booked there. And the club is the place to be if you’re a band that has “made it.” It’s not unusual for 9:30 Club to host hot artists that draw a significant following and rising performers that make it to the club on their second or third passes. Many music fans likely find themselves at 9:30 Club most often for those consistently well-known names that reliably draw a large crowd.
It’s easy to get there, too. 9:30 Club has its own large parking lot, and you can buy parking online when you purchase a ticket to a show. It’s also a quick walk from the 10th Street Exit of the WMATA U Street Metro Station, steps away from the popular intersection of U and 9th Sts. NW.
Should you ever have the opportunity, linger after a show and take in the space. Admire the adaptable stage, which the club can move forward or extend. Feel the perfect amount of distance between its walls. Marvel at the lights and sound rigs and all of the equipment.
You’ll undoubtedly walk away with a huge music buzz. And you’ll surely feel the power of the place.
Editor’s note: As a DC-area music venue for touring bands occupied by its owner-operator, 9:30 Club is eligible for nomination in our annual Thrushie Awards as Best Concert Venue. It placed No. 1 in our 2019 awards poll.