DC is home to some of the best concert venues in the country, hosting musicians from a variety of genres who play to crowds big and small. Even still, the city’s metal community has often struggled to find a locale that regularly books metal shows – that is, until a few years ago when Ivy City’s Atlas Brew Works expanded beyond beer to support the genre.
“There was no venue where you could just go hang out, have a beer and listen to metal,” explains Will Cook, brewer emeritus and director of heavy metal operations at Atlas, which opened its doors in 2013.
Hasan Ali, who books shows for Atlas and runs Ripping Headache Promotions, agrees with Cook.
“People would either have to go to Baltimore or Richmond to see a [metal] band,” he says.
But soon after Ali began booking for the brewery, “Atlas became recognizable as a legit venue [and] DC [became] a notable spot for metal on the East Coast.”
It all began in 2016 when Atlas – which has several metalheads on staff – agreed to host the holiday party for local blog DC Heavy Metal. When the event proved successful, the brewery began hosting more and more metal shows until eventually, it became a permanent fixture on the scene.
Since then, Ali says Atlas has hosted more than 100 shows with people coming from as far as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and even L.A. to catch the bands. But this isn’t to say that the Atlas team ever expected to host this many shows when they started.
The brewery had no stage or music equipment to speak of, according to Cook, so artists brought in their own PA systems and light fixtures. But when the shows kept coming, Cook and his team bought the supplies necessary to become a more viable music venue.
Now, the stage is set up in the beer production area and taken down post-show so brewing operations can resume the next day. While balancing operations as both a music venue and a brewery has proven challenging at times, the Atlas team agrees that it’s helped give the brewery an edge – and brought people to their space who might not have stopped by otherwise.
“The fact that we have live music here definitely adds a lot to the atmosphere of the brewery and gives us some amount of identity that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Blake Peterson, tap room general manager and singer/guitarist for extreme metal band Lyceum. “It’s something that sets us apart from other breweries in the area.”
It’s also fun to have the chance to hang around the brewery after work and catch a show, adds head brewer Dan Vilarrubi. Plus, Cook says they’ve had the opportunity to meet some of their favorite bands.
The team agrees that putting on shows has been a great experience for Atlas, but just as rewarding is the feedback they get from the bands who come through.
“I’ve heard when other venues host metal shows, attendance will be poor,” Ali says. “Or I’ll hear bands say the staff isn’t really pleasant or accommodating. And they’ll tell me, ‘I really wish you did the show and we played at Atlas instead.’”
Cook has also heard stories of bands who’ve had bad experiences at other DC venues.
“We didn’t want that here at Atlas,” he says. “We wanted to be as friendly to bands as possible.”
That includes not taking a cut of the ticket sales or taking money from the band in any way. Musicians are also offered beer and food on the house.
And the brewery’s noteworthy reputation isn’t just recognized in the States. Bands from across the world have looked to play at Atlas, including Conan from the U.K., Pseudogod from Russia and Sinmara from Iceland, to name a few. Notable DC bands like Genocide Pact and Ilsa and Richmond’s Inter Arma round out the brewery’s sterling reputation in the world of metal.
“Pretty much every band is so stoked to play here, and they love the beer – including bands from other countries,” Peterson says. “I never knew how special this place was until I heard bands from outside the country say this is the coolest venue they’ve ever seen.”
Some of the bands who’ve played Atlas have even had beer brewed specifically for their show. Ali mentions they had Batch 666 on tap for Chicago-based instrumental doom band Bongripper. Other beers, like Temple of Void and Evoken, have been named after some of the team’s favorite bands. When it comes to their individual go-to brews during metal shows, Peterson goes for NSFW, Cook enjoys Silent Neighbor or Ponzi, Ali likes Ponzi, and Vilarrubi drinks Batch 666.
As for the future of Atlas as a music venue, the team just hopes to keep improving the quality of shows and continue booking great bands to play the brewery.
“It’s kind of selfish because we get to have all these bands play at our brewery and we get to meet them,” Cook says. “I’m talking about the underground bands that you just love and want to meet. It’s cool to hang out with them, but also to hear they really enjoyed their time playing here.”
Atlas Brew Works: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; 202-832-0420; www.atlasbrewworks.com