Although the vintage footwear that sparkled and gleamed from display cases like objets d’art made for novel décor, after seven years of groovalicious good times, the retail aspect of Star Shoes — which closes this week — became incidental as the place stopped selling shoes years ago. Still, all those platforms, kitten heels and wingtips did end up symbolizing the dance-friendliness of the place, not to mention the diverse musical eras (’40s–’70s) wafting through the bar’s sound system.
Rock & roll, electronica, funk, Latin, weird ironic shit. On any given night, you could hear DJs whipping up something new (and more than likely very old), thanks to the diverse tastes of the bar’s owner, Johnny Nixon, a disgustingly charming yet laid-back fella whom we think of as the unofficial Mayor of the Cahuenga Corridor. (He’s also part-owner of Beauty Bar and had a hand in Tokio when it first opened.)
“He’s the kind of guy who had the vision to say, ‘You know, you guys aren’t playing music that sounds anything like what Hollywood is known for, but there’s substance there. So fuck it — regardless of what anyone tells me, I’m going to keep you guys on. Prime slot,’?” recalls DJ Egon, the spin whiz at Shoes’ long-running Funky Sole Saturdays. “He’s also the kind of guy who wears slippers to the club and hands out ‘the blue ribbon’ to whoever played his favorite record of the night. That record, at Funky Sole, might have been Ethiopian instrumental music from the ’70s, a brutally deep soul ballad from the American Midwest recorded in 1968 or some psychedelic Indian joint that sounds like a demented version of The Munsters theme.”
We’d often step into Sole on Saturdays to seek refuge from the clubster chaos and sequined halter-top herds along the boulevard, and the soulfully sweet vibe and sonic wizardry of the DJs continually amazed us — revered mixers like DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and Dusk (an L.A. fave who recently passed away). These guys could spin anywhere, and here they were in this tiny room literally making magic with wax for those lucky enough to wander down the bar’s narrow walkway to the dance floor in back. The nights there were never advertised.
“I never needed to go to any other club in the city because every genre was represented to the fullest degree at Star Shoes,” says Chemist. “And it was free, so nobody could complain if they weren’t hearing 50 Cent. They could just leave and go to one of the adjacent clubs.”
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Nixon always envisioned Star Shoes as the antithesis to the gloss and gluttony of the velvet-roped hot spots that seemed to sprout like weeds around it over the years. His vision for the place included fashion shows, art openings and screenings to go with the music. Along with the Beauty, Shoes made the area around Cahuenga a cool alternative to the bottle-service-driven boîtes favored by buttoned-up dress-shirt types. Naturally, a rocker contingent flocked there as well, and Shoes was definitely a precursor to hip haunts like Cinespace. At one time, it was the place for bands to hold their after-gig parties, with many blowing off steam on the decks.
Who spun there? Who didn’t is more like it. Björk, Peaches, Oasis, BRMC, Matt Dillon (who tackled the turntables on opening night along with pal Joey Altruda). Star Shoes kicked the rockstar-as-DJ trend into overdrive, particularly at Radio, the bar’s popular Wednesday-night shagster spot (which also featured live bands), where even yours truly rocked the steel wheels once for kicks.
Obviously, the economics of the area are changing rapidly, and rents are going up, but Nixon says the enterprise was always about more than money. “The people who played and spun here came down for the love; they weren’t getting paid,” he says. “This bar was like a crazy variety show. It was not made on MySpace. It was about the welcoming and the getting to know people. And of course the people shaking it and making it. The DJs here were as important as the shoes. Maybe more.”
Star Shoes celebrates its final night Sat., June 30, with Funky Sole, featuring revolving sets from Egon, Cut Chemist and special surprise guests who’ve spun there over the years. 6364 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 462-7827.