The best jazz clubs in Washington, DC

The great Duke Ellington hailed from DC, and the capital’s jazz clubs are still swinging. These are the best places to groove to live jazz, blues and Latin.

Blues Alley jazz club in Georgetown

Known as the home of Duke Ellington and Shirley Horn, among other illustrious jazzers, the capital has long had a thriving jazz scene. Historically clustered in the U Street Corridor, jazz clubs are now scattered throughout the city. Some of the city’s best bars, including the trendy Eighteenth Street Lounge, lend a stage to jazz musicians, and the Kennedy Center is a good bet for high-profile artists. For blues, R&B and related genres, consult our list of the best live music venues.

Best jazz clubs in Washington, DC

The Birchmere

Originally a bluegrass, folk and country institution, the Birchmere is one of those venues artists can’t bear to outgrow. Patty Loveless might play a couple of nights here in the fall before heading to Wolf Trap in the spring, and Merle Haggard’s annual gigs always sell out. Now the Birchmere also serves up the kind of pop, smooth jazz and world music that appeals to an over-30s crowd. The Band Stand area has a dancefloor, but most of the shows are in the larger Music Hall. This is a listeners’ club, not some chicken-wire honky-tonk, and a few house rules apply in the table-service Music Hall: no standing, no smoking, no recording, no talking. Rowdier patrons can head for the bar and the pool tables. Coming up at the time of writing were Macy Gray, Rachel Yamagata and Dr John, and recent acts include Graham Parker, Aimee Mann, Dar Williams and Steve Earle.

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Alexandria

Blues Alley

Some patrons consider the cover charges here outrageously high, especially as there is also a two-drink minimum per person for each set, which usually lasts just under an hour. Others are just so thankful that they have a small space where first-rate acts such as Mose Allison or Pieces of a Dream will perform that money is not an object. Acoustics are as top-notch as the talent on the stage. Recent acts include Earl Klugh, Karrin Allyson and Afro Bop Alliance. 

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Georgetown

Bohemian Caverns

After being shuttered for 30 years, the legendary Bohemian Caverns reopened in 2000. While it has not quite restored the glory days of U Street single-handed, it has found a place among the revitalized nightlife in the historic African-American corridor. Christian Scott, Benny Golson and the Young Lions have played here recently. 

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U Street Corridor

Chi-Cha Lounge

Ecuadorean entrepreneur Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld has taught DC to relax to a Latin beat. Since opening Chi-Cha, he’s expanded to Dupont Circle (Gazuza), Georgetown (Mate) and Arlington (Gua-Rapo). All follow the same formula: deep velvet couches, candlelight, Andean tapas, sangría, Latin jazz and hookah pipes filled with honey-cured tobacco. Chi-Cha hosts live bands from Sunday to Thursday; on these nights there’s a $15 minimum consumption fee. No hats, ties or sportswear. That’s right, no ties.

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U Street Corridor

Eighteenth Street Lounge

Love it or hate it, ESL remains the city’s trendiest and most exclusive lounge, widely renowned (or notorious) for its strict door policy. Should your attire (or your connections) please the notoriously fickle doormen and you’re granted entrance through the unmarked wooden door, you’ll find hipsters mingling and dancing to live jazz or down-tempo electronic music spun by the city’s best DJs.

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Dupont Circle

HR-57

This unassuming club recently upgraded to a larger spot—a former church on H Street—after migrating to the corridor from 14th Street a few years back. The principal attraction here is jazz and blues; the place is named after the US House of Representatives’ resolution recognizing jazz as a national treasure. You won’t find big names here, unless they stop in to jam after local concert-hall gigs, but you will find huge talent. The cover charge is usually only a few dollars, and along with Southern food like greens and beans you can bring your own wine for a $3 corkage fee—a popular move. Hit it on a good night, and you’ve got the best dinner-and-a-show value in town.

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H Street Corridor

Twins Jazz

The twins here are owners Kelly and Maze Tesfaye, and their well-worn jazz club regularly features locals (Lenny Robinson, Michael Thomas) and national (David "Fathead" Newman, Eddie Henderson) players. The headlining cuisine is that of the twins’ native Ethiopia, with Caribbean and American dishes rounding out the menu. Like with most jazz clubs, there’s a cover charge and a two-drink minimum.

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U Street Corridor

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