If you’re looking for a tuneful night on the town, Washington offers everything from hip jazz clubs to DJ-driven dance halls—both places where you sit back and listen and places where you can get up and rock out. Here are some of the best live-music venues.
Many nightspots wear multiple hats. For example, the Black Cat is a bar and a dance club, offering food and sometimes poetry readings. I've listed each nightspot according to the type of music it features. The details are in the description.
The best nightlife districts are Adams Morgan; the U and 14th streets NW crossroads: U Street between 16th and 9th streets and 14th Street between P and V streets; north and south of Dupont Circle along Connecticut Avenue; the Penn Quarter, notably 7th and 8th streets and from Pennsylvania Avenue north as far as I Street; Georgetown; the area known as the Atlas District, which is H Street NE, between 12th and 14th streets; and Columbia Heights, an area east of Adams Morgan and north of the U Street district. As a rule, while club-hopping -- even in Georgetown -- stick to the major thoroughfares and steer clear of deserted side streets. I should add that you should be especially careful in Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, where criminals sometimes prey upon drunk and otherwise distracted partiers as they leave bars and clubs.
Check out the monthly On Tap, another freebie found mostly in bars, but whose website, www.ontaponline.com, is essential reading for carefree 20-somethings. By the way, Thursday night is "College Night" at nearly every club.
Most of Washington's clubs and bars stay open until 1 or 2am Monday through Thursday and until 3am Friday and Saturday; what time they open varies. It's best to call ahead or check the website to make sure the place you're headed is open.
Jazz and Blues
If you’re a jazz fan and are planning a trip to D.C. in early to mid-June, check out www.dcjazzfest.org for exact dates of the fabulous 10- to 18-day DC Jazz Festival, which showcases the talents of at least 100 musicians in various venues around town, including many free events. Other times of the year, check out the following venues: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/washington-d-c/nightlife
Dupont Circle is the gay and lesbian hub of Washington, D.C., with at least 10 gay or lesbian bars within easy walking distance of one another. Here are two from that neighborhood, plus another with two locations, the original on Capitol Hill and the second—you guessed it—in Dupont Circle.
The LGBTQ Scene
According to the Washington Blade, the D.C. publication covering the LGBT community, the nation’s capital has the highest self-identified LGBT population in the country, at 8.6 percent. See the listings for Cobalt, J.R.'s Bar & Grill, and Nellie's Sports Bar: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/washington-d-c/nightlife
The Best of D.C.’s International Scene
Washington is home to more than 180 embassies and international culture centers, which greatly contribute to the city’s cosmopolitan flavor. Few embassies are open to the public on a walk-in basis (there are embassy open houses in May), but many offer programs highlighting the culture of their countries. It’s often some of the hottest nightlife in town.
The helpful website www.embassy.org provides a list of all the embassies, with links to their websites. If you explore the individual websites, you’ll find that many host events that are open to the public—sometimes for free, sometimes at minimal cost. In my opinion, the French Embassy’s La Maison Française (www.frenchculture.org) and the Swedish Embassy’s House of Sweden (www.swedenabroad.com) offer the most interesting events. A highlight is the Nordic Jazz Fest, co-sponsored by the embassies of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland every June, with the best performances staged at the House of Sweden, on the Georgetown waterfront, and always including a pre-concert reception on the roof, with its stunning view of the Potomac River. The cost is usually $25 per person per concert.
You can also buy tickets for Embassy Series (www.embassyseries.org; tel. 202/625-2361) program events. These world-class, mostly classical-music performances are hosted by individual embassies and held at the embassy or the ambassador’s residence. In celebration of its 25th anniversary season in 2018–19, the series has expanded its program to include many more embassies and performances. It's an intimate experience, but tickets can be expensive. For instance, on April 27, 2018, the Embassy of Argentina staged an evening of “tangos and boleros” performed by Argentine mezzo-soprano Malena Dayan and pianist David Rosenmeyer, along with a buffet of empanadas, wine, and other Argentine tastes, for $90 per ticket, but well worth it!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.