Arts Desk

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 credit Maxwell TaniJamJar: 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 credit mikhail bezruchkoBathtub 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.”

Alamo credit Empty EyesThe 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 studiosBoneyard 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.

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  • Frank, Alamo Squatter (’14) & Thunderdome Resident (’10-’11)

    Great read. Wanted to add in a few other pieces on The Alamo and its history.

    First, the house is a part of a long and storied tradition of epic houses beginning with the Thunderdome (2010-2011) and the Cowardly Abode (2011-2013), aka the Miracle Fortress. The Thunderdome had a Mad Max-esque ridiculousness to it, and the Cowardly Abode was yellow -- hence, cowardly. The Alamo, also known as "La Casa" according to former Thunderdome resident Miami Jim (who does not, in fact, habla), also has some Spanish style architecture, giving its name particular relevance. Remember the Awesome.

    The Thunderdome, it should be noted, is also where the tripartite lifestyle originated. It involves the three rules to live by -- Play the Hits, Keep Your Base, and Source.

  • Anders

    Many of the Artists that play these DIY venues also have and continue to play our DIY Nights in Adams Morgan at off grid venues like Black Squirrel, Mellow Mushroom, Dos Gringos, Heaven, Hell and Green Island. For that we are grateful, so it's good to see your support albeit minimal for the many Artists and Bands less heard in DC and the greater DMV. As a service to the curious it would be most helpful when writing articles like these to at least reveal a secure contact for the many curious who would like to attend but do not have connection to these cool little secret venues and the Artists who deserve a dollar in their cup with a set of ears and a smiling face attached. Peace

  • A.W. Disc Jockey

    A write up submitted after a house show at The Alamo:

    "Wowwww!-- the things that shake and vibrate and funnel and freak out in this place-- and then somebody slaps new fuses in and the old hulk of a house shudders back, the wiring writhing and fragmenting like molting snakes, the organs vibro-massage the belly again, fuses blow, minds scream, heads explode, neighbors call the cops, 200, 300, 400 people from out there drawn into The Alamo, into the edge of the pudding at least, a mass closer and higher than any mass in history, it seems most surely..."