It’s no secret that DC is home to some of the best music venues in the country, attracting local to international acts and packing concert halls with fans every night of the week. Besides booking amazing talent, these venues provide beautiful spaces for music fans to congregate. From Frank Gehry-designed outdoor music meccas like Merriweather Post Pavilion to the retro-inspired personal touches of Villain & Saint, we picked a handful of our favorite spots offering more to look at than just the bands onstage.
9:30 ClubWhen celebrating 9:30 Club’s 35th anniversary, owner Seth Hurwitz had the idea to create a library of records of bands that had headlined the iconic venue in chronological order based on the album they had toured on. While initially part of their anniversary celebration, the visceral reactions the Hall of Records caused was enough to clear out part of the venue and make it a permanent installation.
“The time, effort and metal work put into the installation made it obvious that it couldn’t just be a one-week experience, especially when we saw the way people reacted to it,” says I.M.P. Communications Director
Audrey Fix Schaefer. The installation continues to draw visitors to the club, allowing them to reconnect with artists and reminisce on shows 9:30 has hosted over the years. 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com
Chrysalis TheatreIn partnership with the nonprofit Inner Arbor Trust, this gorgeous green structure tucked in the woods on Merriweather Post Pavilion’s Symphony Woods property – just 200 yards from the main stage – is a venue by day and lighted sculpture by night.
The Marc Fornes-designed stage is modeled after, you guessed it, a chrysalis, and is made of 4,000 aluminum sheets. While Chrysalis hosts events and concerts with a special focus on family-friendly and communty programming, it’s completely open for use when not hosting an event.
By day, you can sit, read a book, and enjoy the beautiful greenery of the space. By night, you can check out the captivating lights embedded within the structure. 10431 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.innerarbortrust.org
Gypsy Sally’s Vinyl LoungeGypsy Sally’s vinyl lounge is “a bit of a mystery,” according to owner David Ensor.
“The Vinyl Lounge is designed to be a getaway,” he says. “As you enter from the main room or back door, you are greeted by an orange 70s VW van in an all-white room with black curtains.”
The eclectic outpost within the Georgetown music venue features a wide range of acts and a retro feel.
“When you reach the end of the darkened red hallway to your left, you find a brightly lit, small stage flanked by a bright red bar,” Ensor continues. “The long, light gray wall ahead is hung with various sized of photographs of the Grateful Dead. It’s a place to explore, scratch your head and wonder what the hell you just walked into.” 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com
Merriweather Post PavilionThe roof of the Frank Gehry-designed outdoor amphitheater collapsed from tempestuous winds this past winter. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the new and improved roof is now ready for Merriweather’s summer season.
“Once you learn everyone’s okay, it just becomes a mechanic’s job,” says I.M.P.’s Audrey Fix Schaefer. “The roof fell on Saturday, and by Sunday, we were in our offices with new plans.”
While the roof is ready for outdoor concert season and lends an even better view to concertgoers with lawn seats, visiting artists also have a top-of-the-line experience in store for them. Recent renovations to the venue also include a 40,000-square-foot backstage area modeled after a 1950s motel that’s able to accommodate up to 10 bands – complete with a pool, cabanas and an onsite masseuse for visiting performers. 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com
Pearl Street WarehouseThe multi-use space is one of three music venues that now occupy District Wharf, but its layout and design make it totally unique.
“We built a convertible space featuring garage doors that can open up the venue to the diner area, or close it off for a private event,” say owners Bruce Gates and Nick Fontana. “We also have the ability to open the doors to Pearl Street, creating an outdoor space where we can interact with the community and people exploring The Wharf, exposing them to great live music. “
The inviting space also features an upstairs seating area for a great vantage point during a live show. 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com
Rock & Roll HotelThe intimate H Street venue has some spooky vibes, due in part to the fact that it used to be a funeral home. While that didn’t necessarily inspire the design, you can still see its influence in the dark, plush atmosphere of the three-level space. It’s also one of the few music venues in the country to offer a rooftop deck, enticing concertgoers to grab a bite before and after shows and providing a neighborhood hangout for H Street residents.
“We knew how unique it would be to have a music venue with a rooftop deck in DC – a first,” says co-owner Steve Lambert. “We wanted a space that was open year-round where people could socialize without having to go to the concert hall or to the DJs on the second floor.” 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com
Villain & SaintOwned by local chef Robert Wiedmaier, this Bethesda venue and restaurant takes a “music first, food second” approach to everything that’s done in its 60s and 70s-inspired space.
“It’s comfortable, worn-in and reminiscent of a bygone era, like Keystone Korner in San Francisco,” Wiedmaier says. “It feels familiar. When you walk into a place like Villain & Saint, you can tell a lot of acts have come through. It’s a place [where] musicians would hang out if they were not performing.”
He notes framed artwork of legendary musicians, a saloon-style bar and gramophone “horns” from England turned into lighting fixtures as some of the venue’s most unique design accents. 7141 Wisconsin Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.villainandsaint.com
Wolf Trap’s Filene CenterWolf Trap’s programming is as one-of-a-kind as its setting. The venue is also a national park, nestled into the lush forests of Northern Virginia, and is easily accessible to DMV residents.
“Every aspect of the pavilion is designed to enhance the experience for artists and audiences,” says Wolf Trap President and CEO Arvind Manocha about the Filene Center. “I think the extensive use of natural materials, like the Douglas fir, coupled with the setting – nestled in over 100 acres of permanently protected lands, including rolling hills and a forest complete with walking trails and ponds – makes Wolf Trap an urban oasis.” 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org