Inside L.A’s Hottes & Hippest Haunts
The sounds from decades past can almost be heard from the street corners. The Sunset Strip is the most famous 10 blocks in all of America.
It’s where bands from big cities, small towns and all parts in between go to get discovered. If they are good – and lucky – enough, they emerge from the crowd to reach stardom. (Then they party too much, go into rehab, make a comeback and are featured on VH1’s “Behind the Music.”)
Their goal is to play “the circuit,” which is the Whiskey, Roxy and the Troubadour. Any given night, people line up to hear the good, the great and and the not-so-great in a musical struggle to make it big in the area of Sunset between Doheny and La Ciegena.
The Strip also has L.A’s chic celebrity haunts, places where gaining entrance requires at least an Academy Award nomination or a few magazine cover shots.
The goal of bands is to play “the circuit” while patrons just like to party.
A recent revitalization project acknowledges the area’s contribution to American music with 26 10-foot tall replica Gibson guitars placed in front of businesses and in front of the music venues along the 1.6 miles of the Strip. They were painted by local and nationally-acclaimed artists with themes ranging from Jimmy Hendrix to the 60’s counter-culture era.
Each August, more than 50 bands are performing in the clubs as part of the Sunset Strip Music Festival. That’s when the Strip itself is be blocked off for performances by name bands like Marilyn Manson, the The Smashing Pumpkins and Slash on two stages in the middle of the street.
And just for laughs, the famous Comedy Store is still going strong. Jay Leno, Gallagher, Richard Pryor, George Carlin and more have all cracked jokes at the Comedy Store.
Sunset Strip’s Famous Live Music Venues
Bands still play the live music venues along the famous Sunset Strip.
For Rock ‘n Roll, though, it’s pretty much a punk and heavy metal scene. The demand among bands to “play the Strip” is so high that many bands pay their way onto the stage, sometimes for short gigs that last less than an hour. Time has not at all drained the sound along the Sunset Strip.
The Roxy may be the most legendary of them all. Most recently, however, it features several different types of bands playing for 45 minutes, much to the frustration of true LA music heads.
Next to the Roxy is the Rainbow Bar & Grill (better known as the Rainbow Room), a hard rocker hangout that does not feature live music but does include two free drinks (shots okay) in the $10 cover charge.Because it’s actually a restaurant, there are lots of big booths in addition to a bar area.
Those seeking good entertainment from the “scene” don’t even have to go inside; just stand outside and people-watch. But inside, well, it’s got quite a history, as bands and fans flock here after shows.
The Troubadour is a haven for heavy metal. Located off The Strip on Santa Monica in West Hollywood just east of Beverly Hills, it is also famous for launching folk rockers such as David Crosby at its Monday night “hootenanny.” Mondays still rock to this day.
The aforementioned Viper Room is a good ‘ol rock ‘n roll club with constant big acts taking the stage (most of the time, it’s name rockers sitting in with other bands). True to its nature, it prefers the casual crowd. It can be either impossible to get into or remarkably easy. It features live bands mixed with house/techno and pop/rock and drinks are expensive.
Don’t sit in the booths; they are usually reserved for VIPs, so be prepared to stand all night. Tuesdays have traditionally been its best night, but rock ‘n roll rules on Mondays and now Thursdays has turned into quite the scene.
The Key Club features a big stage, large dance area, surrounding balcony and a VIP room. Bands, celebrities and events are commonplace. For rock fans, go Mondays. It’s an 80’s heavy-metal flashback and the place is packed.
The Whiskey A Go-Go is where the Doors, Guns ‘N Roses, Motley Crue and others emerged from the smoke. It also introduced the Go Go girl back in the 60s when the club’s female DJ started dancing to the tunes she was spinning while suspended in a cage above the dance floor. In the 80s, it became the birth of heavy metal.
• House of Blues: 8430 W. Sunset. (323) 848-5100
• Key Club: 9039 Sunset. (310) 274-5800
• The Rainbow Room: 9015 Sunset Boulevard.(310) 278-4232.
• The Roxy: 9009 W. Sunset. (310) 276-2222
• The Troubadour: 9081 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 276-6168
• Viper Room: 8852 Sunset. (310) 358-1880
• Whiskey A-Go-Go: 8901 Sunset. (310) 652-4202
The Trendy Places – Poser Bars & Celebrity Spots
Every few months, a celebrity will either open up a bar or create some commotion at one – River Phoenix passing out in front of the Viper Room, for example – that will make it the sudden “in” spot among the chic crowd.
Take note that once the general public learns about these places, it’s hipness factor is over and the celebrities have gone on to another place.
Even so, gaining access to these places that may be past their prime requires either going on an off-night just to check out the joint, arriving hours before the “in” crowd or attempting to bribe the picky doorman (he won’t even look at your for less than $20 and this only works sometimes).
There is one place that continues to be hot, and that’s Sky Bar. Cindy Crawford married the owner; that’s how difficult it is to get into this place. Okay, it’s not not quite that tough, but go early or during the week. Located in a while building next to the House of Blues in the Mondrian Hotel.
Sky Bar is an elegant, outdoor bar, a wood deck surrourding a pool. The view is spectacular – sweeping from downtown LA to Century City to Santa Monica and the Wilshire District. It has tables by the overlook, mattresses and lounge chairs scattered around the pool and an upstairs bar with drinks that start at $9. It’s nice, expensive, and somewhat of a highbrow pick-up joint.
Balboa, a high-end steak restaurant in the Grafton Hotel is worth a look. So, too, is the bar at the Standard Hotel.
Sunset Strip Casual Bars
Anyone can pull up a table at one of the many small cafes at Sunset Plaza.
Between 8600-8700 Sunset Blvd., these bistros have tables outside next to the sidewalk on both sides of the street that provide a real European flair to the area.
Le Petit Four is the most popular place, though anyone from LA loves to rave about the Chinese Chicken Salad at Chin Chin. Scattered among the cafes are boutiques from Nicole Miller, H. Lorenzo and others.
On the less-than-highbrow side, a really fun and casual place to kick back with a couple of beeers is the Red Rock Bar. The small patio (it seats 30 max and is divided by the entrance) is a great place to hang out, meet new people, and watch the traffic flow up and down Sunset Blvd. Inside, a band plays when the sun leaves the day.
From the patio, it’s possible to reminisce about the Sunset Strip that was – across the street is the former locations of the famous Tower Records and Spago’s, the LA restaurant that put Wolfgang Puck on the map (and THE foodie hangout for everyone in Hollywood).
It’s not the scene of the other places, but history is on the side of Barney’s Beanery. Celebrities and “regular” patrons come here for the burgers and chili (and the onion rings!) and stay for the bar.
Andrew “Dice” Clay used to stand on the tables here and try out his act before launching his character. This is an old-style roadhouse with a huge menu, old-style juke box, Harley on display and pool tables.
Its address is Santa Monica Blvd, but it’s actually just down from the House of Blues on Holloway Drive.
• Balboa: 8462 Sunset in the Grafton Hotel. (323) 654-4600
• Barney’s Beanery: 8447 Santa Monica, West Hollywood. (323) 654-2287.
• Red Rock Bar, 8782 Sunset. (310) 854-0710.
• Sky Bar: 8440 Sunset (at Queens Road) in the Mondrian Hotel. (323) 848-6025
• The Standard: 8300 Sunset. (323) 650-9090
• Sunset Plaza: 8600-8700 Sunset.