Georgetown’s Renowned Blues Alley Reopens Sept. 16


At the height of the pandemic in February 2021, it looked like D.C.’s most famous jazz supper club — Georgetown’s Blues Alley — might be shuttering for good. But now, having survived financially by offering online rather than live performances throughout Covid’s darkest days, the vaunted venue at 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW is set to reopen to the delight of Georgetown’s reviving tourism and commercial sectors as well as cultural aficionados the world over.

For the next month, after 18 months of darkness, Blues Alley will once again be showcasing live jazz from local artists with four nights of shows each week beginning this evening, Sept. 16. First up, local jazz ensemble and seven-time WAMMIE winners, Veronneau. 

Instead of languishing with the blues during the club’s lengthy pandemic closure, the Blues Alley’s executive director Harry Schnipper has been beyond busy pivoting the business to new formats and refurbishing the club’s capabilities. 

“People keep asking what I’ve been doing and I’ve said, well, I took over the Jazz Chair at Voice of America hosting a [music] program, I started teaching at George Mason via Zoom and I did a weekly virtual broadcast around the world at the National Press Club,” Schnipper told The Georgetowner.

He’s also been busy refurbishing the club’s capacities to be ready for reopening even stronger than before. “We totally updated all of our internal platform technologies,” Schnipper said. “We’ve updated our audio, we now have live recording capability, we now have video streaming capability in the club, we totally refurbished the interior and we’ve made sure everything is contactless from the point-of-sale to the restrooms so you don’t have to touch any surfaces. This is what we did at the National Press Club, and now we’re just converting everything over to the new system we’ve got here at the club. Next weekend, we’re going to do live recordings.” 

How does it feel to be welcoming audiences back to Blues Alley after so long? “It’s exhilarating,” Schnipper said. “All the naysayers and pundits kept saying ‘you’re never coming back’ but I kept saying, you can continue to be a pundit and a prognosticator, but frankly, you never asked me.”

As Blues Alley restarts live performances, they’ll be requiring proof of vaccination from all patrons, artists and visitors, and capacity will be at 50 percent or 75 seats. “I’ve got to be able to follow the Covid protocols to ensure good safety for all of our customers, artists, and visitors. Safety comes before all,” Schnipper said. 

Known as “the house that Dizzy built,” Blues Alley has played host to the greatest names in the history of jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Mingus, Tony Bennett, Stan Getz, Eva Cassidy and Chick Corea. A major D.C tourist destination, the club — situated in a turn-of-the-century brick carriage house nestled in the alleyway at 1073 Wisconsin Ave, NW — is also renowned for its speakeasy feel, cozy (pre-Covid) 125-capacity and candlelit intimacy. 

More than just a jazz stage, Blues Alley, founded in 1965, is known for its “authentic Creole cuisine,” cocktails named for jazz greats, diverse audiences, incubation of local talent, promotion of world music, all-ages admission and educational outreach. 

By October, Schnipper is hoping to post a full all-week schedule of live performances for Blues Alley and by Columbus Day, he is hoping to be back to normal programming. It’ll be another “all-diva weekend,” he said. 

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