Food & Drink

The Legacy of the Rainbow Bar & Grill

Here’s how the Sunset Strip restaurant earned its place in rock ‘n’ roll history

The Rainbow Bar & Grill, located in the heart of the Sunset Strip, has been a rock ‘n’ roll institution for decades. Whether you’re a rock star or a regular customer, the point is to party, and when you hit two o’clock in the morning, its “no-tell motel” time! This is the way it’s been since the Rainbow Bar & Grill opened on April 16, 1972.

The restaurant was founded by Elmer Valentine, Lou Adler and Mario Maglieri, and opened with a party held for Elton John, who had made his American debut at the Troubadour two years earlier.

The Villa Nova, 1950s. Photo:

Before becoming the Rainbow, the structure had several incarnations. It was the Mermaid Club during the 1930s and The Villa Nova restaurant from 1944-1968. That is where Marilyn Monroe went on a blind date with Joe DiMaggio. The Villa Nova was owned by Allen Dale and film director Vincente Minnelli, who proposed to Judy Garland there. Many believe the Rainbow was named after Garland, as a tribute to “Over the Rainbow,” but that’s not quite true. During the early 1970s, the word “rainbow” signified peace and freedom, so that’s how it received its name, but it’s still an “homage” to Judy.

Notable Regulars

During the ’70s and ’80s, there were at least 300 people in the parking lot every single night. It was a second home to Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, who passed away in 2015. Lemmy loved the Rainbow so much that he moved to West Hollywood to be closer to it. In the last two decades of his life, he was a daily fixture at the Rainbow whenever the band was not on tour, and he was often seen playing the bar’s video poker machine. Following a successful crowdfunding campaign and months of anticipation, a memorial statue in his honor was unveiled in 2016 at his favorite hangout on the back patio.

Mikeal Maglieri and Mike Jr., standing next to the Lemmy Kilmister statue. Photo Credit: Alison Martino.

In 2017, owner Mario Maglieri, also known as “The King of the Sunset Strip,” died at age 93, but he was still holding court on the patio until the very end. Today, the Rainbow Bar & Grill is run by Mario’s son Mikeal, and his grandson, Mike Jr., who had the idea for the Lemmy statue.

“I loved them both so much and I was with them both on the days they passed,” says Mikeal. “In Lemmy’s honor, we have renamed the patio ‘Lemmy’s Lounge’ because of the statue, and we plan on opening them around the world. It’s time to go international! My dad would have wanted that.”

The Rainbow became a hangout for rock musicians and their groupies during the 1970s. Notable regulars during this period included Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Micky Dolenz, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. They referred to themselves as the “Hollywood Vampires,” and they made the Rainbow their home away from home. Everyone from Neil Diamond to Elvis Presley could be seen at the Rainbow.

Alice Cooper at the Rainbow.

The Music Culture

Los Angeles songwriter Warren Zevon references picking up a girl at the Rainbow in the last verse of his 1976 song “Poor Pitiful Me.” The track “Rainbow Bar & Grill” from the Cheech & Chong album Let’s Make a New Dope Deal takes places inside, and eccentric producer Kim Fowley formed the all-girl group The Runaways in the parking lot. Guns N’ Roses filmed part of the “November Rain” music video here.

As musical trends on The Strip shifted toward heavy metal in the 1980s, the Rainbow followed suit and was mentioned in songs such as “Sunset and Babylon” by W.A.S.P. and “Vampire” by L.A. Guns. This is when C.C. DeVille of Poison and Mötley Crüe ruled the place—and their photos still adorn the walls.

Celebrating So Many Unforgettable Years

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Mikeal Maglieri on the outside patio, and he shared a few memorable stories. “Axl Rose was thrown out of here about 11 times. David Lee Roth was also a loyal customer, and he was tossed out about 13 times. They were probably trying to break a record. They were literally thrown out, like, ‘Get the hell out and don’t come back!’ They would just get so screwed up and out of control. It was off the hook! Sam Kinison could be a spectacle, but believe it or not, he didn’t offend anyone. People loved it. He was a fun guy to hang with. But I have seen C.C. DeVille be pretty out of control too.”

“We started putting memorabilia on the walls from the get-go. Later we started taking snapshots at the front door, and we’d hang them on the walls. There are layers after layers of photos. The Sunset Strip is where people got noticed. They weren’t going to get noticed in Silver Lake or out at the beach or in Orange County. If you weren’t playing the Whisky, Gazzari’s, or the Troubadour, then you were hanging at the Rainbow. Just last night Slash was sitting here, and Ozzy was here four hours ago,” says Maglieri.

I asked Mikeal about the future of the Rainbow and the Sunset Strip. “Sunset Strip is becoming Hotel Row,” he says. “There’s massive hotels going up on every block, but we aren’t going anywhere. We own the property, so we are not moving. It would be over my dead body to ever close the Rainbow.”

Long live rock ‘n’ roll.

Alison Martino of Vintage Los Angeles pays tribute to the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Photo by Kimberly Biehl Schmidt.

Updated from the original article written by Alison Martino

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