Despite the stench, rats, cramped space, and a support beam situated directly in front of the small stage, the original 9:30 Club (located at 930 F Street NW, hence the name) founded by Jodi DiSanto and John Bowers helped put DC on the map for punk rock fans around the world. With crowds far surpassing the venue’s 200-person maximum capacity, this well-known club in the basement of the historic Atlantic Building helped sustain and support the growing DC punk scene. While it originally opened in 1980 with an age minimum, it soon became an all-ages venue, which opened it up to all audiences and bands. The venue carved out a special place for performers and fans to see their favorite bands and up-and-coming acts, and come together as a community in a mostly-desolate area of downtown Washington.
The space previously housed a restaurant and, later, the first iteration of the club under the name The Atlantis, which hosted local bands. The owner, Paul Parsons, had booked a show with Urban Verbs, Slickee Boys, and White Boy as the performers in 1978. However, Parsons resented the rowdy crowd that attended the show, fearing future damage if he continued to let punk acts perform there. By 1979, Parsons decided to sell the space, setting into motion the establishment of one of the most famous music venues in the world.
DiSanto and Bowers purchased the space from Parsons and immediately saw its potential as a concert venue, wanting to bring some of the nightlife back to downtown. While thousands of office workers flooded downtown during business hours, the area had little attraction after hours. In its opening concert on May 20, 1980, Tiny Desk Unit opened for The Lounge Lizards, beginning a long legacy of well-loved and well-known acts that performed there. Performers like Nirvana, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and R.E.M. all played in the small space, with many performing there multiple times. The club also became a hub for music lovers of all ages, with many people “growing up” in the club as they continued to go to shows over the years. The club transformed the 1880s building into a place to be, and even brought life back into this section of F Street.
In their tenure as owners of the club, DiSanto and Bowers expanded the venue’s programming to include other musical genres, as well as art installations and video showings. The space could adapt to whatever its acts needed, but didn’t come without its disadvantages. The awkward L-shaped space made it hard for sections of the crowd to see performers. The support beams throughout the venue also blocked fans’ views. The poor ventilation of the basement made it difficult to cool, especially during the hot and humid summers that DC is known for. The stench, due to poor ventilation, sweat, nicotine, and spilled drinks, even caused some acts to refuse to play. Many loved the club for its authenticity and intimate atmosphere, while others found the environment unappealing.
The club was well-loved by regulars, but failed to make much money because of needed repairs and the small audience capacity. After years of lost profits, DiSanto decided to sell the club, with Seth Hurwitz and Richard Heineke purchasing the club (despite initial hesitation). The duo had been the club’s sole promoters while DiSanto and Bowers had owned it, and even formed their own promotion company, It’s My Party Productions (IMP). After they took over, the club’s popularity held steady, but trouble began when The Black Cat, another venue, opened on 14th Street NW in 1993. The new club had a bigger capacity, paid its musical acts better, and smelled better. Hurwitz and Heineke knew that they needed to do something, and their solution was to move the club to an even bigger and better location than their new competition. In 1996, the 9:30 Club moved to its current location at 815 V Street NW.
This site is a part of the Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.