Some music clubs are strictly about the tunes. You’re lucky to score a watery beer and some pretzels after navigating the crush at the bar. But several venues here satisfy the ear and the palate.
Jazz greats have ducked into a narrow Georgetown lane since 1965. Their destination? An 18th-century carriage house-turned-supper club that claims to be America’s oldest continually operating such venue.
Opened by the late clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney, Blues Alley has showcased everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck. Here Eva Cassidy recorded her only live album, which went platinum after her untimely death.
Performers influence the menu too: Consider Tony Bennett’s shrimp and artichoke hearts or Sarah Vaughan’s filet mignon. Candlelit tables near the low stage give up-close views of the hep cats.
1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202.337.4141
In this classy basement space “within earshot of the White House,” two elevated bars and tiers of tables surround the stage.
As photographed icons—Janis, Bruce, Jimi—gaze out from their frames, music buffs tap their toes to local bands and national acts while noshing on small plates (deviled eggs, baby kale salad, sushi), sandwiches or pizza.
For a cocktail, try the gin-based Aaron Burr, a wry tribute to the man who killed Treasury Secretary and venue namesake Alexander Hamilton.
600 14th St. NW, 202.787.1000
Opened in 1910, The Howard Theatre for decades hosted nearly every top African-American performer of the day, from hometown boys Duke Ellington and Marvin Gaye to Aretha Franklin and The Supremes. Then came the 1968 riots and a 30-year vacancy.
In 2012, after a $29 million rehab, the music returned. Crowds once again pack the house, now for standing-room or seated shows with a full menu of comfort food and cocktails honoring the legends.
The diverse line-up includes groups (Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, Chuck Brown Band) who play D.C.’s native go-go music. On Sundays a gospel brunch marries spirited song with a buffet of soul foods like collard greens, biscuits and bourbon-brown sugar French toast.
620 T St. NW, 202.803.2899
There’s no mistaking this boisterous Adams Morgan venue for any other. Just look for the giant busty redhead. The façade’s mural sets the tone for what’s inside: crowds dancing, sometimes atop bars, and scarlet walls adorned with paintings of nudes.
The kitchen sends out down-home dishes like country fried steak and meatloaf (“just like mama used to make”) with hoppin john and okra.
Owner Bill Duggan encourages hijinks with entertainment like “drunkeoke,” but his real passion is the live music. Each night bands play blues, R&B, reggae or bluegrass, drawing everyone from college students to diplomats and even the Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna.
2461 18th St. NW, 202.667.5370
The sounds of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett and Dave Matthews have all resonated throughout this 500-seat music hall in Alexandria, Virginia.
With its laid-back vibe and C&W twang, The Birchmere is a favorite of musicians, who make it a regular stop, and concert goers, who sit at long checkered cloth-covered tables to order “Headliners” (fried catfish with red beans and rice, smokehouse ribs), then see the real ones on stage.
An early schedule—dinner at 6, show at 7:30—means you don't have to be a night owl to claim a perch here.
3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va., 703.549.7500