Features

Iconic LA Hotspots That Still Rock

There are still plenty of places you can get into trouble.

While San Francisco currently gets most of the glory – and hedge fund dollars – Los Angeles is loads of fun. Downtown LA best epitomises this city’s renaissance. Less than 10 years ago, it felt perilous to walk more than a block through the area after dark. Today it is buzzing with craft beer bars, artisanal food businesses and hipster hangouts like The Ace.

So where do you go to get your nightly rock fix? LA is strangely conservative in that the bars have a strict 2am curfew. This means that as a rule, the drinking and merrymaking often starts earlier than at home. Many of the city’s rock landmarks and music venues have closed in the last decade, but new ones have regularly opened to replace them. So while the infamous Tower Records on Sunset is long gone, the Gibson Ampitheatre in Universal City has given way for a huge Harry Potter attraction and the much-loved House of Blues on Sunset is being converted into yet another apartment complex, there are still plenty of places to get into trouble.

So, in no particular order, here is a guide to the best rock’n’roll venues, landmarks and tourist traps. You’re welcome.


The Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood

(Photo: Roger/Flickr)

By all logic The Roosevelt, with its location at the tacky tourist-trap-hell end of Hollywood Boulevard, should be a wasteland. But it’s still going strong. Refurbished to satisfy both socialites and hipsters, it was rejuvenated in the early 2000s when a cluster of Hollywood actors, rockstars, reality TV “personalities” and Pete Wentz decided it was cool again. The hotel’s two bars – one centred around the hotel’s enviable pool – became celebrity magnets and party lairs. And Prince began regularly playing secret shows there.

Highlights of yesteryear: This is the old school Hollywood hotel that was constructed in 1927 and once counted Marilyn Monroe as resident.

Still relevant? The week leading up to Coachella, this is Ground Zero for record-label types, British rockers, New York’s music scene and many Australians heading to Palm Springs. Through the year, most nights the place is heaving. Many bands host listening parties or media events here.

How hard is it to get in? Very. Unless you’re a hotel guest. Or you know somebody. Or you’re Damon Albarn.

Celebrities spotted: Frequently. You’re just as likely to spot Miley Cyrus or James Mercer from The Shins, as you are Damon Albarn or a member of Arctic Monkeys. The proximity to Jimmy Kimmel’s studios down the street also helps.

Do the toilets work? Depends on the time of the day.

What’s coming up: More of the same. Another vodka and soda, please.

Oh, yeah: Vinnie Chase chose the hotel’s penthouse as his home in the final season of Entourage.


El Rey Theatre, Wilshire Blvd, LA

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(Photo: Brandon Shigeta/Flickr)

This alt-rock theatre has hosted the likes of Tame Impala, Elvis Costello and Frank Ocean. But it’s also here that Justin Timberlake chose to do a recent “secret” show.

Highlights of yesteryear: A former moviehouse that was originally built in the 1930s, The El Rey, is a beautiful art deco theatre that has become a virtual rite of passage for any self-respecting indie or alternative band touring LA.

Still relevant? Very much so.

How hard is it to get in? Easy if you can score a ticket. Which can be hard.

Celebrities spotted: Always an intriguing assemblage, but largely dependent on the night’s entertainment. We once saw Shannon Noll and Kirsten Dunst sucking on Marlboro Lights in the outside smoking section on the same night.

Do the toilets work? Mostly.

What’s coming up: Johnny Marr, Blind Melon(!), Megan Trainor and Sheppard.

Old-fashioneds were served: A couple of years ago, the people who produce the music for Mad Men held a cigarette-friendly concert here. The theatre was decked out as a 1960s club with backdrops, chandeliers and even a bandstand. Joel Murray (Freddy Rumsen in the show) emceed.


Echoplex – Silver Lake

Of all of the clubs in the Silver Lake/Echo Park area – and there are plenty – The Echoplex gets our nod for its diverse bookings and back courtyard.

Highlights of yesteryear: Classic Silver Lake venue with a rotating roster of indie/alternative bands.

Still relevant? Oh yeah.

How hard is it to get in? Mixed. Tough on nights when acts such as Bad Religion or MSMR are playing. Impossible the night the Rolling Stones stopped by for a Saturday night gig(!) last year.

Celebrities spotted: More of your Hollywood boho set. And on a good night, the likes of perhaps Diplo, Calvin Harris and Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino).

Do the toilets work? Sometimes. Can get nasty quickly.

What’s coming up: Shows from FKA Twigs and emo revivalists Dad.

Sorry, lads: The UK band New Build were kicked out of their Saturday night headline-slot at the venue to make way for the Rolling Stones. They took to YouTube to whine that they had little notice (or apology) from Mick and co for their cancellation.


Chateau Marmont, West Hollywood

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(Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr)

Home away from home for Hollywood and rock’n’roll elite. The patio bar and restaurant here are a tough nuts to crack for outsiders. The tuxedo-clad waiters epitomise the refined cool of the place. Dorothy Parker once lived at the castle on the hill, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was written here.

Highlights of yesteryear: A castle like structure that looms ominously over West Hollywood and Sunset, The Chateau has been home to almost any A-list band you can thing of. The Black Keys insisted on staying here when their Brothers album broke through. While the rooms in the main building are nice, the bungalows are where you want to be. The hotel was, of course, featured in Sofia Coppola’s film Somewhere. Expect to pay up to $1000 a night for a decent room.

Still relevant? Very much so. Still.

How hard is it to get in? Very. This is a fortress of privacy for a very specific demographic of people who don’t want to be bothered. But it’s also the place to be seen being interviewed for your Vanity Fair cover story. For plebs, the off-Broadway Bar Marmont is the place to go if you’re knocked back. Even then, the admission policy there is still tough.

Celebrities spotted: It’s more like who hasn’t been spotted. In one afternoon, you might see Courtney Love, Tim Burton, Carey Mulligan, Baz Luhrmann, Charlize Theron, and the band Phoenix. Lindsay Lohan famously ran up a $50,000 bill there.

Do the toilets work? Goes without saying.

What’s coming up: Truffle fries and insanely expensive cocktails.

It’s true: The hotel has a famously high tolerance for its guest’s whims. Yes, Led Zeppelin really did ride motorcycles through the hallways.


The Troubadour, Hollywood

Out of LA’s smaller venues (The Roxy, The Whisky, The Henry Fonda Theatre or House of Blues), this one is the most lived-in and best to watch a gig.

Highlights of yesteryear: This is where the singer-songwriter music that dominated American pop through the 1970s basically came of age. Elton John made his American debut here. Carol King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and the Eagles are among its alumni. Later was a key venue in the rise of the so-called garage pop indie bands of the early 2000s.

Still relevant? Deeply eccentric founding owner Doug Weston passed away in 1999. Today, it’s the venue to see rising indie acts such as Jake Bugg, Haim, San Cisco and the Jezabels, plus the likes of Dirty Projectors, Emmylou Harris or even perhaps the latest vanity project of Dave Stewart. Depeche Mode and Rod Stewart recently held private shows here.

How hard is it to get in? With only 300 tickets sold to each event, it can be exceedingly difficult.

Celebrities spotted: You name it, they’ve been here. Kristen Stewart, Keanu Reeves and Kiefer Sutherland like it. Mel Gibson was spotted there last week enjoying a Tom Jones show. No, neither part of that sentence is a joke.

Do the toilets work? At times, yes.

What’s coming up: Lots including Broad City‘s live comedy act and Californian singer-songwriter Cass McCombs.

Peacemaker: Tom Morello broke up a screaming match between two fans outside The Troubadour a couple of years back following a solo show he played at the venue.


The Wiltern Theatre, Wilshire Blvd, LA

Yes, The Staples Centre and its offshoot Nokia Theatre might get the bigger names, and have more, well, modern facilities. And also Kobe Bryant. But The Wiltern, with its glorious art deco facilities and excellent sound is an infinitely more pleasant experience.

Highlights of yesteryear: Beautiful split-level art deco theatre close to LA’s once-dreaded but now embraced Downtown area, The Wiltern opened in 1931 before falling into disrepair. It reopened in 2002 and quickly became the go-to venue for artists such as Bob Dylan and Sigur Ros.

Still relevant? Totally. Like an even better version of Melbourne’s Palais Theatre, The Wiltern has hosted a variety of acts in the last few years including Lady Gaga, Bon Iver, Metallica, Wilco, Guns ‘N Roses, Demi Lovato and Massive Attack.

How hard is it to get in? At times very difficult for those unwilling to pay huge scalper fees.

Celebrities spotted: Always. The VIP area on the floor near the mixing desk is absolute A-list. Particularly at a show like Adele, Muse or Neil Young.

Do the toilets work? Yes.

What’s coming up: A typically diverse roster of acts: First Aid Kit, Billy Idol, Tony Bennett (with Lady Gaga), Ryan Adams and Moscow’s Russian Ballet Spectacular.

Dude knows: The Wiltern hosted the 11th annual Lebowski Fest – A Celebration of All Things Lebowski – back in 2011. It featured a screening of the movie, some Lebowski burlesque and appearances by the actors.


NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

The Ace, Downtown LA

While hipster outposts such as Portland, Chelsea and Palm Springs have long enjoyed the louche appeal of The Ace, it goes next level with the recent opening of its Spanish Gothic-inspired Downtown LA centrepiece. Based in the building that once housed the United Artists film studio in the 1920s, it is quickly becoming a buzzworthy rock tourist hotspot. Its rooftop pool bar is framed by stunning vistas left and right – there are few better places to enjoy a cocktail and take in the city itself. To top it all off, The Ace has its own live music theatre, a sublime space that has been lovingly restored and feels like a more cavernous version of Melbourne’s Forum Theatre.

Still relevant: Very much so.

Celeb spotting: Think the Hollywood Boho set (Zoe Kravitz has been here) meets A-list Actors (Matt Damon, Chris Pine).

How hard is it to get in: On busy nights, difficult. Helps to book a room at the hotel.

Do the toilets work: Yes.

Coming up: Jimmy Page will do a spoken word show with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell on November 12, Seattle band the Head and the Heart play The Ace’s Theatre November 22 and Patti Smith will appear on January 30.

Fair legacy: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin founded United Artists at the site 95 years ago.

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The Standard Hotel (Photo: Ryan Vaarsi/Flickr)

The Standard Hotel, West Hollywood/Downtown LA

The Standard franchise is a staple in America’s party cities: Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Each itineration has its own quirks. In NYC, sky-high drink prices and exclusivity is the game. LA’s two Standard locations – West Hollywood and Downtown – are more democratic, more relaxed and therefore more fun. During the weekends over summer, the West Hollywood pool, with its excellent cocktail menu and outstanding views of LA, turns into a glorious pool party with bands, DJs and a swathe of attendees seemingly pulled from an American Apparel shoot. This is a party hotel of the highest order. Do not come here looking for a peaceful weekend.

Still relevant: While it seemed like the moment may have passed a few years back, The Standard is back in a big way.

How hard is it to get in: Easy to book a room. Which pretty much guarantees admission to the hotel’s club Smoke and Mirrors and its pool parties. Otherwise, it’s hit or miss. We approve of the place’s door policy: both Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes have been rejected from entry.

Celeb spotting: It’s a magnet for Australian television celebrities and comedians. Any indie-rock band worth its weight in gold has stayed here. The Standard Downtown’s spa was the one Britney Spears famously propositioned a young man in, as recounted to US Weekly.

Do the toilets work: Yes. Very much so.

What’s coming up: The Standard’s pool parties boast DJs playing everything from indie-electro to Fleetwood Mac. They run from 12pm to 2am through summer. The hotel has also begun hosting regular acoustic, intimate nights featuring local singer-songwriters mid-week.

Pretentious, Moi: It’s said that when the circular light situated above the hotel is illuminated, the hotel’s artist in residence is actually on the premises.

(Lead image: Brianna Hager/Flickr)

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