Legendary Sunset Strip Hot Spots: Past and Present
West Hollywood’s nightlife started in the 1920s—and it’s still going strong.
The Sunset Strip is a party destination like no other—home to gangsters in the roaring 1920s, playground of Hollywood royalty then and now, and the origin of many famous brands.
In the 1920s, Angelenos discovered poinsettia fields and avocado groves outside the boundary of Los Angeles and the jurisdiction of the LAPD. That lovely spot became West Hollywood. With a relaxed (to nonexistent) police presence, WeHo grew into a lawless entertainment mecca. In the 1960s, much of the genesis of modern rock ‘n’ roll happened on The Strip. Today, it’s still a prime destination for swish music, entertainment and partying, plus superb dining and ultra-stylish shopping.
Explore the now-legendary hot spots, past and present, that have made The Sunset Strip one of America’s most iconic neighborhoods.
Featured on many hit TV shows, this Western-themed spot and its signature mechanical bull have earned a special place in pop culture. Rather not ride? Relax and listen to the Saddle Ranch Fiddlers while you eat. Steaks, ribs, s’mores and cocktail carafes are menu highlights.
“You Ain’t Had Nothing Yet!” reads a Carney’s billboard. And eating delicious burgers or hot dogs inside a renovated train car is something you’re never gonna forget. Just ask the countless customers who’ve been downing the classic American fare since 1975. Celebrity fans include giants like Jay Leno and the late, great French entertainer Johnny Hallyday. With such an eye-catching exterior, it’s natural that Carney’s is also in demand for brand events with the likes of Nickelodeon and Coach.
Former Café Trocadero (8610 Sunset Boulevard)
Notorious gangsters Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen, Willie Bioff, Johnny Roselli and Tony Comero made The Strip their territory as old Hollywood greats moved in. The group frequented Café Trocadero, a French-themed nightclub built in 1934. Partiers included Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Bing Crosby and Lana Turner, among others. The as-of-yet undiscovered Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason toured here for Amateur Hour, and high rollers played their hands at poker in the back room. The Trocadero closed in 1947.
The Melody Room opened in 1951 as an intimate jazz club, but back in the ’40s, mobsters Siegel and Cohen used it as a gambling den. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was a club called the Central. In 1993, Johnny Depp purchased the venue and renamed it Viper Room, after a group of musicians known for smoking weed. That same year, the club was the site of River Phoenix’s tragic drug overdose on Halloween night. Today, you can still hear rising rock bands and headliners in this landmark gritty nightclub.
An art deco masterpiece by famed architect Leland A. Bryant, The Argyle Hotel – now known as Sunset Tower Hotel – opened in 1931. Howard Hughes lived in the penthouse, and housed several mistresses in the apartments. John Wayne reportedly once brought a cow up to his apartment. Bugsy Siegel’s ground floor apartment is now the Tower Bar, a glamorous spot to enjoy a cocktail and relive old Hollywood.
Several popular West Hollywood venues opened on The Strip in the 1940s. Billy Wilkerson of the Hollywood Reporter opened Ciro’s, a red-hot club frequented by Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny and Ava Gardner. In 1972, Mitzi Shore founded The Comedy Store on the same grounds. Comedians like Jim Carrey, Howie Mandel, Michael Keaton and David Letterman got their start at Amateur Night here. Letterman served as the club’s emcee for three years, and Richard Pryor chose The Comedy Store to make his 1972 comeback. The Comedy Store is still open, holding live comedy events nearly every night of the year.
Former Sherry’s Restaurant (9039 Sunset Boulevard)
Also built in the 1940s, Sherry’s Restaurant is best known as the site where Bugsy Siegel’s right-hand man, Mickey Cohen, was shot and almost killed in a drive-by. For many years, the address was home to the nightclub 1 Oak.
Originally known as Villa Nova, this Italian eatery served as the stars’ choice for romantic dates. In 1945, Vincente Minnelli (Liza Minnelli’s father) proposed to Judy Garland here. Marilyn Monroe and baseball great Joe DiMaggio enjoyed a first blind date at the restaurant in 1952. In 1972, Mario Maglieri, Elmer Valentine and Phil Tanzini transformed the site into Rainbow Bar & Grill—the hot spot for rock ‘n’ roll royalty through the 1970s and 1980s. Everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Alice Cooper, John Lennon, The Who and Led Zeppelin partied here. In 1982, John Belushi ate his last meal (of lentil soup) here just before overdosing at his Chateau Marmont bungalow.
Former Chicago policeman Elmer Valentine opened Whisky a Go Go in 1964. A visionary, Valentine suspended the first female DJ above the dance floor in a glass cage. He created go-go girls, dressing employees in miniskirts and white boots to dance in cages throughout the venue. The Doors got their start here, and in 1966 became the house band. Rock legends and rising stars played here—including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Kinks, The Who and The Byrds. The legendary club continues to rock, and all ages are welcome.
Former Playboy Club (now Hills Penthouse)
In the mid-1960s, Hugh Hefner opened this four-story club and occupied the top floor. Lines to get in frequently wrapped around the block. A modern co-working space, Hills Penthouse, now stands where the legendary club once was.
In 1973, The Roxy joined The Strip and hosted top rock artists like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Neil Young, David Bowie and Bob Marley & The Wailers. In 1974, the venue hosted the first American run of the Rocky Horror Show on its stage. The astounded crowd gave owner Lou Adler the idea to turn the play into the movie we know and love today. The Roxy is still open, and the intimate venue is a great place to see live music.
Built in 1959 as an apartment complex, the building was later converted into an avant-garde hotel. It reopened in 1985, full of chrome, glass and black lacquer, modeled after the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. Elvis Costello and Keith Richards have been known to frequent the hotel bar. In 1995, Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame purchased the hotel, keeping it true to its rock ‘n’ roll roots. The hotel’s poolside lounge, Skybar, has attracted such celebrity guests as Courtney Love, Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses, The Who, Smashing Pumpkins and Poison. Today, Skybar remains a popular destination for anyone who wants to spot celebrities.
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