Words by Ruben Gzirian, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Walking through The Wharf is…interesting. Everything—the multitude of restaurants, the all glass facades, and the curated attention to detail—gives you the feeling that in this development our city is making a statement that hasn’t been conceived yet. And while this is exciting in a sort of wait-and-see kind of way, the question of “what does this mean for D.C.?” remains unanswered. As one of three music venues at The Wharf, Pearl Street Warehouse offers a particularly interesting proposition: provide a venue that continues the traditions of past and current institutions like The Bayou, The Cellar Door, 9:30 Club, and Black Cat, while catering to a demographic that demands high standards at a value.
At first glance, Pearl Street Warehouse is brimming with potential. The intimate space, with a capacity of 150-300 people depending on the show, is deceptively big. Visually stimulating corrugated steel lines the walls, creating an aesthetic that provides a rugged contrast to an otherwise refined design. The sound system is also up to the task, and the stage is low to encourage a greater intimacy between musician and audience. The sight lines were generally very good, and an upper mezzanine area with table service provides a nice escape for those not trying to mosh to Americana music. Pearl Street Warehouse also tries to cater to those that prefer watch live shows at home; the entire main space is surrounded by 4K cameras which not only beam the show onto TVs around the venue, but also have the potential to stream any show online. While it seems unassuming and even gimmicky, the idea that a lesser known band can stream their performance to a greater online audience is potentially a big deal, and one that supports co-owner Bruce Gates’ hopes that the venue will become a career springboard for smaller acts.
Pearl Street Warehouse’s success will ultimately rest on the type of acts it’s able to attract. The focus on providing a platform to develop smaller acts, both national and local, as well as attracting bigger names that prefer the venue’s more intimate confines, is a good idea on paper. While Pearl Street Warehouse has already lined up a strong roster of upcoming acts, with Booker T. Jones (best known as the front man of the band Booker T. & the M.G.’s.) kicking things off on Wednesday, the concern is that in a city where a restaurant that serves pasta dishes for $22 is considered “cheap eats” by the Michelin Guide, spending money to see a lesser known act may not be as impulsive as it should be. Fortunately, Bruce assured me that ticket prices will be affordable, with some tickets costing as little as $10.
In speaking with Bruce, The Bayou and The Cellar Door (both now-defunct Georgetown music venues) were mentioned often. And for good reason. Both were mid-Atlantic icons that played host to legendary bands early in their careers— U2’s second show in the United States was at The Bayou, while The Cellar Door helped boost the careers of James Taylor, John Denver, Richard Pryor, and Neil Young. On Thursday, Pearl Street Warehouse, along with The Anthem, will signal the next chapter in D.C.’s storied history of musical venues, and present a unique environment where on any given night the next big thing could be a mere 25 feet from you.