DC9 is a study in contrasts.
The popular no-frills venue is the type of nightspot that oozes an honest-to-goodness welcome. Its straightforward ambience, ensconced in wood and deep red tones with classic barstool-back chairs and mid-century detailing on the first floor, evokes the comfortable simplicity of a well-worn friendly hangout.
The nightclub-licensed bar and restaurant simultaneously provides a robust schedule of some of the most cutting-edge live music performances by emerging and established indie, electronic, pop and eclectic musical artists. Throughout the week, touring and local bands set up on a low-rise stage to entertain a small-room crowd in the intimate second floor performance and dance space.
A glass-enclosed rooftop bar with panoramic views of the neighborhood and city is also the location for a well-attended Sunday evening karaoke event. The venue regularly hosts dance parties and other special events.
DC9, on 9th Street in Northwest D.C.’s Shaw area two doors south of its intersection with U Street, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in mid-February. Despite the continuing changes throughout the evolving northeastern epicenter of extended multi-block dining and entertainment strips, the establishment has built a decade of success by staying true to its original mission.
“The idea was about pushing music forward,” says soft-spoken founding owner and manager Bill Spieler, a 25-year D.C. venue veteran and longtime nightlife advocate. Spieler partnered with local impresario Joe Englert and other industry stalwarts to launch the business in 2004.
An accessible space with affordable pricing was key for Spieler, a commitment that hasn’t wavered. Daily happy hours feature $2.50 Budweiser and Bud Light along with three-dollar rail cocktails and “beer-of-the-week.” The full-service bars offer almost any libation, but you’re likely to see a selection of beer bottles or cans and standard mixed drinks and shots flying across the bar. Attentive and fast-paced service sates customers seeking simple concoctions.
When Spieler opened the club, at 1940 9th St., N.W., the area was rough-edged, tough-textured and not yet the newest nexus of nightlife it is today. It was, however, only a couple of blocks from the 9:30 Club. Both are now joined by an existing and expanded number of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and additional music venues throughout the area.
“The multiple music venues in the area support one another,” observes Spieler, “creating a destination for live music within a few blocks.” “It’s helped keep the music audience growing,” he adds.
Spieler works alongside his partner in marriage and now venue chef Amber Bursik. The duo shares operational management responsibilities with assistant general manager Josh Copeland, who joined them in 2007.
Copeland, like Spieler, had managed and partnered at several local venues. They worked together at Englert’s former Palace of Wonders on H Street, N.E., one of his several groundbreaking ventures that helped spur development in the neighborhood.
Bursik, a familiar face in D.C. restaurant kitchens and at gay nightlife events, handles the food operation. The menu features home-cooked diner-style items – including buttermilk-brined fried chicken, garlic fries, authentic fried pickles, and a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Food service is available at the bar or booth seating.
“What people like most about DC9 is the always diverse crowd,” Bursik notes.
The former “alt-queer” dance party “Taint” made the venue its home during a four-year run soon after opening. “Crack” launched its serial variety shows and alternative dances at DC9 in 2005. Matt Bailer’s popular “Peach Pit” ‘90s-era dance parties, which celebrated its fourth anniversary last month, fills the space once a month.
DC9 lends a special brand of character to a rapidly changing city. All kinds of music-lovers and club-goers are the better for it.