Metro Weekly

The Anthem, D.C.’s amazing new concert venue, is open for business

I.M.P.’s latest is the centrepiece of the new Wharf development project in Southwest

The Anthem, Credit: Audrey Fix Schaefer

Flying into National Airport is always a special thrill for Washingtonians, but it was even more so on a recent return flight for Mayor Muriel Bowser.

“What was different was, while I saw the monuments, and I saw the bridges,” she says, “this time I saw the Wharf coming out of our river. And I saw the possibilities of connecting all points along the Potomac River and into the Anacostia.”

Bowser helped open the new Wharf development on the Southwest Waterfront on Thursday, Oct. 12, in a ceremony that ended in a fireworks display and included performances from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts choir as well as speeches by leading Washington dignitaries and Monty Hoffman, the lead developer behind the sprawling 24-acre project.

The Anthem, Credit: Audrey Fix Schaefer

Washington’s newest arts and entertainment district features a slew of new restaurants, retail stores and live venues, all with strong local ties or homegrown roots.

Many of the most anticipated restaurants at the Wharf will officially open one by one over the next few weeks, including Hank’s Oyster Bar, Del Mar by Fabio Trabocchi, and Requin by Mike Isabella and Jennifer Carroll of Top Chef.

Shake Shack and Taylor Gourmet are open now, as is the Pearl Street Warehouse, which is a cafe and diner by day, small concert venue by night.

The anchor of the district is the 57,000-square-foot concert hall The Anthem, built by the team behind the 9:30 Club, Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Lincoln Theatre.

“Most [concert] buildings, you retrofit,” said Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of the Anthem and head of parent company I.M.P. Productions. “You look at clubs, they’re in warehouses. You find an old building, ‘Wow, what a cool building.’ And you make it into a venue.”

Hurwitz had been searching for more than a decade for a mid-size venue that could accommodate anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 people, yet still feel intimate, approachable, and unintimidating.

The Anthem stage, Credit: John Shore

Unable to find what he wanted, he ended up teaming up with PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette to build his dream site.

“There’s always been a lot of acts that have skipped D.C. because there wasn’t the right place to play of this size,” he explains. “And a lot of these acts might not have played D.C. at all.”

The Anthem’s initial lineup certainly speaks volumes. Over the next couple of months it features concerts by LCD Soundsystem, Tegan and Sara, Bob Dylan, Erykah Badu, and Morrissey. And for its first gig, a sold-out concert by the Foo Foo Fighters.

The Wharf has been in development for roughly a dozen years, in what developer Hoffman calls a “truly public/private partnership” largely spearheaded by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the native Washingtonian who represents the city in Congress.

Cymbals in the Anthem lobby, Credit: John Shore

“This site is something of a miracle, because I saw it when it was only on paper and it was called Southwest Water Redevelopment Act,Congresswoman Norton said at the ceremony. “That’s not very glamorous.” The end result is “not just…a reinvigorated neighborhood,” she continued. “It’s a new destination here in the District of Columbia.”

“Now we are told that this is the completion of what is unceremoniously called Phase 1,” Norton added. “Well, if this is Phase 1, people, imagine what this site is going to look like when it is finished.”

The Wharf’s Kickoff Celebration Weekend runs through Sunday, Oct. 15, with free performances and other activities on the District Pier on Wharf Street SW.

The Anthem is located at 901 Wharf St. SW.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.