We Love Drinks: DC9

"Pure Evil" shot, DC9

"Pure Evil shot, DC9" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

“Are you sure this is the right place?”

I was witnessing a mesmerizing scene, social tension galore. The speaking girl’s perfect blonde updo was trembling as she stood in line with her equally coiffed crew. Deposited by a cab with a gaggle of well-heeled preps, it was obvious she’d never hit this part of town before. But leading the way was a wild-eyed boy with a ringleader look that said – you will get out of your comfort zone, my friends – and so the girls followed him in, wide-eyed, longing for L2 Lounge. Instead they got DC9.

I’m teasing, I’m sure they had a raring good time dancing their solid gold hearts out. For a while, this girl’s nervousness was justified. There wasn’t much at the corner of 9th & U until DC9 became hipster paradise, and I’ve seen a lot of shady activity on that block over the years. Nowadays, the action is really centered around Nellie’s, which spills out on the sidewalk with lots of beautiful boys. I don’t see how you could still be nervous about the neighborhood when you see that party. But, we live in a segregated nightlife city, in more ways than just race.

DC9 carries the distinction of being one of the most unpretentious dive spots in the city. Equal parts bar, dance club and music venue, it’s been the indie hangout since its opening in 2004, fitting somewhere between the Black Cat’s Red Room and the H Street corridor on the rotation list. The fact that those tight button-down kids I mentioned earlier could get swallowed whole and turn into loose dancing fools upon hitting the upstairs is one of the reasons I love this place.

Another reason is that it’s pure evil.

Hazy Barscape, DC9

"Hazy Barscape, DC9" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

I’m kidding (or am I?)!

While Policy may have brought in a designer to make sure it looked like the diner from hell, DC9 really is. Busted-up booths line the downstairs bar along with circa 1970’s wall paneling and an assortment of odd items straight from the devil’s trunk of goodies – like microphone bar lights that always make me think of a creepy WWI nightmare. Bartenders that could seriously kick your ass with their crazy shot combinations of say, tequila and tabasco. This isn’t a pinky-raised cocktail place, in case you haven’t noticed. Stick to beer. Your mixed drinks come in plastic cups and get sloshed all over by revelers. They open at 5pm every single day, with happy hour until 8pm with $3 rail and $3 beer specials. Barflies and boozies mixing it up with the locals catching a drink after work.

Upstairs, there are more booths, but the real action is the dance floor. I feel sorry sometimes for our darling twentysomethings, good dance clubs now are so freaking few, they can’t long for the glory days of Tracks and Nation like us village elders, but honestly? They don’t need my pity here, dancing around happily, wailing along with britpop or soul funk or whatever that particular night is all about. Liberation is the long-running Friday night event, this Saturday is the famous Fez & Moustache party, and Nouveau Riche is next Saturday. Check the schedule for dance and bands, prepare to sweat, no wallflowers.

DC9 is the sort of bar where you can easily become a regular, always bumping into people you know, making a beeline for the jukebox, raising a shot to an old friend. You can go without ever hitting the upstairs for dancing or a show, you can actually have a conversation downstairs and spend the night catching up or just people-watching. Adorable fresh-faced students easily mix with jaded Gen Xers like yours truly. No pressure, no hype, no swank. I love that.

1940 Ninth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “We Love Drinks: DC9

  1. Every city has so-called “segregated nightlife”, and DC is probably much less so than most. Look at Adams Morgan, Dupont, or especially U Street and you have all kinds of people at most bars. H Street is decidedly hipster and Gtown is decidedly preppy, but beyond that I dont see much to back that assertion.

    Also, I kind of tire of the hating on “preppies” (not on this blog, but elsewhere). I don’t think anyone is judged as instantly as “preppies”- meanwhile, most I know are nice, many work for non-profits, etc., yet I’m sure they get judged constantly by people who disapprove of their wardrobe and make assumptions about them.

  2. I don’t know, S – the “segregated nightlife” may be improving, but I still think it’s around and has been part of the conversation as long as I’ve been in DC.

    How often do you see people writing in to the GOG chats about “is H Street safe?” for example? It still happens, as do questions about “no frat boys.” The firestorm over “popped collars” at Saint Ex. The rise of private, members-only clubs. How many times do people say, “that was a cool bar until…” – it’s human nature to get all tribal.

    All interesting stuff, thanks for the comment, and thanks for noticing I’m not trying to throw hate around.