Get to know the history behind D.C.’s newest music venue
In its details, The Atlantis goes beyond replicating the feel of the 9:30 club to become a love letter to the music subcultures of D.C.
Written by: Sofia Appolonio🇵🇷🇮🇪
The exterior of The Atlantis building modeled after the 9:30 club on Oct. 5, 2023. (Sofia Appolonio)
Before Foo Fighters founder and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl was selling out arenas, he was pleading for entry into the legendary 9:30 Club.
As the story goes, a young underage Grohl pleaded at the front desk to be let into the club. His tries were never successful, but years later he would be headlining the same venue with his fellow Nirvana band members.
The same desk that saw Grohl’s failed entry attempts now sits at the entrance of The Atlantis, DC’s newest music venue modeled after the original 9:30 Club.
The venue greeted Grohl and The Foo Fighters for its inaugural show on May 31, a true “full circle” moment for the artist and a thrilling sense of nostalgia for attendees.
“There are the sort of authentic experiences that we’re looking to recreate for people that we’re at the original 9:30 club,” said Jordan Grobe, the communications Director for IMP venues.
The 450-capacity venue is modeled exactly after the original 9:30 Club, down to its original 1978 title “The Atlantis” created by founder Kevin Duplain.
Almost every element originates from the original club, from the soft purple strobe lights that illuminate the building’s tight stairways, to the checkered floor tiles that reflect the stage lights, to the front of the building with a replica 9:30 facade.
However, there are also key, modern differences in certain features such as the circular design of the white tiles, representative of the original tracks of the 9:30 mosh pit, and beams illuminating from the ceiling, filling in for the original venue’s pillars.
“I’m so excited that [The Atlantis] is connected to the 9:30, which is such a legendary venue but for small artists, because they also deserve to get their recognition,” said Carolina Carmo, a regular of the DC music scene and a George Washington University student.
Carmo says that it’s inspiring to learn about how the venue seeks to help artists build a fanbase in DC, and all the nods to the 9:30 Club present throughout the building made visiting an incredible experience.
“Hopefully the next time [small artist] plays 9:30 and then the anthem, they can keep growing their following in DC,” Carmo said, citing a local DMV musician Kate Bollinger - who headlined at the venue last Friday- as one she hopes will benefit from The Atlantis’ connections to the 9:30 legacy.
The steel facade of the building stretches above the fourth floor to become a naked structure held by beams, contrasting but honoring the decaying facades of older buildings found in D.C. Beneath the structure’s shadow sits the fourth-floor patio, intricately designed to resemble a D.C. side street.
Signs of cornerstones hang from the walls as newspaper stands - complete with archived newspaper clippings from the 80’s - are lined off to the side. Loud, vibrant graffiti is tagged on the walls alongside posters of iconic past headliners of the 9:30 club, complete with its own unique connection to the venue.
Patio of The Atlantis on Oct. 5, 2023. (Sofia Appolonio)
“Those same artists who were around in the 80s. Tagging those street corners from both the punk scene and the gogo scene,” Grobe said. Their recent work is emblematic of the original 9:30 era, as each artist was a part of the punk and gogo scenes of the 80’s, lending further to The Atlantis’ goal of authenticity.
The legendary 9:30 Club has been a staple of the DC music scene and culture for 43 years, with bands like Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Public Enemy being previous performers. Still, as relevant a venue as ever, attendees like civil engineering sophomore Melissa Guillen says that the community and interactive elements of the venue make it worth going.
“Everyone says [9:30] is their favorite venue because of how small and intimate it is…so it feels like they can get closer to their favorite artist.”
Guillen continues that the affordability of the club and how it caters to lesser-known artists creates a sense of community and that it's nice to see the support for local artisans.
This feeling of closeness with an artist and helping them to grow their fanbase is a priority for the new venue Grobe said. With The Atlantis, the greater 9:30 family can provide up-and-coming artists the opportunity to cultivate their audience with full venue support.
At its core, Grobe said, the Atlantis hopes to embody more than just the spirit of the 9:30 club but to become a place its tagline suggests: To Be Where Music Begins.