It's been 18 years since Alex Hernandez opened the now-beloved Alex's Bar in Long Beach. The venue, with a vibe that falls somewhere between punk dive and vampiric love nest, is a haven for musicians and lovers of music alike. Most nights of the week, quality rock & roll can be seen and heard — and heard clearly thanks to the great sound.
Before going into business for himself, Hernandez had been booking shows since 1994. He was working security at Long Beach's now-defunct Foothill Club and would receive demo tapes from hopeful bands, which he would pass on to the head booker.
"I started booking shows on Sundays at the Foothill — their all-ages night," Hernandez says. "I branched out and started booking shows at the Clipper and the Java Lanes [both in Long Beach]. I just went on from there."
By 2000, the Foothill and the Clipper had been sold, and Java Lanes was winding down. Hernandez saw a hole in the market and felt that, with his years of experience, he was the man to fill it.
"There was definitely a need, and I felt it was time to have more control over what I was doing," he says. "Working with different club owners was always really difficult, trying to get everybody to push toward the same goal of making shows successful."
It wasn't smooth sailing from day one, and Hernandez says he made all of his mistakes early — got them out of the way. He had no mentors, no teachers, and it was a constant struggle. In fact, he says, it still is.
"People think we've been open so long so we must have it down — it must be easy," he says. "The struggle never stops. You're paddling in a canoe against the current constantly, and if you stop paddling you're gonna go down the falls.
"We're such a niche market," he says. "The music industry isn't what it was, so we're trying to keep the music industry going a little bit. Support and nurture the local scene, keep developing artists, and then be waiting there for them when they're coming back down and not playing the 1,000-capacity rooms anymore."
Nowadays, Alex's Bar is a room that bands love playing. It's a home base for a Long Beach music scene that Hernandez believes is in a good place right now.
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"There are plenty of rooms to play in town," he says. "The city's evolved through the years since I started, from being completely anti-music. It took us two years to get the entertainment license because the city was so anti-music at that point. Now we have Mayor (Robert) Garcia, who's embraced the local scene. Put music back on the street.
"I would have never imagined things would come 'round to where we are now from where we were when I started. I've just been doing it longer than anyone else. Agents know that if they're trying to book a show that isn't L.A. proper, I'm the guy."
Hernandez lists The Melvins, Black Flag and The Jesus and Mary Chain among his favorite bands to have graced the Alex's Bar stage. As for the future, he's hoping for more of the same.
"Kids keep on picking up guitars and making music," he says. "I don't see it slowing down at any point. Especially when you see who we have in office for president. There are plenty of angry kids looking to make music."