Washington’s live music scene – already vibrant with venues throughout the city – just keeps getting better.
The October premier of two state-of-the-art music clubs at The Wharf on DC’s Southwest Waterfront, and a third set to open in the $2.5 billion development by year’s end, gives music lovers three new venues to choose from, each within a stone’s throw of the others.
The new trio of independent establishments – The Anthem, Union Stage and Pearl Street Warehouse – hosts acts representing every genre, ranging from up-and-coming bands with modest fan followings to established chart-toppers who can sell upwards of 6,000 tickets in a single night.
Even better, the dynamic new venues are nestled among locally-originated restaurants and bars, select retail stores, and a couple of new hotels. It all adds up to a one-stop night on the town for locals, or a destination weekend for tourists looking to jazz up their nightlife on visits to DC.
On Tap Magazine got a sneak peek at each of The Wharf’s new music venues prior to the development’s grand opening in mid-October. We’re happy to report that live music fans have plenty to be excited about.
Without question, the entertainment anchor of The Wharf is The Anthem, a sleek, $60 million nightclub designed to accommodate musical acts that have outgrown the legendary 9:30 Club, but aren’t quite capable of filling Capital One Arena, Jiffy Lube Live or Merriweather Post Pavilion.
“There has been a void in this area for a midsize music venue,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, the communications director for I.M.P., which includes the 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather among its venues. “The intent was to have it feel comfortable – whether you are going to see a Fugazi reunion or the National Symphony Orchestra.”
The 9:30 Club’s capacity is 1,200, while Merriweather can accommodate 18,000. The Anthem, which features a retractable and even removable stage, is designed for concerts that draw between 2,500 and 6,000 fans. The venue’s black, silver and gold tones project a decidedly rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic (check out the foyer’s fabulous cymbal installation). Soft, multihued lights draped across the fronts of soaring seated balcony sections give the interior a dreamy effect. The spare-no-expense, one-of-a-kind venue even includes $3 million in soundproofing, a respectful nod to residents of new condos attached to the building.
During sets by Foo Fighters, Trombone Shorty and LCD Soundsystem in mid-October, we wandered throughout the expansive venue and failed to find a sightline or sound scenario that disappointed, either in the seated balconies or in general admission standing areas. If you’re planning a night out at The Anthem, here are a few things to know: the venue does not take cash, you can breeze through security more quickly if you don’t carry a bag or purse, and lines for food and drinks tend to be shorter on the second and third levels.
“Until now, there has been no place [in DC] built from the ground up for music,” Schaefer said. “Every element from the sightlines to the sound to the lighting to the bars has been built so it feels great no matter what side of the stage you are on, whether you are the artist or the fan.”
Concertgoers who show up hungry can choose from a menu of burgers, salads, wraps, wings and a signature DC half-smoke. The bars also offer a well-curated selection of beers, and extensive liquor and wine selections.
Not surprisingly, The Anthem is booking up quickly. Some of the musical highlights through this month include Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples on November 14, Erykah Badu on November 18, Odesza on November 25, and St. Vincent on November 27.
Pearl Street Warehouse
Around the corner from The Anthem, Pearl Street Warehouse aims for a much more intimate vibe with seated shows and a roster of performers that skews toward roots and Americana music.
Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones christened the club’s stage on October 12, and Pearl Street’s roster is already full through November with national acts such as The Deslondes, Roomful of Blues and Chris Knight, among other fall highlights.
Pearl Street Warehouse boasts a brick exterior, warm interior lighting and windows looking out into The Wharf’s pavilion area. The venue also features a down-home, diner-style menu and a full bar. Pearl Street is the creation of Nicholas Fontana, Bruce Gates and Henry Gandy, who founded Cantina Marina – a DC waterfront dock bar and restaurant that’s been a fixture on the Southwest Waterfront for more than 14 years.
Gates told us that the 300-person capacity (150-seated) Pearl Street Warehouse will host primarily rock, bluegrass, folk, country and blues acts, many of whom he believes will welcome a chance to escape smaller, older clubs to play in a first-class, intimate musical environment.
“We obviously think it’s going to be great for the fans, but we also think it’s going to be special for the artists,” Gates said. “For many artists, this will be their first chance to play in a really cool venue.”
Gates said Pearl Street’s booking policy is to reach for the stars.
“We intend to punch above our weight,” he said, adding that he views his musical neighbors – The Anthem and Union Stage – as synergistic, not competitive.
“My hope is when a big-name artist is finished at The Anthem, they may come down and see a band at Pearl Street Warehouse,” Gates said.
Filling an important gap between the arena-sized Anthem and the cabaret-style environs of Pearl Street Warehouse is Union Stage. The spiffy, two-level venue can accommodate 450 for live music downstairs and another 40 or so at a ground-level bar.
“Upstairs will be the spot for happy hours and before the show, and then it opens up into this big rock club downstairs,” co-owner Daniel Brindley told us, brimming with excitement during a tour of the space.
Union Stage is the third musical venue owned by brothers Daniel, Luke and Jonathan Brindley – also known around town as the Brindley Brothers. Since 2001, the musical brothers have owned Jammin Java in Northern Virginia, which has long ranked among the best live venues in the DMV region. The Brindleys are also the force behind Miracle Theatre, a new seated music joint that opened in September on Capitol Hill.
Daniel Brindley told us the Union Stage menu is still a work in progress, but pizzas will be a focal point. The brothers expect the club to host its first bands in late December. Among the earliest acts on the roster are the country-rock inflected Felice Brothers on December 30, and the jazzy Charlie Hunter Trio on February 3. Brindley said nothing will be off-limits musically at Union Stage.
“It’s going to feature an extreme diversity of genres – incredible hip-hop, R&B, we’ll have singer-songwriters, indie rock bands, DJ nights and more,” he said. “We’ll also have private parties. To us, Union Stage is about bringing people together and creating communion.”
The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com
Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com
Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com