How Did D.C.’s DIY Venues Get Their Weird (and Awesome) Names?
The couch is pushed aside. The lights are strung up. The cat’s locked upstairs. The ottoman becomes a merch table. And, voila: An ordinary rowhouse has become a concert space.
But when a DIY venue doubles as a living room or a basement, as so many do, it needs a moniker to set it apart from the humdrum domestic associations of its Sunday-through-Thursday life. The right name can establish a distinct musical identity, say something about the people and values that undergird the locale, and make for some eye-catching flier art. Here, we present the backstories behind some of D.C.’s best-named spaces—extraneous bathtubs and skeletons in closets (or graveyards) included.
JamJar: According to house resident Meredith Pierce, JamJar’s name was finally settled after the group spent several evenings tossing around title combinations with favorite foods, activities, and animals. “It rolls off the tongue and fits us,” says Pierce. “We’re all sort of contained in this house, and it has always been a place for musical jamming and food jamming.” Among the failed names: Beet Bike House and Warthog Sounder House.
The Bath House: When he’s not attending school at Oberlin College, D.C. native Jamie Finucane hosts occasional punk, noise, and indie rock shows at his parents’ house in Tenleytown. The name is a cruel joke on a symptom of many house shows: heat. “It’s primarily called the Bath House because every show that’s ever happened here has been absurdly sweaty,” says Finucane. “But I’m also a strong advocate for baths—they actually conserve water considering the length of most people’s showers. I take one every day when I’m in D.C., so the name was fitting.” Taking a bath after a Bath House show is definitely advisable.
Bathtub Republic: The Columbia Heights house’s initial shortcomings inspired its moniker. Basic issues like a lack of heat and running water were compounded by more bizarre elements, like a claw-foot bathtub that inexplicably occupied the middle of the living room. The group eventually moved the rogue bathtub to the basement, which now houses a recording studio and acts as a practice room and show space.
The Communiverse: Do DIY venues dream of outer space? It appears that way: Space Jam, the Rocketship, and the Communiverse all channel space-y themes in their names. “Jason Arrol, the drummer for All the Best Kids, suggested the Universe, because the place contains many varied spaces that feel worlds apart,” says Sarah Schaffer, who hosts shows and events at the Communiverse. “The [members of the] house liked it, but wanted something to reflect their collectivist values as well, so they changed it to the Communiverse.”
The Alamo: Almost two centuries after it was coined, “Remember the Alamo” takes on a new meaning for a very different crowd. According to resident Nicholas Deprey, the Petworth house venue aims to “put on shows and events that linger in memory well beyond their deserved lifespan.”
Ft. Loko: Resident/booker Sharon Din’s basement venue is an homage to Din’s days sneaking booze on campus as an undergrad at American University. “[When] the comical depravity that was the Four Loko craze was at its peak, my friends and I built a giant blanket fort in one of our dorm rooms that I dubbed Ft. Loko. A bunch of us just hung out all night and drank cheap rum because we couldn’t even get our underaged hands on any Four Loko,” says Din. When she started hosting shows at her house in Eckington earlier this year, she remembered the name. “It just felt right to bring it back.”
Back Alley Theater: In a twist that sometimes confuses first-time attendees, Back Alley Theater is not located in an alley; it currently occupies a residential co-op basement on Kennedy Street NW. The venue’s roots stretch back to the late ’60s, when D.C. resident Naomi Eftis founded a small community theater in a Mount Pleasant garage space located in the block’s back alley. When the theater moved to the Kennedy Street basement, the name came with it.
Boneyard Studios: The site of D.C.’s tiny-house community, Boneyard Studios hosts DIY shows and performances from its equally tiny porches and green spaces. The lot is aptly named for its proximity to Glenwood Cemetery and its unfortunate similarities to the military boneyards that house retired planes and vehicles, since zoning restrictions prevent anyone from actually living in the wee homes.
Jam Jar photo by Dean Tartaglia, Bathtub Republic photo by Mikhail Bezruchko, Alamo photo by Empty Eyes, Boneyard Studios Photo courtesy of Lee Pera.