Seth Hurwitz On Rebuilding The Old 9:30 Club: ‘It Won’t Have The Smell & The Rats’

What Becomes A Legend Most:
Library of Congress
– What Becomes A Legend Most:
The old 9:30 Club, which was located at the same building on 930 F Street from 1980 to 1995, hosted performances by such music deities as R.E.M, Public Enemy, Bad Brains and Fugazi.

When no less a figure than Dave Grohl, Washington, D.C., area native and rock God in his own time, announces a new venue is coming to the Capital City, you take notice; but when it’s the stuff of local live music legend, it’s far more than just a new venue story.

“Who remembers the old 9:30 Club?… That was our church,” Grohl said from the stage of the “new” 9:30 Club on Sept. 9 when Foo Fighters performed a surprise reopening show at the famed venue. “That’s where we got to see every fucking band. That’s where we all played first. That’s where R.E.M. played first. That’s where the Chili Peppers played first. That’s where Nirvana played first… Magic happened in that room… 
“But guess what?” Grohl continued. “They’re gonna open up a place that’s an exact replica of the old 9:30 Club right fucking next door. Nobody knows that because I’m the fucking first one to tell you that right now! So, for all you people who never got to see the old 9:30 Club, you’ll  get to see that shit next door someday…. And let me tell you, if it’s the same vibe as the old 9:30 Club, you’ll see some real magic.”
For sure, many transcendent live music experiences occurred at the old 9:30 Club residing at 930 F Street from May 31,1980, to Dec. 31, 1995, (featuring Mother May I, Black Market Baby, Trouble Funk and Tiny Desk Unit) in a once-blighted section of downtown D.C. 
But the thought of building a “replica” of the original dive, with its pungent bouquet of aromas, rat infestation and pillar-blocked sight lines, as well as its margin-killing 199 official capacity, might be a tough sell in today’s market.
“It won’t be an exact replica, it won’t have the smell and the rats,” Seth Hurwtiz, chairman and co-founder of I.M.P. Concerts, tells Pollstar, “It will have the stage in a corner but I don’t want to give away too many details.”
While the room is still in its nascent planning stages, without name or exact layout, more important to the D.C. area’s famed promoter is how a smaller-sized room will fill a void in I.M.P.’s venue portfolio. 
This includes the “new” 9:30 Club (1,200 capacity), Lincoln Theater (1,250), The Anthem (2,500-6,000) and Merriweather Post Pavilion (19,319). I.M.P. also promotes shows at Capital One Arena (20,356) and, before the pandemic, The U Street Music Hall (capacity 500), which, run by Will Eastman, closed in Oct. 2020. 
“The issue is there’s just no small room in D.C. that we can call our own and run it the way we want it,” says Hurwitz. “It’s the usual issues, which is why we opened Anthem, because we have a certain way we like to do things and we were in someone else’s venue. We were doing shows with U Street Music Hall. There’s plenty of nice, cool, small venues, but they’re not ours. So we want to build what we feel is the best one and run the best way and dedicate it totally to music, built for music, live music.” 

Outta Sight:
Library of Congress
– Outta Sight:
Will the new-old 9:30 Club include its notorious sight-blocking pillars? “It’s the number one question everyone asks me,” says I.M.P’s co-founder and chairman Seth Hurwitz. The answer, thankfully, is a resounding “no.”
Hurwitz also stresses the importance of building relationships with artists and developing a D.C. fanbase before they move on to play bigger venues. “We need to promote and build an act as they relate to D.C. and you need to start doing that in the very beginning. It will pay off for everyone,” he says. “We’ve always done the best numbers on tours, not just because of the city, but because we’ve helped to build the act and educate the audience as to who this act is to get them to that point.” 
The D.C. area promoter gives a concrete example. “I saw Jess Glynne at U Street Musical Hall, and that was amazing,” he says of the power vocalist featured on Clean Bandit’s hit “Rather Be.” “She blew the lid off. You don’t know which act is going to become big, so people should have a comfortable place to go see small acts.” 
The story of how I.M.P. obtained the connected space next door to the “new” 9:30, which was formerly The Satellite Room, a restaurant/bar in its last incarnation, shows Hurwitz’s business foresight. He’s also no stranger to the pros and cons of rampant gentrification – witness the J. Crew that now sits at the site of the original 9:30 on F Street. 
“It was originally a storage facility for the Atlantic Plumbing Company, which was next door,” Hurwtiz says of the new space for the old 9:30.
“I used to walk into that guy’s office every few months and try to get him to sell it to me and the price was always higher than the last time I went to see him. And then a developer bought everything in sight including that, and we had to pay millions for this place to keep it as a buffer between us and whatever was going to get built next to us, so we thought we’ll spend the money, just to keep that DMZ. 
“I beat myself up over what I paid and what I could have paid if I just gave the guy what he wanted at that moment,” he adds. “Of course, as a promoter, we go through that all the time.” Now, of course, the property is valued far higher than when he bought it.
For nearly a decade, I.M.P. leased the space to Ian and Eric Hilton, the latter of whom is one half of the D.C’s. famed electronic duo Thievery Corporation, who ran The Satellite Room until the lease ran out in 2019. 
Part of Hurwitz’s inspiration for the old-new 9:30 originated from the 9:30 Club’s “Worlds Fair” in January of 2016 celebrating the venue’s 35th anniversary with an interactive exhibition, a coffee table book and shows. 
“We had a miniature version of the old 9:30 in the lobby,” Hurwitz says. “And it was so cool that I thought, ‘Well, let’s do a real version, that would be cool.’”
The irony that 25 years ago, in 1996, Hurwitz moved the original 9:30 Club to a bigger space in order to compete with rooms like Black Cat and now he’s rebuilding something of a facsimile of the building he left, isn’t lost on him. 
“There’s so much irony that it’s just ridiculous,” Hurwitz says. “This is probably the last venue I’ll build in my lifetime and it will be the smallest.”