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  • Anneka Zimmermann

A Comprehensive Review of DMV Music Venues

Hey, everyone, I’m Anneka Z., and I’ll be your host on this Scribbling article tonight. Today, I’m talking about music venues in the DMV. My article is, by no means, a comprehensive list of good places for good music. I’m going to focus on smaller and more local venues, highlighting a few of my favorites. I hope you all will enjoy it!

First up is the 9:30 Club, a famous DC venue for over 40 years. I’ve been to the 9:30 club about five times now. It is the perfect-sized venue to host both large, electronic raves and small, folk-punk gatherings, with room for a mosh pit if you’re looking for one. You can only purchase general admission tickets, but that limit should be no problem as it has a great floor section (someone around 5’3” can still see well), as well as two tiers of standing-room decks. It also has working air circulation, which is not something you know you need until you REALLY need it. While the 9:30 Club has a bar (ID required, of course), this club is very friendly to all ages, as music should be a right for whoever wants to see it! Additionally, 9:30 Club is located near El Rey on U street, which has some of the best tacos I’ve ever had, and Insomnia Cookies, which are a great treat after a long show. I highly recommend the 9:30 Club to anyone interested.

Next up, we’re heading over to Maryland for the Fillmore Silver Spring. The Fillmore feels a lot like a slightly scaled-down version of the 9:30 Club. It also only has general admission, with the same great standing section but only one upper balcony tier. I’ve been to the Fillmore once, and I enjoyed it. The ventilation is a little bit less than the 9:30 Club’s ventilation but not significantly enough to ruin the experience. The Fillmore is also very all-ages friendly, so going to shows in high school is much easier. Silver Spring is a great area to walk around and get food, so you will not be hungry before or after the show. Additionally, the Silver Spring Record Exchange is right down the street!

Back to DC, I’m going to talk about some venues that not only provide music but also food. First up: Comet Ping Pong. You may know of Comet Ping Pong already, not because of its fantastic pizza and 17 years of service, but because of Pizzagate – an unfortunate conspiracy theory that targeted Comet Ping Pong and the supposed events happening in their basement (please note: this venue does not have a basement). Comet Ping Pong has great pizza and a good music space. They clear their ping-pong tables out of their back room to let musicians come in and play. The room is small and can probably only fit around 50-150 people, but there is no lack of energy. As the music shakes the walls and mosh pits form, you’re guaranteed to have a great time, but you may have to take some breaks to get some fresh air. Comet Ping Pong’s all-ages policy varies by show, so please make sure to check each individual show for the age restrictions.

If you are more interested in themed dance parties than individual music artists, then the Black Cat is for you. Not to be confused with a DC-based French restaurant (Le Chat Noir), the Black Cat is a bar and music venue that hosts events such as an 80s Alt-Pop dance night and independent music artists. With Black Cat’s signature checkered floor, you are bound to have a blast here. While still all-ages, this venue is more of a bar than any prior venues mentioned, so many events may not be as appealing to teenage concertgoers as the target audience and music is skewed older. If you don’t like huge crowds but still want a chance to dance, I recommend coming here with a few friends to have a good time. The Black Cat is also located in central DC, close to Howard University and Dupont Circle.

For a much smaller and more obscure venue, check out Bethesda Boards. Bethesda Boards is primarily a skateboard shop (of which I cannot rank the quality; sorry, skaters), but it transforms its back room down the alley into a lovely music venue at night. This is a small venue that almost exclusively hosts local bands. In terms of age-friendliness, Bethesda Boards is the best considering that the place often hosts high school bands, so the bar will not be in function whatsoever. Bethesda Boards has space for quite unique mosh pits, considering that its general standing room is on top of its test skate ramp. I recommend this venue for a small, close-up live music experience.

Looking for a full restaurant that hosts music in its back room? Check out the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring! I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to try the food when I last visited this venue, but the restaurant remains open all night throughout the shows, so you can get food at any point in time! Both the restaurant and music space are set in a basement, an environment that makes for an up-close and personal experience with a small but great crowd. As with Comet Ping Pong, breaks may be recommended as the venue is small and gets hot easily; however, I did not have any issues at my last experience. Quarry House Tavern is all-ages with a family-friendly dining atmosphere in the heart of Silver Spring.

While my take may be unpopular, I’m gonna rant about the Anthem. The Anthem and I are not friends. Every time I’ve gone, it has had poor line management down the boardwalk outside their venue (beautiful location, by the way). The Anthem was probably designed by someone who’s never been in a concert venue before, as it has some fundamental flaws. First, the ventilation. The ventilation is ATROCIOUS. The venue’s inner structure is essentially a scaled up version of the 9:30 Club’s structure. In this scale-up, the architects forgot that the air does not travel farther, so the ceiling-based air ventilation does not reach far enough to adequately circulate air throughout the audience. I once went to an Anthem show where four people passed out and half of the first two standing rows got COVID. The second big problem with the Anthem and its enlarged design is the stage’s height. The stage is simply too tall for this below-average-height writer to see anything. If the stage were a bit lower, or had some sort of central outcropping, the visuals would be perfectly fine for viewers in the general admission pit. The Anthem has both general admission and ticketed seats, so I would highly recommend the ticketed seats due to the issues with standing-room ventilation and visual access. Because of the fact that the Anthem is a larger indoor venue, it attracts a lot of artists who have too many fans for the Fillmore or 9:30 Club but not enough fans for the Verizon Center, so it’s likely you’ve seen a musical artist here. At least this venue is all-ages!

I have a few shorter highlights for venues that I know of but have not visited. For another DC-located pizza shop slinging both dough and tunes, try: Pie Shop. For a small indie-focused bar and venue, go to: Songbyrd. For a large outdoor venue that you may know as the host of All Things Go, go to: Merriweather Post Pavilion. For two more concert venues that work in association with the 9:30 Club, try: Lincoln Theatre and The Atlantis.

And for the final awards…

Best Food: Comet Ping Pong

Best Music Artists Selection: 9:30 Club

Best Location: Fillmore Silver Spring

Best Venue Design: 9:30 Club

Most Unique Venue: Bethesda Boards

Best Overall: 9:30 Club

Thank you all for reading! Peace, love, and music.

[Image via Condé Nast Traveler]



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