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Update, 3:43 p.m.: Blues Alley owner Harry Schnipper says that the damage to the storied Georgetown jazz club, where a fire broke out on Tuesday evening, is nowhere near as severe as has been reported.
“I’m standing in my downstairs room, looking around—if you saw this place, you’d say we were ready to do a show tonight,” he tells City Paper. “There is water damage, I’ll acknowledge that … but the electricity just came back on in here, and all the tables are still set and ready.”
The damage was minor enough that he hopes to reopen in a week.
In fact, Schnipper says that there was not actually a fire per se. Regarding the smoke that had triggered the alarm, he says that it indicates a “patch-up job” is needed within the ductwork.
DC FEMS communications director Jen Donelan, however, disputes this. “The firefighters on the scene sent out a working fire dispatch,” she says. “They only do that when there is an actual working fire.” However, she confirms that the main room of the club is essentially unscathed, and reiterates that the initial estimate of damages was just $50,000.
“The only damage we took is water damage,” Schnipper says. “We’re going to bring in the dehumidifiers, and then start working to remediate the water. Maybe I’m being optimistic, but right now we plan to be open again next Tuesday.
“200-year-old building,” he adds. “It’s got strong bones, man!”
Blues Alley, the venerable and world-renowned Georgetown jazz club, was severely damaged in a fire Tuesday night, Oct. 26. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.
The fire started in the ceiling of the club’s second floor at about 6:30 p.m., just as patrons were beginning to arrive for the first set by saxophonist Owen Broder’s quintet. (Blues Alley recently shifted its set times to 7 and 9 p.m.) The guests, along with the staff, owner Schnipper, and trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, quickly evacuated, and no injuries were reported. (Most of the band members were not in the building when the fire started.)
Broder and his band were at Blues Alley to kick off a tour in support of his new album. “We’d showed up for soundcheck at 4 p.m.,” the saxophonist tells City Paper. “It smelled a little smoky, but no one thought anything of it.” He and most of the band then went for a walk before the show; by the time they got back to the club, it had been emptied.
Noordhuis was upstairs having dinner when she saw waves of smoke. She grabbed as much of the band’s gear as she could, including their horns, and got outside. Broder and the others were able to run back in for most of the rest of their stuff before the firefighters arrived. “The only things that were irreparably damaged were a few of the pages from the piano book,” says Broder.
According to the Washington Post, so many firefighters and equipment were dispatched to Blues Alley that firefighters from Montgomery County had to be brought in to man the nearby West End firehouse in case of any other emergencies.
One firefighter received minor injuries when he fell through the roof. “He’s okay,” DC Fire and EMS Department director of communications Jen Donelan tells City Paper.
The club’s brick exterior—it’s housed in a converted 200-year-old carriage house in an alley off Wisconsin Avenue NW—survived intact. Most of the interior damage is to the second floor, Donelan says. Firefighters had to tear into the ceiling to locate the blaze. FEMS’s initial estimate of damages was $50,000.
A statement on the club’s Twitter feed Wednesday said that the damage was still being assessed, but that it was confined to the second floor and roof.
The tweet also included a photograph of Schnipper standing outside Blues Alley and smiling. In the photo, the club’s letterboard sign reads, “Like a phoenix we will rise.”