Alex's Bar Celebrates 15 Years of Punk-Rock Insanity
Photo by Paige Hernandez
A lot's happened in the 15 years since Alex's Bar opened its doors. For starters, 42-year-old owner Alex Hernandez says, the methadone clinic in the alley is gone. So is Sublime's secret tweaker pad that used to be nearby and the payphone where prostitutes would do business.
More importantly than safer surroundings, however, is what's happened inside the club. Some of punk's biggest names have performed at the venerable Long Beach venue. Films and television programs have also used Alex's as a backdrop — most notably, True Blood, which turned it into the Fangtasia vampire bar. But it's the dimly lit room, red walls and tall cans of cheap beer that keep Alex's tattooed clientele happy.
Hernandez is not just his business' namesake. The Long Beach resident is seemingly always there, booking bands, serving drinks or talking to people in the parking lot. With so much time and effort devoted to his bar, the bouncer-turned-owner could write a book about what he's seen at his Anaheim Street location. That's not in the works (yet), but he recently spoke to L.A. Weekly regarding 15 memorable events at his bar.
15. Rocket from the Crypt this weekend
"Rocket's one of the bands that's responsible for why I do what I do. They played at Bogart's and I wasn't 21. I used to go there. They had glass behind the stage, so I could put my nose against the window, see them, hear them and occasionally sneak in. The head of security said, 'You ever thought about bouncing?' I gave him my number and it was kind of how I got hired, by going to see bands like Rocket."
14. Black Flag in 2003
"That came out of left field. SST was still based out of Long Beach and Greg [Ginn, Black Flag guitarist] would come in and drink occasionally. I got a call out of the blue. Black Flag had already booked the Palladium. They were like, 'What do you think about doing a secret show at the bar?' I was like, 'Fuck yeah, let's do a secret show.' It was the first show we did any Internet ticketing and pre-sale tickets. That was the first show anybody scalped tickets for a show and I was pretty pissed.
"It [the show] was fucking bizarre. The My War set drove people insane. They were fucking bummed. It was ugly. A bunch of drunk people with expectations and them not being met was gnarly. I had to stand on stage to get on overview of what was going on. I was on edge the whole time. That was the show I was most scared at at my own venue."
13. Foxboro Hot Tubs in 2008
"That was supposed to be so secret, down low, hush hush, but Indie 103 blasted it and then KROQ started blasting it. Next thing you know, there's a thousand people at my front door, down the alley all the way to Orizaba Park. My neighbors were flipping out. I walked into my office and my surfboard was on top of my walk-in cooler. Billie Joe and Tre and Mike look at me like, 'Oh, is he going to be pissed?' Billie Joe said, 'Would it be cool if I surfed my way to the stage?' That was pretty much a brand new board at the time, so I was a little freaked, but when you have the opportunity to have a moment like that, it's pretty insane."
12. The Offspring in 2012
"They showed up with a big rig full of gear. It was insane how much gear they brought to a 2,700 square foot room. They sounded awesome. They brought their own monitors and full stacks. I thought they were going to rattle the walls off the place, but it was actually pretty comfortable."
11. Jello Biafra in 2013
"Him playing and being the exact dude you hear on the records is pretty amazing. He told me Wesley Willis stories until three in the morning. I can't imagine how many Alternative Tentacles records I own."
10. The Murder Junkies in 2006
"That was interesting. Merle [Allin, the bass player] was a nice, normal dude. Imagine having to live up to that legacy of being the brother of GG Allin."
9. Phil Shane
"His older crowd would show up at 7:30 to stake out a table. He'd do all the hits, put on his Neil Diamond coat and do his Neil set, then his Elvis set and Tom Jones set. Then all those people would leave and our crowd would roll in at 10 and he'd do it again. By 12:30, those people were gone, so he'd do the hits again. He never loses enthusiasm and I've never seen him cut short a set. The amazing thing is he drinks beer, he takes shots, and he never takes a piss break."
8. Being thrown out of his own bar — twice
"Former employees have stories about having to throw me out during the early years. Two years in a row, I went out of my way to get thrown out of my own bar."
7. Throw Rag
"I always stack the bill with them because whenever they play with another band like Riverboat Gamblers or The Humpers, they bring their 'A' game. I think it's a competition, like Jerry Lee Lewis versus Little Richard, like, 'Follow that, motherfucker.'"
6. Why he never books hip-hop
"The last hip-hop show we had, one of the guys who got beat up went to his car to get something and came back with a pair of nunchakus."
5. Subhumans in 2010
"It sold out instantly, so people were losing their minds trying to get in. People were climbing up the tree from AutoZone and jumping over the 10-foot fence only to get caught and thrown back out. When Subhumans went on, I told my door guy to stand on stage because there were so many people stage diving.
"So I'm watching the front door and there's this crusty punk kid. I'm like, 'Oh fuck, this guy's going to bum-rush me right now.' He fucking runs, I get him, grab him and push him down to the ground and I can just feel all these whooshes going past me — all his friends ran in behind me. I was like, 'You motherfucker. You got me.' I picked him up and said, 'I gotta let you in for taking one for the team.' I was like, 'Fuck it, you win.'"
4. Listening to demos
"I've spent a lot of time listening to a lot of shit. Thirty seconds of two songs. Or, 'Influence: Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers.' No. I'm not even going to listen to that. It's the 10 percent I find that I book on a Thursday or Sunday because I actually want to see them. It's like being the world's oldest teenager."
3. Peter and the Test Tube Babies in 2012
"This underage crusty kid — all my problems start with underage crusty kids — was pissed off drinking 40s in my parking lot. I said, 'Yo dude, you can't drink 40s in my parking lot.' I dumped it out and the kid storms off. Maybe 10 minutes later, I'm back in the venue and my security guard comes running in asking, 'Where's the fire extinguisher?' He grabs it, kicks open the door and there are balls of fire falling from the sky. It's a sold out show and I'm surprised it didn't start a panic with people stampeding each other.
"The kid had gone around front and stuck a lighter to the awning. I have it on video — you can see the surprise because it just went up like that in a scary way. He could have killed hundreds of people that night. My building's from the 1940s and that awning was right next to a vent that went directly into my attic. All that wood is old as shit and would have gone up. It would have been a matchbox."
2. True Blood fans
"People come from all over the world. Spain, Russia, South America and old school goths from the Midwest. They're pretty easy to pick out. We've seen drive-bys from people who think it's a real vampire bar. People ask, 'Wow, they built this place and left it here for you?'"
1. Tenacious D
"That ruined us for other filming because that was so much fun. It was disappointing to find out everything's not like working with Jack Black and Tenacious D. We listened to those guys improvise for 12 hours a day and the hardest thing was trying to not laugh and ruin a take."
Alex's Bar celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend with two headlining shows by Rocket From the Crypt, Friday, Jan. 30 and Saturday, Jan. 31. Both shows are sold out, but you can read more about them and kick yourself for not buying tickets here and here.
Don't even think about bum-rushing this one. Alex isn't as nice as he was in 2010.
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