By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
There had been rumors for several months that Al’s Bar would shut down after a new owner, Magnum Properties, purchased the century-old brick building that houses the historic downtown nightclub and adjoining American Hotel. But barflies, scenesters and even employees were nonetheless caught off guard when the club hosted its final show, leaving behind several weeks’ worth of now-cancelled bookings. The last band to officially perform at Al’s wasn’t even scheduled to play: After hearing news of the impending closure, stocking-masked surf combo the Black Widows rushed over from an earlier gig at Mr. T’s Bowl in Highland Park, set up their equipment in the tiny backstage area to save time, and played an instrumental set there for the small, but frantic crowd.
You could argue that Al’s Bar was L.A.’s version of Manhattan’s legendary CBGB: Both were graffiti-slathered dives in not “nice” neighborhoods that grew out of the punk revolution. (L7, the Replacements, Love, Gun Club, Betty Blowtorch, Dwight Yoakam and Beck are some of the notable artists who’ve played at Al’s after owner Marc Kreisel took over the former truckers’ bar in 1979.) Yet CBGB’s artistic relevance largely faded after the ’70s, whereas Al’s was hosting compelling bands up until its last night, with a bill that included meandering mood-rockers the Warlocks, the Fuse, the Witches and high-energy Detroit trio the Sights.
Even before the Black Widows finished their show, much of the audience, caught up in a sentimental frenzy, began tearing souvenirs off the wall: stickers, posters, even chunks of the stage backdrop. Several guys somehow managed to unbolt the door to the men’s restroom, and carried it off in the confusion. Someone else smuggled out one of the barstools. A sublime, unframed portrait of Greta Garbo was torn in half by overeager fans trying to pry it from the wall, while greedy collectors ripped away the green felt of the pool table, with its distinctive white stenciled Al’s Bar logos, when Toast wasn’t looking. It was like the fall of Saigon, with a more amiable form of desperation. Among the teary-eyed revelers who weren’t ransacking the place: Spaceland booker Jennifer Tefft, music archivists Van Frazier and Dean “the Tape Machine” Abramovitch, Greg “the Pope” Romero (now into his fifth decade of clubgoing), and members of the Neurotones, the Excessories, Flash Express, the Dagons, EMA 3 and Project K.
After the remaining stalwarts staggered uncertainly into the night (“Where are we going to hang out now?” they muttered to each other), imposing doorman Cliff Shegog locked the front door with its nautical porthole window one last time. Toast and beloved bartender Stay-C Little cleared away the empty beer bottles and switched off the lights, as dozens of small cockroaches scurried along the quiet bar, its only survivors.
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