If you were to walk around West Hollywood in the ’70s, you’d find yourself among some of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century. Led Zeppelin was destroying hotel rooms on the Strip, a little group of musicians at a club on Santa Monica was deciding to call themselves the Eagles, and venues across town were exploding with talent every single night. And though it’s no longer the raucous stomping grounds for the likes of Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin, West Hollywood remains a historic holy land for musicians and music-lovers the world over. It’s the kind of city that every artist dreams of someday performing in. Whether you’re here to step in the footsteps of legends or discover the next big act, here are the spots you can’t miss during your time in WeHo.
The venues along the Sunset Strip (and one on Santa Monica) are responsible for West Hollywood’s status as a musical mecca. The history of these halls is palpable. You can still sense the spirit of the legends that were born here — and the ones in the backroom, still waiting to take the stage.
One of several famous venues on the Strip, the Roxy is notable for the variety of historic acts that have played in front of its crowds. The intimate nightclub has hosted countless iconic musical artists since its opening in 1973, everyone from rock and rollers (Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen) and singer-songwriters (Neil Young and Van Morrison), to punk rockers (the Ramones and Patti Smith) and pop phenoms (Prince and David Bowie). But the venue houses more than just musical acts, and over the years, it’s been the site of other historic performances, such as Paul Reubens’s introduction of his Pee-Wee Herman character, the American theatrical debut of “the Rocky Horror Show” (which would eventually evolve into “the Rocky Horror Picture Show”), and the first AIDS benefit held in Los Angeles.
There’s a reason “Rolling Stone” named the Troubadour the second-best club in America. Apart from the various historic moments in entertainment history that have played out here (e.g. comedian Lenny Bruce getting arrested for using the word “schmuck,” John Lennon and Harry Nilsson being ejected for heckling the Smothers Brother after getting drunk at the Roxy’s adjoining bar, On the Rox), the Troubadour is famous for having introduced countless rising talents to the world. Famous acts who got their start here include Elton John, the Eagles, Steve Martin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Cheech & Chong. And today, the WeHo institution on Santa Monica Boulevard continues to give a stage to popular and emerging artists like Fiona Apple, Bastille, and Grace VanderWaal. So if you catch a show here, who knows? You might just see a superstar in the making.
The Viper Room
Though the music tastes here are a bit more particular than at other WeHo venues (it hosts mainly punk-rock and heavy metal bands), the Viper Room is worth checking out for its iconic spot in Hollywood history. Bought in 1993 by Johnny Depp, who revitalized it along with his “21 Jump Street” co-star Sal Jenco and musical legend Tom Waits, the venue grew to be a popular hangout for the entertainment industry elite — even though it was also the site of River Phoenix’s fatal overdose in 1993. The cast of regulars meandering in and out the front door included A-list actors and musicians such as Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Rosario Dawson, and Jared Leto. Molly Bloom hosted her famous high-stakes poker games here, with a host of rotating players that included Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Alex Rodriguez, and Macaulay Culkin. And Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz tended bar, even after his band’s debut album went triple platinum. Though its popularity among the stars has declined as it’s changed hands several times in the last decade or so, the Viper Room remains a Hollywood institution.
Whiskey a Go Go
Whiskey a Go Go’s spot as a Sunset Strip landmark has been cemented by the monstrously popular bands and artists it’s given rise to, from SoCal legends like the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, and Alice Cooper to up-and-comers from around the world like Led Zeppelin and the Velvet Underground. Though it started out in 1964 exclusively as a rock venue, the club soon expanded to allow a variety of acts, with punk, new wave, and heavy metal growing increasingly popular throughout the ’70s. Today, as with the Troubadour, it hosts a mix of popular acts and emerging voices, so don’t be afraid to step into a show featuring a name you don’t recognize. One day, you might be able to say, “I saw them at Whiskey a Go Go when they were just starting out.”
From a homey studio for musicians visiting the city to a veritable party grounds for rock and roll legends, these are the accommodations that musicians in WeHo have routinely called home.
While the hotel itself is exquisite, what makes this spot just east of the Strip so alluring is the historic and state-of-the-art recording studio hidden in its basement. In its roughly 25-year history, Nightbird Recording Studio has become an oasis for musicians of all shapes and sizes. Whether they’re working with brand new performers who have yet to make a name for themselves or worldwide career superstars (and there have been plenty of those), the team at Nightbird treats everyone the same, crafting a home away from home for artists on a creative retreat. While the average music fan can’t just waltz in off the street, they can certainly hang out in the hotel restaurant, Cavatina, or bar, Bar 1200, where musicians have been known to relax with a drink after a recording session or a show at a nearby venue. You can also check out the Morrison Hotel Gallery, tucked just inside the front door, which features famous photos of past and present musical icons.
Andaz West Hollywood
From the mid-70s to 1997, this famous WeHo hotel was known as the Hyatt on Sunset, though many who stayed here referred to it as the “Riot House.” Whatever moniker you choose, the hotel’s reputation as an infamous stomping ground for rollicking rockers is undeniable. Among the episodes that reportedly played out here, you have Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham driving a motorcycle through the hallways when the band rented out six entire floors for themselves and their entourage; Jim Morrison getting evicted after dangling from a window by his fingertips; Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant standing on a balcony and yelling out “I am a golden god!” while gazing out over the Sunset Strip; and both Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and the Who drummer Keith Moon, during separate incidents, throwing a television out of their respective windows. Yet, even with its rich (albeit, troubled) history, this is still the most “affordable” hotel on this list!
A defunct record store, a star-studded counterculture diner, and a bookshop that caters to music-lovers round out West Hollywood’s musical menagerie.
A record store, a party haven, a rock-and-roll capital, a movement. Throughout its heydey in the latter half of the 20th century, Tower Records wasn’t just a place for music fans to visit; it was the place to be. Though the chain had stores all over the world, one of its most iconic locations was the one in West Hollywood, at Sunset and Horn. As the story goes, Tower eventually went out of business, succumbing to both mismanagement and the digital music revolution, but the building still stands at its original location on the Strip. So, though you can no longer wander the endless rows of records (for that, there are hundreds of other options throughout LA), visitors can still go see where the iconic industry flared and fizzled. For an interesting, in-depth look at Tower Records’ cultural significance, check out the Colin Hanks-directed documentary, “All Things Must Pass.”
Since it moved to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1927, Barney’s Beanery has been a fixture among the celebrities of the town. The cozy bar and diner was a popular watering hole back in the early days, when the likes of Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, and Judy Garland would sit at the counter, but it cemented its place as a Hollywood hangout when it began attracting members of the folk, beatnik, and counterculture movements in the ’60s. To this day, you can still see actors and writers of all levels blowing off steam here, or even getting to work (Quentin Tarantino supposedly wrote “Pulp Fiction” while eating at his favorite booth), but Barney’s might be most famous (or infamous) for the music industry figureheads who became regular patrons here — Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Though they were genial friends, the two rockers both suffered darker moments at Barney’s — Morrison was once thrown out for urinating on the bar, while Joplin drank a couple of screwdrivers at her favorite booth, #34, before retreating to the Landmark Hotel on the night of her death.
Few stores in West Hollywood (or, really, in LA) rival Book Soup in its palpable love for the printed word, but the beautiful bookshop is also an iconic Sunset institution for music-lovers. Not only does the store feature a decent vinyl record selection, but it was also another favorite spot of Jim Morrison’s during his time in West Hollywood. Morrison even frequented the locale before it was a bookstore, reading his poetry here when it was still a small theater named Cinematheque 16.
More of a movie fan than a music-lover? Luckily West Hollywood has something for everyone. Check out our film buff’s guide to the city now!