Project Description


Photographer: John Shore

View the Photos


Opened in 1995 by partners who bonded through music, Eighteenth Street Lounge drew legions of fans to its quirky vibe, retro décor, and the feeling of having stumbled onto the city’s best kept secret night spot. No sign outside advertised ESL, and doormen were known for their idiosyncratic admissions “policies.”

Partners Farid Nouri, Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton, and Yama Jewayni’s unique vision featured diverse genres from jazz to reggae, with renowned DJs and live bands on multiple stages scattered throughout the building’s two levels. The vintage velveteen couches and fin de siècle chandeliers contrasted with the high-quality sound systems that permeated the club.

And it wasn’t just a club; it was the recording studio where Eric Hilton and Rob Garza recorded internationally-known Thievery Corporation’s first album shortly after ESL opened.

Over the twenty-five years of its existence, Eighteenth Street Lounge was popular with diplomats, community leaders, celebrities, and two generations of local regulars. It was a landmark venue that transformed DC nightlife.

“I’m honored that Fund by Photo selected Eighteenth Street Lounge for its first online show. Many of these photos are published here for the first time. Currently, live performances are not allowed across the country as a result of the pandemic; looking at the pictures reminds me how much joy live music brings to our lives, and how important it is to #saveourstages.”


“Sometimes it seems as if everyone who has ever lived in Washington has found themselves on the vintage sofas at ESL at least once.”

“Dear God, Eighteenth Street Lounge is Closing after 25 Years.”

“When Eighteenth Street Lounge closed permanently in June 2020, Washingtonians mourned the ‘end of an era.'”


View the Photos


“Permanent closings because of COVID-19 are becoming part of our lives, but I was stunned to hear that ESL closed. It drove home that the pandemic isn’t just a daunting speed bump, it’s marking the end of an era. ESL’s closing hit me hard, not just because that’s where I’ve shot live music more often than at any venue, but also – and mainly – because ESL is where I came to love shooting live music, where I learned a lot about shooting live music, and along the way where I made new friends and had a ton of fun.

I got hooked while shooting See-I regularly on Wednesday nights; hence the show’s spotlight on See-I. Once hooked, however, I shot throughout the club, albeit less thoroughly. Doing a show about ESL never crossed my mind, let alone a show like this. So what’s here doesn’t do justice to Eighteenth Street Lounge, which somehow packed six different mini-venues and vibes together tightly in a way that fit comfortably and felt intimate. But in showing what it looked like from my viewpoint, I hope it reminds you of yours.”

— John Shore


Mostly self-taught, John Shore began photographing live music seriously in 2009, shooting local bands in small local venues. Some of the internationally-known bands he’s shot regularly include Thievery Corporation, Gogol Bordello, and SOJA. When The Anthem opened in 2017, he became a principal house photographer, shooting over 100 artists there until COVID-19 hit. Visit John’s portfolio to see more of his live-music and other work.

John Shore, Photographer

John Shore photographing SOJA, Wolf Trap, 2019 / Photo by Jes Vegas


Many individuals and organizations helped to make this show possible. For their generous contributions to the show, thanks to Jon Bowen (ESL Posters), and Rob Myers (home page graphics). And thanks to Çinar Akçin, Susan Bachurski, Gail Griffith, Brian Liu, Rob Myers, Joseph Rucker, Hilary Shore, and many others for advice, portfolio reviews, and general encouragement. Special thanks to Farid Nouri (ESL), and PhotoShelter (website tech support).


Buy a book or an archival-quality, mounted or unmounted print and we donate 100% of the net proceeds to charity. You’ll help support people who have been disproportionately hurt by the same pandemic that decimated the music scene.

Buy a Print
Buy a Book
Make a Donation