Catching the Historic Music Venues in LA

Entrance to Lemmy's Lounge at the Rainbow
Entrance to Lemmy’s Lounge at the Rainbow

If you’re into music, it’s pretty hard to stay clear of Los Angeles. But we managed to do just that for many years, preferring to catch our favourite artists in other cities. This year, we made the pilgrimage to LA, and in particular, Sunset Strip where many icons of the music world honed their skills. If you want to know who has played where, just check out the photos on display in most of the venues. Almost everyone has played in these places at one time or another.

The Rainbow Bar & Grill

First stop was the Rainbow Room, or the Rainbow Bar & Grill as it is officially called. It’s a bar, but with a difference. Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead fame spent many an hour here, nursing his Jack Daniels and Coke (which the bar has dubbed the Lemmy) and sitting in the corner playing a VLT machine. He would often stop playing to pose for photos and sign autographs. Always the gracious rock star. He passed away in 2015, but his influence remains. The VLT machine is gone (we were told it was pulled out and taken to his apartment nearby while he was very sick so he could continue to play), but his chair in the corner is still there and a favourite of visitors. A plaque marks his seat at the end of the bar where he could always see who came in. On busy nights there is a charge to get into the Rainbow, but most nights you can just walk in.

After his death in 2015, the bar had a full sized bronze statue installed at the back, which is constantly used as a backdrop for photos.

Before it was the Rainbow, it was a restaurant called Villa Nova. This is where Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio met on a blind date in 1952. The bar opened in 1972 with a party for Elton John. Since then it became a favourite for 70s and 80s rockers. Actor John Belushi is said to have eaten his last meal at table 16.

Take a walk through the maze of hallways and you’ll come to a smaller bar upstairs, called “Over the Rainbow”. Here, tucked away in a corner, is a small room that has become famous as the meeting place for the Hollywood Vampires, a drinking club formed by Alice Cooper in the 70s with Johnny Depp, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr and even Mickey Dolenz of Monkees fame. Also part of the Hollywood Vampires was 70s singer Harry Nilsson, who according to bar staff was the hardest partying member. Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison were honorary members as well. In 2015, the Hollywood Vampires became a supergroup comprised of Cooper, Depp, Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and a rotation of ensemble players.

Whiskey A Go Go

A short stumble down the street is the Whiskey A Go Go, or simply, the Whiskey. In 1966 Van Morrison had his first residency here for two weeks with none other than the Doors opening for him. The Doors were the house band until later that year when they were fired after Jim Morrison added an explicit retelling and profanity-laden version of the Greek myth of Oedipus during the song “The End”. In the 1980s, this was the home venue for Mötley Crüe, where they served as the house band. Bands playing at the Whiskey would often walk up the street to the Rainbow Bar.

The timing of our visit was fortuitous. The Crüe was being celebrated at the Whiskey for the release of their Netflix original movie, “The Dirt”, which we had seen just before going to LA. We also walked up to the nearby apartment building they lived in – or should we say wreaked havoc in.

Twenty bucks will get you into the bar on a busy night to see whoever is on stage. We had to go in just to see this iconic venue and while it’s just another bar with a stage, you can’t help but feel the history. The bar was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

The Viper Room

Across the street from the Whiskey is the Viper Room. It was partly owned by Johnny Depp until 2004. Again, another small venue with bar and stage, but worth popping in to check out the local talent. The first band to perform here was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1993. It was here that actor River Phoenix overdosed on Halloween morning in 1993 and died on the sidewalk outside. The phone booth where his brother made the 911 call has been preserved, but is no longer working.

The Troubadour

We also visited the Troubadour, not far off the Strip on Santa Monica Boulevard. After being fired from the Whiskey, the Doors became the house band. It opened in 1957. Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Joni Mitchell and a million others have performed here. A chance encounter in 1970 at the front bar between Don Henley and Glenn Frey resulted in the formation of a small band called the Eagles. That same year, Led Zeppelin stopped by for a legendary three-hour jam session. English rock band Spiritualized performed there while we were in town. Just goes to show you, a visitor can run into anyone in LA. We understand the Troubadour will play a bit part in the upcoming biopic of Elton John.

Trip Tips

We stayed close to the Strip at the Montrose Boutique Hotel in West Hollywood so everything was within walking distance. The quiet hotel is in the midst of the Sunset Strip chaos while allowing some sanctuary and great views from the rooftop pool deck. Hotels.com gave us a great rate with early check in and late check out. Uber will get you to where you want to go in the area so check out the link on the right side of the page.

There are ton of things to see and do in Los Angeles. Check out Lonely Planet’s Pocket Guide. Stars are everywhere, including embedded in the sidewalks. In subsequent articles we’ll look at some of the famous restaurants where the memory of rock and movie stars have been kept alive, and we will visit celebrity cemeteries for a look at the rich and famous who are immortalized in stone.

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To help you on your way, we’ve partnered with several top travel and resource companies. You’ll find them along the right side of the page.

We’re also big fans of Uber, so if you’re new to Uber, use discount code: garryb1781ui. To enter the code, tap the “Payment” menu item within the Uber app, and then “Add Promo/Gift Code.” After submitting, the free credit will appear on your account, and we’ll also get a discount for helping you out.

Have a look at our Cheap Flights page for some search suggestions, and check out our partners listed along the right side of the page who can help with flights, accommodation and travel resources.

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