Music & Nightlife

Your guide to the best nightclubs, live music and concerts in Washington, DC

Where to listen to live music in DC
Music

Where to listen to live music in DC

Catch a touring act, concert or a local musician playing top live music in DC at these venues

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The 7 best Washington, DC clubs
Music

The 7 best Washington, DC clubs

Where’s the party? Chances are at one of these reliably rocking DC clubs where top local and international DJs provide the beat.

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The best jazz clubs in DC
Music

The best jazz clubs in DC

From lounges to music halls hosting famous artists, here are the best jazz clubs in DC

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LGBT nightlife guide for DC
Things to do

LGBT nightlife guide for DC

Discover the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bars, clubs, nightlife and more

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Where to see live music and concerts

9:30 Club

9:30 Club

Once a tiny art-scene dive on F Street, renowned for its heat (and smell), the 9:30 relocated in 1996. It now boasts state-of-the-art sound and ventilation, as well as a healthy slate of microbrews. A few long-lived (or reunited) punk and post-punk bands have played both incarnations, among them Wire, the Feelies and Mission of Burma, but these days you’re as likely to see George Clinton, Jane’s Addiction, Andrew Bird, the Magnetic Fields, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith or the Walkmen, and Adele has performed here too. The open floor and balcony layout is supposed to guarantee unrestricted viewing of the stage from anywhere in the club, and for the most part it succeeds. However, arriving early, scoping out the best vantage point and then standing your ground for the rest of the night is the best way to ensure a good view.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Kennedy Center
Music

Kennedy Center

The John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—the national cultural center of the United States—hosts a great variety of music, particularly on its free Millennium Stage. However, its primary focuses are classical and jazz. A welcome addition is the slate of intimate KC Jazz Club shows scheduled in the Terrace Gallery. The Center has five auditoriums. The Concert Hall is where the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington Chamber Symphony (among others) perform; its acoustics are first class. The Opera House hosts dance and ballet, Broadway-style musical performances, and is the home of the Washington Opera. Productions in the Eisenhower Theater tend to have more of an edge, while the Theater Lab and Terrace Theater are the Center’s most intimate spaces.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Black Cat

Black Cat

As famous for having Foo Fighter Dave Grohl as a backer as it is for the bands it books, the Black Cat has picked up where the old 9:30 left off when it comes to hosting less mainstream acts. Opened in 1993, the Black Cat began with the Fall, Stereolab and Slant 6 and has been continuing pretty much along those lines ever since. The vibe is dark and homey. A downstairs area—Back Stage—hosts greener local and out-of-town bands, as well as DJ nights that range from ’80s retro to bhangra.  Past acts have included Gold Panda, the Thermals and Wire.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Wolf Trap
Theater

Wolf Trap

Calling itself "America’s National Park for the Performing Arts," Wolf Trap consists of two essentially separate performance spaces—the Barns and the Filene Center. Don’t let the name "Barns" fool you. Yes, the space is rustic, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting on a milking stool. The acoustics here are top-notch, as are the seating and facilities. The Filene Center is the sprawling outdoor concert facility with lawn and pavilion seating. The scope of the performances at both spaces is broader than that at many venues in the District that also use the name "national." Note that the shuttle bus runs only in summer.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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The Birchmere
Nightlife

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.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Echostage

Echostage

DC’s largest dedicated concert venue reopened in 2013 after major renovations. The 30,000-plus-square-foot space attracts everyone from deejays to emcees to big names in hip-hop and pop—previous acts have included Lorde, Cut Copy and DMX—and hits the sweet spot, size-wise, between 9:30 Club and the Verizon Center. Tickets can run pricier than at other DC music venues, and getting there is a bit tricky—if you don’t want to cab or drive, free shuttles run between the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station and Echostage until 3am. Also worth noting: Headlining acts often don’t take the stage until after 1am, so be prepared for a late night. For parties, or just a more private experience, tables with bottle service are available in the upstairs mezzanines—which also offer better views of the stage.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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More places to see live music and concerts

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Where to see performing arts in Washington, DC
Things to do

Where to see performing arts in Washington, DC

Enjoy the best in theater, dance, classical music and opera—in the capital’s world-class theaters and concert halls

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The best bars in DC
Bars

The best bars in DC

Our guide to the best bars in DC will help you choose your poison and preferred setting, from old-school political hangouts to swanky cocktail parlors

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The best clubs in DC

9:30 Club

9:30 Club

Once a tiny art-scene dive on F Street, renowned for its heat (and smell), the 9:30 relocated in 1996. It now boasts state-of-the-art sound and ventilation, as well as a healthy slate of microbrews. A few long-lived (or reunited) punk and post-punk bands have played both incarnations, among them Wire, the Feelies and Mission of Burma, but these days you’re as likely to see George Clinton, Jane’s Addiction, Andrew Bird, the Magnetic Fields, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith or the Walkmen, and Adele has performed here too. The open floor and balcony layout is supposed to guarantee unrestricted viewing of the stage from anywhere in the club, and for the most part it succeeds. However, arriving early, scoping out the best vantage point and then standing your ground for the rest of the night is the best way to ensure a good view.

Read more
Bukom Café

Bukom Café

The crowd is West African and African-American but everyone’s welcome to get lost in the sway. The Ghanaian menu is reason alone to visit, but arrive after 10pm and it’s standing room only: be prepared to dance with whoever’s next to you. Nightly bands play reggae, soca and funk.

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Eighteenth Street Lounge

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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Habana Village

Habana Village

Latin dance-lovers come here to drink mojitos and get sweaty to a live band. Three stories of music inspire dancers from all nationalities and all levels of proficiency to grab a stranger’s hand and get swinging. Expect live merengue, salsa, and bachata on the top floor, and crowded dance rooms with fans going at full blast.

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More clubs in Washington, DC