DC is full of history, and not just when it comes to politics. The District’s legacy as a jazz institution is pretty storied at this point — U Street’s history as Black Broadway once paved the way for all jazz acts to cultivate and explore their talents. While the scene is no longer at its peak, the DC area still has a thriving jazz culture (just look at how big the DC Jazz Fest is) if you know where to look.
To help shine a light on some beloved spaces and maybe introduce you to a few new ones, we’ve rounded up the 10 best jazz clubs in DC worth visiting when you’re in the mood. Yes, there are a handful of classic and beloved spaces but some new and interesting ones worth exploring, too — whether you want to get familiar with the art form or have been listening to jazz your whole life. No matter the category, rhyme or reason, these jazz clubs are bound to make you appreciate the music more deeply.
Georgetown’s Blues Alley is the nation’s oldest continuously running jazz supper club, making it a must-visit for any music enthusiast in town but doubly so for jazz fans. Nestled inside a converted 18th-century carriage house, Blues Alley featured performances from Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and others inside its perfectly-tuned interior, boasting the city’s best acoustics. And the menu — with options like cajun chicken, crab cakes and even Jambalaya — is good enough to drop in and eat, even when there’s no show.
With an expansive legacy that spans more than 50 years, The Birchmere is home to a few different musical genres (Dave Matthews got his start here, for example), but jazz remains one of its specialties. The hall features table seating on a first-come, first-served basis and feels inherently communal. And if you’re looking to move your feet, shows at the Flex Stage have a large dance floor so you can dance the night away.
Rhizome wins for having the most unique setup on this list of the best jazz clubs in DC. As a nonprofit community art space, the house features a wide array of programming, including various forms of jazz from the traditional to the experimental. If you’ve never had the chance to attend a house show for music, it is truly an experience — one that’s even more intimate than some of the other venues on this list.
JoJo makes a statement before you even walk into its doors, thanks to its striking aqua exterior. Inside, the row house look and feel help to provide a very intimate setting to eat or enjoy jazz, so much so that their website invites patrons to “shut out the world and its cares” while there. Across the two stories, there’s plenty of room to spread out and enjoy oneself in a comfortable and cozy environment to discover something special.
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Founded in 1966 by Henry Yaffe, the titular Mr. Henry’s once started as a country-western bar before Yaffe re-imagined the space as a jazz bar. Credited as the space that discovered Roberta Flack, Mr. Henry’s is, frankly, an institution in DC and absolutely worth a visit to take in some tunes or just to grab food and drinks at the restaurant. But it’s especially fun to hang out from Wednesday through Saturday for the live jazz supper club, which features a different type of genre on a nightly basis.
The expansive Bethesda Theater has featured a variety of musical acts, including jazz shows, since its reopening a decade ago. If you look, you’ll still see part of the building’s original Art Deco design, albeit with a modern sensibility. That fusion of old and new makes it one of the best jazz clubs in DC, as you’ll get the acoustics of that old theater setup but with a new school sound, so you don’t miss a note.
Friday nights are not only the end of (most) people’s workweeks, but it’s also the time for Takoma Station’s jazz night. A decidedly casual atmosphere, it’s easy to drop in and kick off the weekend in a wonderful fashion. With no shortage of interesting musicians — it’s not uncommon to see duos, trios, quartets and more — there’s bound to be an act that will surprise and entertain you.
The Hamilton is one of DC’s premiere music venues, and they book many jazz musicians throughout the year. You’ve more than likely attended a show or eaten at the corresponding restaurant. Still, The Hamilton’s expansive concert room provides plenty of seating for those who want to eat and drink while listening, and there’s room in front of the stage for those willing to be right in the middle of it all. No matter what your individual preference is, it’s one of the best rooms in all of the DMV to take in a show and become obsessed with a new or beloved act.
Hear us out: while not a traditional jazz club, the Kennedy Center is one of DC’s best places to hear jazz music. The venue has a penchant for being on the cutting edge of all forms of the genre, functioning as one of the biggest stages around. Naturally, the overall interior of the Kennedy Center is extravagant, and in our eyes, it’s an absolute must-visit for any jazz fan, old or new.
Not only does St. Vincent Wine have the distinction of being on our list of Best DC Bars, but it’s also a wonderful place to take in music. The community-driven vibes make the space inherently social, which works well for the genre that’s so often a collaborative effort. It feels welcoming without being stuffy, which makes the overall experience of listening to music there feel effortless.
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