Blues Alley || Blues Alley promotes itself as “Washington’s Best Jazz Supper Club.” That is a very defensible claim. For those willing to pay the cover (typically between $20 and $40, but sometimes more) as well as the $10 food-and-drink minimum, this is Washington’s quintessential, high-brow jazz joint. Any upper-crust New Yorker used to seeing the finest acts at Birdland or the Blue Note would feel right at home here. Quietly nestled in a backstreet of the same name, Blues Alley plays host to the biggest names in jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Gil Scott-Heron and Sarah Vaughan are only some of the many greats to have graced its small stage, and Wynton Marsalis and Ahmad Jamal have recorded albums at the club. The food is good, to boot — but a dinner here will cost you more than it would on U St.
Basic info || Cover varies ($18-$60), $10 minimum | Food $$$, Drinks $$$ | Jazz Wed.-Sat.
Contax || 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW | 202-337-4141 | Official site | Official listings | Find detailed listings on CapitalBop calendar
Kennedy Center Jazz Club || Most weekends during the fall and spring — though by no means on a regular schedule — the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Gallery transforms into the KC Jazz Club. It’s D.C.’s high-altitude, high-end jazz venue. And while it bears all the trappings of the Kennedy Center, the District’s premier arts complex, this joint is actually cheaper than Blues Alley. Granted, you can’t waltz in from a backstreet (although the Kennedy Center is just a 10-minute walk from the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro stop; scroll down for walking directions) or schmooze with the bassist at the bar after a set. But to see some of the nation’s top talent in an elegant setting for a price that never exceeds $26, KC is a surefire pick. (A note for Big Apple bopheads: With floor-to-ceiling windows and a majestic view of the Potomac River, this venue is D.C.’s answer to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, located on the fifth floor of Manhattan’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and boasting a lavish view of Columbus Circle.)
Basic info || Cover varies ($16-$26), no minimum | No food, Drinks $$$ | Jazz some Fri.-Sat., fall & spring only
Contax || 2700 F St. NW | 202-467-4600 | Official site & listings | Find detailed listings on CapitalBop calendar
18th St. Lounge || This silky-smooth twentysomethings hangout usually features DJs spinning tunes. But on Friday and Saturday nights Donvonte McCoy, arguably D.C.’s finest trumpet player, takes over the second floor in the name of Miles and Coltrane. His band features top jazz musicians, but they tend to play funk and soul renditions of the bop songbook, with a hard and easily danceable backbeat. Rules governing attire are strict, so men in particular should avoid wearing shorts, baseball caps or sandals.
Basic info || Cover varies ($5-15), no minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$$ | Jazz Fri.-Sat.
Contax || 1212 18th St. NW | 202-466-3922 | Official site | Official listings | Find detailed listings on CapitalBop calendar
Bayou || The One Step Down sat for decades at 2517 Pennsylvania Ave., a low-key D.C. jazz hub that welcomed those of all ages and backgrounds. A few years after that club closed, the Rookery opened next door at 2519, and it was basically the One Step’s polar opposite: an exclusive club featuring a live music selection that never strayed far from the pop-rock cover band genus. The Rookery, something of an experiment from day one, eventually shut down, but its ownership has repurposed the space. Which brings us to Bayou — essentially a down-the-middle compromise between the One Step’s community-oriented jazz club and the Rookery’s pretentious Hill staffer hangout. The result is a pretty vibrant affair that has jazz as background music during dinnertime from Wednesday through Saturday, plus a featured jazz set every Thursday. Occasionally, Bayou jettisons its typical rock and blues programming on a Friday or a Saturday night and hosts a jazz show. Oh, and by the way – the Big Easy cuisine is superb.
Basic info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Wed.-Sat. (mostly suspended for th month of August)
Contax || 2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW | 202-223-6941 | Official site & listings | Find detailed listings on CapitalBop calendar
Black Fox Lounge || Opened in 2010, the Black Fox Lounge is a cozy two-level bar and lounge that serves drinks and light snacks. The narrow ground floor isn’t heavy on breathing room for patrons or musicians, who stow away in the front window, but the downstairs has couches and a bit more room to stretch out. Both levels feature duo and small-ensemble jazz performances on various nights.
Basic info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food (light fare only) $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Mon., Wed., most Fri. and Sat., some other nights
Contax || 1723 Connecticut Ave. NW | 202-483-1723 | Official site | Official listings | Find detailed listings on CapitalBop calendar
About the hood
Behind Georgetown’s brazenly lit clothing storefronts, which attract tourists during all hours of the afternoon and evening, lurks D.C.’s most illustrious jazz club: Blues Alley. The club has a full dinner menu, and hosts national stars — usually sticking to jazz or smooth jazz acts. Southward in Foggy Bottom, on the banks of the Potomac River sits another jazz establishment: the Kennedy Center Jazz Club, a stately venue that isn’t really a club but does its best to create that vibe. The KC Jazz Club hosts a “jazz series” during the spring and the fall. And further east, the classy Dupont joint 18th St. Lounge showcases jazz every weekend.
View Georgetown & Dupont Jazz Clubs in a larger map
- For Blues Alley: Take the Metro to Foggy Bottom-GWU (Blue/Orange Lines). Exit the stop and walk north on 22nd St. to Pennsylvania Ave. Catch the Circulator bus to Wisconsin Ave. & M St. From here, walk south on Wisconsin Ave. and turn into Blues Alley (yes, a real alley) at 1073 Wisconsin Ave.
- For the KC Jazz Club: Take the Metro to Foggy Bottom-GWU (Blue/Orange Lines). Exit the stop and walk west on I St. (through the George Washington University campus), turn left on New Hampshire Ave. and veer left onto F St. at the Triangle Park circle. The Kennedy Center will be directly in front of you.
- For the 18th St. Lounge: Take the Metro to Dupont Circle (Red Line). Exit the stop at the Dupont Circle-South escalator and walk south on Connecticut Ave. At the intersection of Connecticut, 18th St. and Jefferson Pl., bear right onto 18th St. The Lounge will be on the right side of the street.
- For the Black Fox Lounge: Take the Metro to Dupont Circle (Red Line). Exit the stop at the Q Street-North escalator and walk north one block on 20th St. Turn left on Connecticut Ave. Black Fox is three blocks up the street.
- For Bayou: Take the Metro to Foggy Bottom-GWU (Blue/Orange Lines). Exit the stop and walk north on 23rd St. When you come to Washington Circle, walk around it to the left until you hit Pennsylvania Ave. Continue on Pennsylvania for two blocks and Bayou will be on the right.