Best Live Music in Washington

Intimate D.C. Venues Host Famous Faces, Live Shows

Who doesn't like jamming along to their favorite tunes? Don't deny it. That was you singing along during your workout and in the shower too. It's OK. We aren't Simon Cowell. We don't judge.

Many listen to MP3s, satellite radio or even – gasp – CDs, but nothing beats seeing your favorite performers and bands live in concert. For music fans of every genre, Washington, D.C. has a treasure trove of musical venues boasting big name artists along with up and coming ones on the brink of fame.   

For those who are ready to rock, try the 9:30 Club or Black Cat. If you are looking to get lost in jazz, Blues Alley or Bohemian Caverns are both great choices. Most of these venues offer first-come, first-serve seating so if you want to get close to your favorite singer or band, come early and be ready to wait.

The best part about these venues is they are mainly small and intimate. It won't be like going to Nationals Park, paying a huge sum of money and sitting in the nose bleed section. You will actually get to see artists up close and personal. So get ready to help your favorite singer hit their high note – or at least just sing along with them – at these top D.C. venues.


U Street Music Hall
Photo courtesy of U Street

A DJ owned and operated facility, this basement dance club has one of the best sound systems in the district that will get you moving to the music. Featuring two bars and a 1,200 square foot dance floor, this venue hosts both amazing DJs and live concerts. There is no VIP area or bottle service so people just focus on having a good time discovering new talent or cherishing ones they already know. Some shows are for all ages while club nights are for 18 and up only. There is no dress code so wear whatever you want! METRO: U Street/Cardozo

Recommended for Live Music because: A great venue where you can just go and have fun without velvet ropes and VIP tables.

Gina's expert tip: If you are planning on buying your tickets once you get here, have some Andrew Jacksons available. It's cash only.

Read more about U Street Music Hall →

Co-owner Farid Nouri wanted to establish a nightlife spot that he would want to go to himself. "Enough energy for a party but a place where people can socialize in an intimate environment." Known as "The Lounge," the club has five areas to mingle including a jazz and deck bar. While DJs lay down the hottest tracks in one room another may feature live music ranging from traditional jazz to reggae to Latin music. Located in Dupont CIrcle, the club may be hard to find if it's your first time because there are no signs to let you know you have arrived but it does make you feel like you are 'in the know' on a private secret when you find the door. METRO: Dupont Circle.

Recommended for Live Music because: Each room offers a different experience for club goers including different genres of music.

Gina's expert tip: Dress your best. In order to get in, you have to dress with style so leave those athletic outfits and shorts at home.

Read more about 18th Street Lounge →

Howard Theatre
Photo courtesy of Howard Theatre

First opened in 1910 and geared toward African American musical acts, the Howard Theatre underwent renovations in 2010 and reopened its doors in 2012. Some of the recent shows include Salt N Peppa, Babyface, and Jody Watley. Like many other venues, seats are on a first-come, first serve basis. Singing along to some of your favorite tunes can work up a thirst so hit up their bar for refreshments including wine and specialty cocktails or grab a bite to eat off their menu with appetizers and entrees available. Be sure to check out their nightclub when an amazing concert isn't planned. METRO: Shaw-Howard U

Recommended for Live Music because: The artist gallery is a who's who in the music industry.

Gina's expert tip: If you don't want to take the metro, parking is available onsite and can be purchased when you buy your ticket.

Read more about Howard Theatre →

The Hamiliton
Photo courtesy of The Hamiliton

Named for the Founding Father who was infamously killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, this venue offers guests the chance to eat, drink and listen to great music from a number of different genres. Live shows can seat up to 300 guests and another 250 standing in the two bar areas. Satisfy your stomach before the show by grabbing dinner here. They offer multiple different menus including lunch, dinner, sushi, brunch and dessert. Be sure to sample their late night menu featuring milkshakes, malts and boozy shakes. Don't leave without trying the toasted marshmallow and the Grand Marnier creamsickle. METRO: Metro Center

Recommended for Live Music because: Good tunes, food and drinks. What more could you want in a venue?

Gina's expert tip: Shows are for all ages unless noted on the ticket. The venue asks if a person is underage that an adult be present with them.

Read more about The Hamiliton →

This U Street neighborhood venue promises "Music for the 21st Century" and they deliver by bringing patrons a mix of both local and national acts playing a wide range of musical genres. With a laid back vibe, patrons can hang out at the basement bar, watch a performance on the music stage or head to the rooftop deck. There is limited seating because the venue encourages those attending concerts to stand up, dance or rock out to the music. There is no dress code so wear whatever you want. They don't have a coat check so be ready to hold one during the colder months. METRO: U Street/Cardozo.

Recommended for Live Music because: Popular spot that's great to meet up with friends and see some great new talent.

Gina's expert tip: If you are buying tickets the day of the concert, cash is the only way you are allowed to pay.

Read more about DC9 →

Photo courtesy of Birchmere

This well-known music hall has welcomed many famous faces to its performance stage like Dave Matthews, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lee Ann Womack and Aaron Neville just to name a few. The flex stage is where you will find the more dance oriented shows while the music hall is all seated with tables for a more intimate setting. Unlike other musical venues, The Birchmere is open to all ages for every show. Come hungry and sample some of their menu items from appetizers to entrees and select a drink off their beverage menu including wines, soft drinks, draft and beer bottles.

Recommended for Live Music because: An intimate venue you can see famous faces in and hear amazing music too.

Gina's expert tip: Seating is on a first-come, first serve basis so come early to stand in line.

Read more about Birchmere →

Walk through the doors of this Georgetown gem and you will be transported back to the supper clubs of the 1920s and 1930s. Founded in 1965, many well-known artists have played here including Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis. While taking in a performance, treat yourself to their scrumptious menu with entrees named after jazz greats like Tony Bennett's shrimp and artichoke hearts and Jerry 'The Iceman' Butler baked salmon. This venue is known as a listening club so be respectful during performances. Once you purchase tickets, make sure you can attend because sales are final and non-refundable. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis so get there early. METRO: Foggy Bottom

Recommended for Live Music because: Celebrating 50 years of brining jazz to the masses, this club is a must-visit for jazz lovers.

Gina's expert tip: There is a $12 food or beverage minimum per person per show.

Read more about Blues Alley →

Nightclub 9:30
Photo courtesy of gatzy

The official title is Nightclub 9:30 but most know the venue as the 9:30 Club. Some of the most popular names and bands in music perform at this intimate venue. Just scroll through the upcoming shows list and you will be amazed by the talent. While you are enjoying some incredible music, order a tasty dish off their menu which includes vegetarian and vegan friendly items or stop by one of four bars for beer, spirits or non-alcoholic beverages. They even have a coffee bar for those who may want a caffeine boost to take in their favorite performers. METRO: U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo.

Recommended for Live Music because: If you want to see big name artists in an intimate setting, this is a great venue to see them.

Gina's expert tip: The Backbar welcomes concert goers an hour before the doors open. Being here is your best shot at getting up close seats to the stage.

Read more about Nightclub 9:30 →

Bohemian Caverns

Trying to find Bohemian Caverns is not hard. Just look for the oversized saxophone and piano keys that adorn the outside walls. Once you step inside, be teleported back to the 1920s when the club was first established. The nightclub boats being the sole home of soul jazz and has welcomed many legends such as Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Ramsey Lewis. With a supper club layout, guests may order from their dinner menu while attending a show. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tickets may be purchased online but are non-refundable so try to make it to the show. METRO: U Street/Cardozo.

Recommended for Live Music because: Providing a spot for great live music for nearly a century, this venue is a must visit!

Gina's expert tip: The dress is upscale casual so wear something stylish to the show of your choice.

Read more about Bohemian Caverns →

U Street

Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Radiohead and The Strokes are just some of the bands that have played The Black Cat. Since 1993, the club has been bringing patrons the best in live independent music. The 7,000 square foot main concert room hosts the big acts while the backstage suite offers a more intimate experience with indie, punk and garage rock bands, solo artists, DJs dance nights and independent film screenings. The club is heavy on rock music, they also host DJs, comedy shows, karaoke, and Muggle Mondays – a featured wizard movie and drink specials. Butterbeer anyone? METRO: U Street/Cardozo.

Recommended for Live Music because: For those who love indie rock music, this is the venue to go see up and coming bands.

Gina's expert tip: Black Cat has two ATMs on site which is good to know since they are a cash-only venue.

Read more about Black Cat →


Meet Gina Gallucci White

Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She...  More About Gina