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Where music begins: The Atlantis serves as a home for small artists in D.C.

The outside of the Atlantis, a new concert venue in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Kate Kessler.

When the original 9:30 Club opened in May of 1980, it became a home for Washington D.C.’s counterculture. Housed at 930 F Street, the outside of the music venue was decorated with graffiti, and the inside humbly fit about 200 people—enough for bands like Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. to play to a handful of fans involved in the local alternative scene before they blew up.

Now, the venue sits at 815 V Street in a larger location that fits about 1,200 people according to It’s set to house popular acts like Waterparks, GROUPLOVE and Sammy Rae & The Friends in the coming months, and it’s arguably one of the most well-known concert venues in D.C.

Because it expanded from its original humble-sized audience, the 9:30 Club was no longer a home for the small bands who built it. That’s why I.M.P., the company that owns the 9:30 Club, decided to pay homage to their roots by opening The Atlantis.

The Atlantis’s tagline is “Where music begins,” and, according to I.M.P. Communications Coordinator Jordan Grobe, that sums up the venue’s mission. Grobe said that the venue serves as a way to not only respect the 9:30’s roots but to also give D.C. another venue to house upcoming artists that Grobe and I.M.P. believe have potential to be the next big thing. 

“Foo Fighters, Nirvana, R.E.M., Radiohead, at the time, when they were starting out, they sold 198 tickets, and today, that still is true,” Grobe said. “There are bands that are just starting out that are going to be amazing and everyone’s going to know who they are, but they don’t yet, and the hope with the Atlantis is that people will come here, see them, and then be able to say in five years time, ‘Holy crap, I saw them at the Atlantis.’”

To christen the opening of the venue, Foo Fighters returned for the venue’s first performance. According to Billboard, they played a cover of Bad Brains’ “At the Atlantis,” which was written when the original 9:30 Club was still called the Atlantis. Foo Fighters’ show was the first in a series of 44 shows for $44 each, representing the 44 years since the original 9:30 Club opened. 

Grobe said that the Atlantis’s lineup will be highly curated such that even when audiences are not familiar with an artist, they will understand that artists playing the Atlantis are ones worth paying attention to. He emphasized that a core part of the Atlantis’s mission is to serve as a launching pad for new artist’s careers, just as the original 9:30 Club did.

The venue replicates the original 9:30 not only in its mission of highlighting smaller artists and cultivating a space for D.C. ‘s counterculture but also in the way it looks. When planning out the Atlantis, Grobe said that I.M.P. paid insanely close attention to detail. The tiles on the floor are patterned as they were in the original 9:30, and the rooftop bar is a replica of the street corner that the original 9:30 was on. Beams of light reflect from metal discs on the floor, recreating the placement of posts that blocked audiences’ view of the stage at the original 9:30 Club.

The outside of the original 9:30 Club.
The rooftop bar of the Atlantis, modeled after the 9:30 Club’s original block, 9th and F St. NW, in the ’80s. Photo by Kate Kessler.

“The Atlantis stands for the history and the future of the brand and is trying to keep everything that made the original 9:30 as memorable and historic and beloved as it is,” Grobe said. “That same memory carried forward, and creating that memory for people who never got to see the old 9:30 but are now getting to see the Atlantis.”

According to Grobe, I.M.P. used photos and accounts from people who went to the original 9:30 to recreate the venue as accurately as possible. Grobe said that graffiti artists who frequented the original venue came back to recreate their tags for the Atlantis—which he said assured him that I.M.P. was doing well in their mission of carrying the 9:30’s legacy into the present and building a modern home for the counterculture.

The inside of the original 9:30 Club. The poles famously obstructed people’s view of the stage.
The inside of the Atlantis, modeled after the original 9:30 Club. The beams of light are meant to represent the poles that blocked people’s view from the 9:30 Club. Photo by Kate Kessler.

“With the original 9:30 fitting 198 people and accommodating all of these demographics and cultures that frequently didn’t have other places to go, it was a home for all these bands that were growing, and now we know them to be household names, we know them to be stadium stormers,” Grobe said.

Grobe said that he thinks that college students interested in music will be the driving force behind the Atlantis’s mission. And on the night of one of the venue’s first shows following the inaugural run of 44 historic underplays, Field Medic on Oct. 5, that was evident—the crowd was composed mostly of 20-somethings enjoying and supporting the music of their favorite small, down-to-earth musician. 

On the night of the Field Medic show, fans piled into the venue just as they had 44 years ago on the 9:30 Club’s opening night. I.M.P.’s goal was to create a vessel for the 9:30 Club’s legacy to carry itself into the present, and on that night, it seemed apparent to Grobe that that was happening. 

“Seeing it now with the people enjoying themselves with the lights on, it’s everything that we’d hoped for,” Grobe said. “It is an embodiment of 44 years of concerts in D.C., of hundreds of thousands of fans coming in those doors and just putting everything else in their lives on hold for a minute to just enjoy themselves, to leave their worries at the door and come in and see their favorite band. Those are the experiences that mean the world to me.”

Members of WVAU’s e-board pose with Field Medic’s Kevin Patrick Sullivan after his Oct. 5 show at the Atlantis.
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  • O

    OttoNov 13, 2023 at 5:43 pm


  • Z

    ZoeNov 10, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    I LOVE THIS! So well-written and so many fun facts I didn’t know even after going to a show at The Atlantis myself last month! Well done.