Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, is one of the most famous stretches of road in the entire world, ranking up there with America’s other huge expanse of tarmac: Route 66. Linking the east and west of the city, it cuts through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, as well as many other different parts of the city, the location has become one etched into counterculture history since its creation.
However, there is one part of West Hollywood that sticks out as the road’s most famous segment. This is the area known as the ‘Sunset Strip’, the 1.5 mile stretch of the Boulevard that features boutiques, restaurants, rock bars, and nightclubs, as well as its array of giant, colourful billboards.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the strip was frequented by mobsters and the most important names in the movie industry. Home to iconic clubs such as Ciro’s, The Mocambo and The Trocadero, it had a seedy underbelly that became so notorious that it was immortalised in Raymond Chandler’s 1949 novel, The Little Sister.
Furthermore, at that time the strip boasted the Garden of Allah hotel, which provided an LA base to writers such as Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Examples such as these are what initially gave the area its glitzy spirit.
From the 1960s and onwards, the movie stars had lost interest in the strip. However, it would then get another, a more iconic breath of life. This also came from a completely opposite demographic. The burgeoning counterculture used it as one of its main places of gathering. It became a popular spot for musicians and tourists alike, establishing the symbiotic nature of the strip and rock ‘n’ roll forevermore.
Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Byrds, Frank Zappa, you name a legend from the period of ‘classic rock’, and you’d struggle to find any that hadn’t at one point found themselves visiting the strip. As well as playing the strip’s nightclubs such as Gazzari’s, The Whisky a Go Go and The Roxy, many of this generation of musicians would frequent these bars for the rest of their lives, such as Lemmy, the late frontman of Motörhead.
Fast-forwarding to the 1980s, and the strip had become the epicentre of the brash and hedonistic glam metal scene. During this period of excess, you’d struggle not to spot members of bands such as Quiet Riot and Mötley Crüe partying on any given day of the week, including Sundays.
Again, during the 1990s the strip lost its verve as the epicentre of the city’s alternative scene, possibly owing to the new generation being the antithesis of glam metal. They opted to move their activity further east, to areas such as Echo Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake. Even though the alternative scene has vacated the area, taking a lot of the culture with it, today it is still legendary, due to the long history it has linking it to some of the city’s most famous artistic figures.
A vibrant area brimming with exploration options, Sunset Strip is home to places ranging from Sunset Tower to the SkyBar. For you music lovers out there, it is somewhat of a holy grail, a place of pilgrimage that should be visited if you really want to walk in the footsteps of your heroes.
The brilliant thing about Sunset Strip is that although many of its most famous or notorious haunts of rockstars have shut down, the most important ones are still in operation. This means you can go have a drink in the same places as people such as Iggy Pop or Neil Young and watch bands perform on the same stage that Fleetwood Mac and Soundgarden have played on.
A hallowed area with a strange and colourful history, be prepared for an experience like no other. Drink plenty of water and pack your best shades.
The rock bars of Sunset Strip:
Whiskey a Go Go
Where to start than the most rock ‘n’ roll of them all? Situated on 8901 Sunset Boulevard, Whiskey a Go Go is a rock nightclub of the highest order. This establishment has seen The Doors, The Stooges, Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and even Linkin Park grace its stage. It is among the city and, indeed, America’s most iconic venues.
Oasis even played a notoriously terrible show at the club in 1994, leading Noel Gallagher to temporarily quit the group out of frustration. Furthermore, it was before a show in 1971 that then guitarist of Fleetwood Mac, Jeremy Spencer, decided to quit the group and join the Christian cult, The Children of God.
By all accounts, rock fans love Whiskey a Go Go. If you ever find yourself in the area, it’s worth booking yourself a booth and visiting. The spirit of the venue is a rock ‘n’ roll as they come. They even serve brilliant, typically American food and a range of alcoholic beverages. What’s not to love?
The Rainbow Bar and Grill
Planted at 9015 Sunset Boulevard, The Rainbow Bar and Grill is a strange one. It operates as a bar, restaurant and grocery store all at the same time. It opened on April 6th, 1972, with a party for Elton John, and if that wasn’t a statement of intent, we don’t know what is.
Even prior to becoming The Rainbow, it was a restaurant steeped in glamour, named the Villa Nova and it was visited by the likes of Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. In the 1970s, it became a notorious hangout for icons such as John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr. It’s safe to say that Lennon definitely would have visited during his ‘Lost Weekend’ period.
However, its most famous regular was undoubtedly Lemmy of Motörhead. For the last two decades of his life, Lemmy frequented the spot and could often be seen playing a video poker machine at the end of the bar. Additionally, the bar even featured in the classic video for the Guns N’ Roses ballad ‘November Rain’.
Open Mon-Fri from 11am to 2am, the bar offers lunch, dinner and a wide range of cocktails. Even more interestingly, dinner is served until 2am “7 days a week”, so whenever you’re half-cut and peckish, they’ve got you covered. There is a jam night every Wednesday, and the bar is always lively. Why not drop in and see if you can beat Lemmy’s favourite game?
The Roxy Theatre
Next door to The Rainbow, is the hallowed nightclub and venue, The Roxy Theatre, owned by iconic record and film producer, Lou Adler, and his son Nic. As a venue, it has hosted everyone from Bob Marley to Chaka Kahn and even saw Paul Reubens debut the slightly sinister character Pee-wee Herman back in 1981.
When visiting the venue, the place you really want entry to is On the Rox, the hidden bar located above the theatre. A hotspot of the young population of Hollywood, it is also visited every night by musicians and influencers. Entry is so coveted that the bar’s opening times and infrequent themes are revealed on the same day on their social media page to avoid going overcapacity.
As long as On the Rox isn’t hosting a private party on that night, it’s worth trying to visit, but even if you can’t gain entry, The Roxy Theatre below is still worth your time.
The Viper Room
Opened in 1986 by actor Johnny Depp and his 21 Jump Street co-star Sal Jenco, The Viper Room is without a doubt the most notorious entry on the collection due to the fact that outside was where River Phoenix died of a heroin overdose in 1993. After that tragic incident, the club gained a reputation as a venue solely for the hard partying, such as a young Robert Downey Junior. Since then, it has changed hands many times and is now a respectable establishment.
At different stages, Hulk Hogan, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Westerberg and Christina Applegate have all frequented the club. As well as hosting performances by legends such as Johnny Cash, downstairs it houses a large whiskey bar. Styled in the fashion of “Harlem’s great jazz clubs of the 1920’s”, it’s always worth a visit if you’re a fan of whiskey and of music.
Downstairs is a warm and uber relaxing opposite to the colourful bar upstairs. Treat yourself to some warming scotch whilst listening to a vast array of rock ‘n’ roll.