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Sunset Strip

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(go back to Music Travel

The section of Sunset Boulevard known as Sunset Strip, running between Doheny Drive and Laurel Canyon, has been a focus of LA’s nightlife since the twenties. In the mid 60s, when the Strip was at its peak, it could take four hours to cruise its mile and a half length by car. The sidewalk was packed every night with kids checking out the clubs, and each other till dawn, and then they would often wind up with breakfast at an all night diner. Jim Morrison coined the expression “Soft Parade” to describe the crowds that milled about on Sunset Boulevard.

Barney's Beanery (8447 Santa Monica Blvd)

BarneysBeanery

Barney’s opened in 1921, and has not changed much since the sixties, when regular customers included Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. It is famous for its chilli and enourmous selection of beers. Joplin recorded one of the tracks for her first album at Barney’s, and it was the last place she drank on the night she died.

Alta-Cienega Motel, 1005 La Cienega Boulevard (corner with Santa Monica)

During his early days with The Doors, Jim Morrison lived in room 32 of this $10/night motel. The Doors office was located just around the corner at 8512 Santa Monica (which is now a coffee shop); the band recorded their last album LA Woman in the ground floor rehearsal room.

The Tropicana Motel (8585 Santa Monica Blvd)

In the 60s, the Tropicana was a kind of low rent West Coast version of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. Long-term residents included members of the Byrds, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Jim Morrison, Tom Waits, and Ricky Lee Jones. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey stayed there when they were filming their movie Heat. The motel site is now occupied by a block of flats named "New Orleans Square".

The Troubadour (9081 Santa Monica Blvd)

LATROUB
This is one of the very few clubs surviving from the 60s. It was once a folk club (the Byrds were founded here), but in the 80s and 90s, it specialised in heavy metal. More recently, it has adopted a more varied booking policy.

RCA Records (6363 Sunset Blvd)

This building used to house the RCA studios, where the Rolling Stones recorded 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint It Black, and Let's Spend the Night Together. Other artists who recorded at the studios included Jefferson Airplane (who recorded every album here, except their first) and the Grateful Dead (Anthem of the Sun).

Sunset Sound Recording Studios (6650 Sunset Boulevard)

Virtually all of the Doors' recordings were made at Sunset Sound. Other bands that used the Studios included Arthur Lee’s band Love (who recorded their classic psychedelic LP Forever Changes here), Buffalo Springfield and Van Halen (who recorded their first album in 4 weeks).

Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco (7561 Sunset Blvd)

Bingenheimer was a well-known character on the Sunset Strip in the 60s (he even played Davy Jones' stand in for the Monkees TV series). In the 70s, the club became the hang out for all visiting rock stars and groupies, and came to epitomize the decadence of that era.

The Chateau Marmont (8221 Sunset Boulevard)

Marmont
The Marmont’s guests have included Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Roman Polanski, Led Zeppelin (the infamous shark incident happened here), Evan Dando, and Tim Hardin. Robert Mitchum was arrested here for possession of marijuana, and John Belushi died of an overdose in bungalow number 3, after a 5-day drug binge. The hotel is modelled on an actual Loire Valley Chateau. Rooms cost from $130 - $250.

The nearby Bar Marmont (8171 Sunset Boulevard) can be worth a visit, particularly on Sunday nights, when well known actors read poetry to the assembled bohemian masses.

Pandora’s Box (8118 Sunset Blvd)

The club has long been demolished, but it earned a footnote in the history of rock, for its role in sparking the Sunset Strip riots in 1966 when it was closed for redevelopment. The protests (which included Gilligan Island’s Bob Denver, Sonny and Cher, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) were documented in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip and the events inspired Buffalo Springfield’s For What Its Worth.

Continental Hyatt House (8401 Sunset Boulevard)

The “Riot House” was popular with the stadium rock bands of the 70s. The Who often stayed here, and Led Zeppelin generally booked the entire top floor. Their antics have been well documented in a number of “tell all” books.

====Ciro’s / The Comedy Store ====(8433 Sunset Blvd)

In the forties Ciro’s was the lounge club of choice for hip young movie stars, especially Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. The club was renovated in the mid 60s and became a rock club. The Byrds were Ciro’s house band for a period. The end of the LA’s “golden era” was marked by a party (at which the Byrds played) given by popular British publicist Derek Taylor in March 1968 to say farewell to LA. Ciro’s now operates as The Comedy Store

Nearbly, Ben Franks (8585 Sunset) was a fashionable restaurant in the 60s. Arthur Lee formulated the idea for the band Love while eating a burger here. The building is now occupied by Mel's Drive In restaurant. It was located across the road from The Trip (8572 Sunset), which was another famous club in the 60s.

Flithy McNasty’s aka The Viper Room (8852 Sunset Boulevard)

This club is famous two reasons: it featured on the cover of The Sweet’s LP Desolation Boulevard; and it was where River Phoenix died in October 1993. The club is co-owned by Johnny Depp.

Whisky A Go Go (8901 Sunset Boulevard)

Elmer Valentine, a young ex vice cop, opened the club in 1963. The Whisky A Go Go was America’s first disco, and invented the Go Go dancer (the story goes, that the female DJ took to dancing along with the records, in her DJ booth which was modelled on a bird cage). Soon every disco in the western world featured energetic young women dancing in cages.

Most of the rising young bands of the sixties played at the Whisky, including The Byrds, the Turtles, and The Lovin’ Spoonful, Frank Zappa, and Spirit. However, the club is best known for The Doors, who became the house band in 1966.

One of the more notorious guests at the club was Charlie Manson, who on one occasion emptied the dance floor with his frenzied dancing.

Elmer Valentines’ other club was The Trip (8572 Sunset); The Velvet Underground played at The Trip with Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable in May 1966, to unfriendly audiences. The Sheriff’s Office closed them down after only 3 nights. Jim Morrison attended the shows (and reputedly “borrowed” many of Gerard Malanga’s more exotic dance moves)

The London Fog/Dukes Coffee Shop (8909 Sunset Boulevard, at San Vincente Blvd)

Duke’s is a greasy spoon cafe, which caters to the rock and roll crowd from the nearby clubs (between 7.30 am and 8.45pm weeknights, to 3.45 pm weekends).

However, in the 60s, before Duke’s moved from its original location in the Tropicana Motel, the London Fog club was located right here. In his history of the LA music scene, Barney Hoskyns described the London Fog as a “terminally unfashionable dive ... haunted by hookers, drunks and down at heel lounge lizards”. So it was obviously the perfect place to give The Doors their first regular gigs.

The Roxy (9009 Sunset Blvd)

Some date the official birth of LA punk to the Flaming Groovies / Ramones double bill at the Roxy in August 1976. In the 70s and 80s it was the quintessential West Coast punk club. The club still operates, but as showcase for new rock bands freshly signed to major labels

A few doors down, at 9001 is the Rainbow restaurant, where Marilyn Monroe first met Joe Di Magio, and it is still a music industry favourite.

Phil Spector Productions (9130 Sunset Blvd)

Spector set up his operations in this penthouse suite in 1965. The building now houses Geffen Records. It was located just down the road from the “9000 building” at 9000 Sunset Boulevard, which housed most of the 60s rock music industry.

(go to Music Travel)

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