The Guitar Bar Coming to 1216 18th St, NW. Will it Replace The Guitar Shop on the 2nd Floor or Supplement it on the Third Floor?

Now this is one of the more confusing situations I’ve ever posted about. A recent liquor license application has been filed for a new bar to be called The Guitar Bar. It lists the address as 1216 18th St, NW and says:

Upscale tavern serving European sausages, hotdogs, pretzels and popcorns featuring DJ and background music. No designated dance floor – no dancing. Summer Garden with 210 seats. Seating capacity is 60. Total occupancy load is 330.

Sounds awesome right? However, 1216 18th St, NW is the address listed for the soon to be opening Shack Shake to be located in the former Fudrucker’s space at the corner of 18th and Jefferson Pl, NW (just off Connecticut Ave). So naturally, given the name, I assumed the bar would be moving into the space above currently (and for almost a century) home to The Guitar Shop:

Founded in 1922 by Sophocles Papas, The Guitar Shop has become a treasured Washington landmark. Renown for serving the needs of professional and amateur guitarists alike with everything from music, strings and accessories, through advanced private instruction. For those seeking a fine instrument, The Guitar Shop offers an unrivaled selection of hundreds of guitars, ranging from modest student instruments costing less than two hundred dollars to one of a kind virtuoso guitars valued at five thousand dollars and more.

The Guitar Shop has an international reputation, having over the years served patrons in more than one hundred countries. Here in America the shop has served everyone from the President of the United States to elementary school students. Numbered among its clientele are many professional folk, jazz, country, rock and classical musicians.

The shop represents many of the finest luthiers from the United States and around the world both as their artist representative to the professionals and as their sales distributor to the public. It has also been an integral part of the arts and academic community, working with most of the area colleges and universities as well as such respected organizations as the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, the Kennedy Center, Folger Shakespeare Theater, Arena Stage, the Washington Performing Arts Society, and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Stephen and Lynda Spellman purchased the shop in 1968 from its founder who was also Steve’s instructor and mentor. Married since 1969, Steve and Lynda have worked side by side successfully managing the business as they raised their two children, Reed and Heather.

I spoke to Mr. Spellman at the Guitar Shop and he said he knew of no plans of a Guitar Bar for this space. The Guitar Shop is obviously a legendary space in DC. But as I’m now looking at the building clearly there are 3 floors. So perhaps the bar will be coming to the third floor and will also occupy a roof deck? I’ll be sure to keep my eyes on this corner to see if/where The Guitar Bar will call home. The liquor license application makes it sound like a roof deck/summer garden will be a large component so I wouldn’t totally rule out the location on the third floor of this building. More updates as they become available.

And on a side note, If you’ve never visited the Guitar Shop it is truly a wild store jam packed with guitars corner nearly every single square foot of the cramped space. Guitar and history buffs will enjoy a conversation with Mr. Spellman.

33 Comment

  • I’ve been by this place once and I can tell you I have never been to a more rude guitar store in my life. The place is a mess and the guys who worked there simply conversed amongst themselves as I stood there staring at them waiting to be helped. I seemed to annoy them when I finally got their attention. After an awkward debate over where their pics were, I was told to “go look for them”, I walked out the door with a bad taste and decided not to come back. As much as I want this to be a great music store I say good riddance.

    • Joe, you’ve described the exact experience I had when visiting the shop. It’s a shame that there is a complete lack of quality guitar stores in DC.

    • The place is all junked up and they don’t care about you unless you’re Jimi Hendrix. I wonder how they stay in business. The rents in that area must be out of control.

    • These guys treat customers like garbage. They particularly like to throw around bucketloads of obscure terminology to show how cool and knowledgeable they are. And if you aren’t visibly intimidated by their little game, they get even surlier and ruder. Terrible store.

    • Blithe

      I’ve been to this place multiple times –and will continue to go there whenever I want interesting and provocative conversations, a place to chill, or “need” to buy another guitar. My first experience there was kind of intimidating. Nobody jumped out at me to ask if they could help me. There were few guitars on display — and none of them had visible price tags. But when the guys did eventually ask what they could help me with, they were endlessly patient as they answered my many questions, and were extremely kind and respectful of my newbie needs and budget.
      In contrast to Joe, I’ve often been startled by the attention I’ve received. A simple question about picks might balloon into a wonderfully informative free-for -all as Steve, Jody, guys from the repair shop, teachers, and customers jump in with questions, opinions, and even demos — all leading to a purchase that bills in at under a dollar.
      This store feels like a national treasure…and it would be a huge loss — for me, at least — if pretzels and “popcorns”replaces one of my favorite chill-spots in DC.

  • What is actually more confusing is how can you call yourself and “upscale tavern” when you serve “European sausages, hotdogs, pretzels and popcorns”. Also, who writes the descriptions on the liquor application signs? They are always filled with terrible/incomprehensible non-sense, poor grammar, and worse spelling.

  • Could it be that fine European popcorns are the next cupcake?

  • I can’t imagine a bar on the third level of that building. The Guitar Shop occupies at least part of that level, as well as the second. They use the third level for storage and guitar lessons.

  • if they don’t even know where the picks are, it’s pretty likely they don’t know what the future of the building is.

  • They must own the building or have a crazy long lease. Otherwise, I can’t see how they stay in business. I’ve been playing music in bands for years, i.e. I have a lot of equipment and instrument needs, and I go out of my way to avoid this place. I’d gladly take hot dogs or cupcakes or anything over them.

  • I’m a drummer, but have a banjo I picked out of a friend’s basement. I bought a set of strings there for it and thought they were just rude to drummers. Glad to hear they’re equal opportunity d-bags.

  • It’s seems that most people don’t like this place. I’ve never been because I order most of my gear online or in bulk.

    But . . .

    Can anyone recommend a good luthier in town? I’m getting to the point that I’ll need a setup soon. Damn you huge weather swings!

  • Thread hijack!

    Yeah, the Guitar Shop is a cool place to go and have a wild conversation but not so much if you’re actually looking to buy a guitar or guitar accessories.

    I went in there to look for a new guitar a few years ago, and after 45 minutes of mostly unrelated conversation the guy brought out a $4000 guitar that was nice but nothing like the one I wanted or could afford, and spent another 30 minutes trying to convince me it was the guitar for me.

    I still LOVE the $750 guitar I bought off eBay.

  • pablo .raw

    Well, I’ve been there a couple times only and I loved the mess! I even want to go back and take some photos of the place. I was there to get some strings, and I had a good experience.

  • That Guitar Shop is basically the record store in “High Fidelity.” I love it!

  • My step brother (who is a professional guitarist) bought some guitars from them in the 80s and 90s and had no bad experiences there. Apparently lots of pros buy guitars there.

    A great place (not in DC, but not too far away) for guitars and gear is Atomic Music. Their main shop is in Beltsville, and I think they have a store in Arlington.

    • My step brother (who is a professional guitarist) bought some guitars from them in the 80s and 90s and had no bad experiences there. Apparently lots of pros buy guitars there

      Not even sure “lots of pros buy guitars there”, though that’s certainly the image these guys try to project. I think the explanation here for why exactly they don’t seem to give a shit about anyone is that Steve Spellman is Gladys Noon Spellman’s son. If that name strikes a chord with you, it’s because that’s the official name of the B-W Parkway.

      He’s basically an aging trust-fund kid who doesn’t really need to sell anything–or even be polite to strangers–to make rent.

      He certainly is one odd bird, though.

      • My step brother told me that Jorma Kaukenan, Neil Young, Steve Morse and other guitarists he admires have bought guitars there. This was in the late 80s – maybe things have changed since then.

        Very familiar with Ms. Spellman. I grew up in Laurel and remember hearing about her collapsing into a coma when I was in elementary school.

        • why would famous musicians buy a guitar from a shop when they can easily just get them from a manufacturer straight up.
          Neil Young uses mainly Martins, Gibsons and Fenders. hell, there’s a private club in dc that Gibson owns and lets rockers hang out in.

  • Never been to the Guitar Shop, but I do have a luthier I can recommend. I just took my guitar to Daniel Carbone of Arlington Fret Works and was really pleased with the service. We looked at my guitar together and he walked me through what he was doing. It was a small repair but I was thrilled. Give him a call or visit his site

    • I’ve had two guitars set up by Daniel Carbone and am very impressed – he treats a $200 guitar with as much respect as a $1000 one, and they both play equally as well. Fair prices, fast turnaround, and he even discouraged me from getting a third guitar set-up because he didn’t think it needed it. Who discourages a setup?

  • I wonder if the Shack Shake isn’t happening and the Guitar Bar is taking over the Fuddrucker’s space. Taking up the third floor and adding a roof deck would mean the Guitar Shop is losing its second (third) floor, where the practice rooms are.

    Commenting on the folks who’ve had bad experiences there, it’s really a place that grows on you. After playing a few of their instruments and talking shop with them, they gradually warmed up and now every visit (for strings, other guitar accoutrement) becomes an hours-long discussion on the merits of playing Bach or listening to Joe Pass. Steve and Jodie really are good people.

  • Other than strings or picks i had a last minute need for, i’ve never bought anything at The Guitar Shop.

    I learned, back when i was a teenager, that the only way to shop for guitar equipment is to know exactly what the item REALLY costs before you walk in the door, or else you will get rolled over by the staff.

    One of my pastimes used to be going to places like The Guitar Shop and pretending like i don’t know anything about the products, just to see what kind of wild claims the staff would make.

    Also, i figured out that you’re not likely to ever get a competitive price from a mom and pop of that size.

    Nowadays I usually price things using a combo of Chuck Levin’s, Guitar Center and Ebay. Then I go with the lowest price. Never had a bad experience in hundreds of purchases that way.

  • I assume there’s an enormous backyard/alley space with this? There is no way 300 seats could be opened up upstairs for this “garden.” Makes me think that the shake place isn’t happening

  • I agree with every criticism of The Guitar Shop – that guy’s a jerk. When buying a Strat 5 yrs ago I went in there and tried to be specific about fretboards, etc. He condescendingly said, “What you’re describing is a Strat…what we call a Stratocaster. We pick out a selection from the factory and then you can try them out.” Oh wow, I’m doubly impressed your store is too rarified to have Strats in stock but you will go to this mythical factory to pick out the finest specimen for me. Didn’t go back.

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